By Tom Keeble, USA
Formula One roars back into action after the summer break, heading into the unknown as the calendar welcomes the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix. Tom Keeble previews the race and rates the teams' chances of success ahead of the 14th round of the 2005 season
The inaugural Turkish Grand Prix is hosted at the Istanbul Speed Park, outside Istanbul. The circuit has a diverse but challenging collection of corners with an expected emphasis on efficient aerodynamics, strong engines, and solid driver performances. Tyre selection could be tricky, as the surface is expected to change considerably, but putting the best aero package possible on the car is also going to be vital.
Heading to a new circuit always increases the odds that a team or tyre manufacturer has failed to get their analysis right, so there is a reasonable chance of upset; however, it is also a chance to see all the drivers learning a track that they have not visited before, which levels the playing field in teams that are running drivers with different experience levels.
Track: This circuit is new, with characteristics that are potentially reminiscent of Spa: certainly, Turkey is hoping that it will bring out the same emphasis on driver ability and excellent racing. Clearly, tyres will be a big issue here, but finding the best aerodynamic package is going to be critical, as the quest for speed could be tempered by the need for compromise to ensure the drivers don't write off their tyres before the end of the race.
The track consists of some fast straights with slow entrance and exit corners, which offers the prospect of overtaking. A couple of long, high speed corners will complicate matters for the aerodynamicists, whilst a number of corners have blind entries to help separate the men from the boys. Top speeds are expected to exceed 190 mph in four places, with elevation changes to stress the engines and brakes. Being a rare, counter-clockwise track, it will also stress drivers' necks and fitness.
Tyres: A new circuit always offers room for surprises, so either manufacturer could be mistaken on their compounds this weekend. The nature of the circuit - medium downforce with relatively slow corners - will see teams looking for mechanical grip, requiring softer compounds; however, the surface is very black, which will make it very hot under the sun, and the potential for relatively high speeds from a couple of long, fast corners will dictate compound selection from the harder end of the range.
With no data on how grip levels change as the circuit rubbers in, even though the tyre companies have visited to assess the track, the room for error is considerable, so the difference between the prime and option tyres available to the teams should be noticeably wider than usual as the tyre companies have to ensure a safe prime tyre. Don't be surprised to see drivers gambling on being able to look after option tyres to the end of the race, so anyone with an unexpectedly impressive qualifying result on Saturday could be facing a very difficult finish on Sunday afternoon.
Weather: A hot weekend is in prospect, with a dry race expected, though thunderstorms could interfere with the sessions on Friday and Saturday. The heat - particularly following the hot Hungary weekend - could see engines on their second weekend struggle with reliability unless they are detuned more than usual for the race.
Strategy: This event should see most teams opt for a two-stop strategy, though the wear and grip characteristics of the new surface could see some teams looking for an aggressive three-stop race. Once the drivers have put laps on the track will confirm the anticipated ease of overtaking, but it is expected to be possible to build it in to strategies. Like at Indianapolis, the strategy will have two factors in removing downforce in order to protect cars from being passed on the straights, versus the longevity of the tyres and the need for relatively high downforce to put in a good lap time in qualifying.
Surprises: With tyres something of an unknown, there is a real opportunity for teams that are not quite on the pace to outperform by running more aggressive tyre choice and strategy. Accordingly, any of Toyota, BAR or Ferrari could spend time ahead of the pack during the race - though the gamble will prove expensive as their tyres wear.
Conclusions: McLaren remain favourites for the win, with Renault looking a little suspect after their miserable weekend in Hungary. Toyota, BAR and Ferrari will again be looking for podium spots, so competition for points will be tough. Bridgestone's recent improvement in their option tyres could help Ferrari continue with their recently competitive form.
Team by Team
In Hungary, Ferrari shocked a lot of onlookers by making yet more progress with their option tyres, with Michael Schumacher in particular making the most of them to put in a strong qualifying performance. These tyres are prone to wear so they drop off in performance before the end of the race, but on balance it was clearly in Schumacher's favour to run at the front of the pack and build a lead that could largely be defended.
The team have continued to test, particularly tyre options, in a continued quest for performance as they look to finish the year on a high; this is clearly paying dividends as the pace of development is visible; it would be foolhardy to think they will do much worse this weekend coming, unless Bridgestone has made a mistake in their work to guess what the track will be like.
Now that qualifying is looking strong, Ferrari can expect to score points again, and have the potential to look for a podium finish.
Drivers: Michael Schumacher's drive in Hungary illustrated the pace of the new car; whilst it was soon overhauled by the considerably faster Kimi Raikkonen, he was always in the hunt for the podium. Rubens Barrichello was also quick where traffic allowed, though the accident and consequent repairs that dropped him to last place really masked his performance.
Both drivers will be looking to qualify well in Turkey, or the high wear they anticipate will prevent them converting those positions in to points.
Objectives: solid qualifying and hold on for the race - aiming to beat BAR. A podium should be attainable.
Recent races have shown that BAR are capable of strong performances, though they are not on a par with McLaren at this time. The team expect to score points when they race now, so anything short is a disappointment - even when qualifying doesn't go to plan. However, now they are no longer likely to claim that illusive first win, they have to aim for podiums.
On recent form, it appears that BAR are looking to put in a similar performance to Ferrari on most weekends, though they have been caught out by the Prancing Horse's sudden improvement. Coming into this weekend, they have to be looking at making the most of relatively good qualifying slots to make a strong showing in order to have a good platform for the race. In any event, they must be looking to get back ahead of Toyota.
Drivers: Jenson Button has put in some particularly strong qualifying performances in recent events, though the race pace that followed was not enough to challenge for a win. Takuma Sato has not really shone this year, generally failing to match his teammate in qualifying, though his race pace is similar. In Hungary, both drivers will need to have a strong weekend in order to challenge for podium places, but they should certainly be unhappy to finish outside the points.
Objectives: qualify strongly and finish with both cars in the points; aiming to beat Ferrari and Toyota - a podium finish would be tough.
Although widely regarded as the only real challenge to McLaren, the Renault package seems to have been surpassed recently. There is no denying that the cars are almost as quick, but they are not consistently so at all venues. That said, the Istanbul circuit places an emphasis not only on strong aerodynamics, but mechanical grip, engine and brakes, so the Renault package could work well here.
Unfortunately, they struggled in Hungary, which will compromise the qualifying effort. Similarly, the team have been struggling somewhat with tyre wear over a full race distance as they have had to use more aggressive set-ups in order to keep up with the pace of McLaren. Finding the right strategy in Turkey to get to the front will be a tough challenge for the team.
Drivers: Fernando Alonso continues to lead the World Championship, and has to be glad that he need only finish immediately behind Kimi Raikkonen for the remainder of the season to win it. Accordingly, he will be working to avoid disasters like the last race, which saw him finish point-less and yielding ten points to the Finn. Giancarlo Fisichella's run of bad luck continues, as he suffered handling and fuel pressure problems in the last race: the Italian must be wondering what he has to do in order to have the car last to the finish line in good shape. Prospects for the weekend ahead are respectable for the team, who ought to be able to finish on the podiums if they can keep their act together.
Objectives: aiming for the race win, with both cars on the podium.
The outing in Hungary showed that Williams revival, whilst slow, is taking place. Both cars struggled to find pace throughout the weekend, with disappointing qualifying results - admittedly not aided by their two-stop fuel load - so it was something of a relief to the outfit that their race pace was actually quite competitive, resulting in both cars finishing in the points.
It seems that a lot of work has gone into improving the car during the summer break, so the team will be looking for a result this weekend. With race pace back to a respectable level, restoring an edge to their qualifying will be a requirement before they can realistically hope to challenge regularly for podiums again. Nevertheless, failing to get the cars in the points in Turkey would be disappointing.
Drivers: Neither driver should be slow at this circuit, so they will both be looking to get in to the points for the end of the race. Nick Heidfeld has been edged in qualifying by Mark Webber for most of the season, though he is capable of putting in a very hot lap, but his races have been more consistent. Neither should have much of an advantage at a new circuit, so it should be instructive to see who makes the most of the updated package here.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten and finish in the points.
There is no denying McLaren's current form: the outfit are clearly the fastest in almost all conditions, with reliability problems now consistently causing more trouble than their closest rivals. Heading to Turkey as favourites for the win, the team are faced with the prospect of Renault recovering their form, and the potential that Bridgestone have done a better job with their homework, perhaps returning Ferrari to the mix. Getting both cars ahead of the Renaults is the priority for the weekend - closing down that Constructors' Championship is important, but with Kimi Raikkonen facing a considerable mountain to overhaul Alonso in the Drivers', the time for team orders could have come.
In the chase to the titles, the team have been compelled to work on improving the reliability of their cars: outright performance is still on the agenda, with Renault maintaining a threat, but they still have an appalling finishing record. In order to give Raikkonen any chance of the Championship, they are going to have to get him to the end of the races.
Drivers: Juan Pablo Montoya's retirement in Hungary was a disappointment for the Columbian, who felt he should have won that race, but it left Raikkonen able to make the most of the points from the win to reduce the gap to Alonso. Both drivers are capable of winning this weekend: Raikkonen continues to be exceedingly quick, with Montoya now starting to look very comfortable in the car; however, the Colombian will suffer from a poor qualifying slot, so Raikkonen is clearly favoured.
Objectives: aiming for the race win - with both cars on the podium.
On their current form, Sauber are having a respectable season and looking somewhat better than their closest rivals, Red Bull, though it will be tough to close down the gap in the Drivers' Championship. In Hungary, overheating spark plug coils damaged the chances for either driver to shine, as they both had to come in for repairs. Villeneuve's car was damaged too much by fire, though Massa was eventually able to continue, in the hope of improving his qualifying position in Turkey.
The break is expected to offer the Sauber outfit a chance to fix the overheating problems and perhaps bring along some new aerodynamic components to test on Friday: they should struggle to keep up with Williams over the race distance, ought to look competitive in the test sessions as they dial the car in. Qualifying early should at least alleviate the team's difficulty in adjusting the car to changing track conditions during the session, but that will be scant consolation to the drivers.
Drivers: With both drivers facing a tough qualifying ahead of them on this relatively green track that should continue to rubber in quickly as the session progresses - they will be hoping for rain part way though the session to mix things up. Covering the strategy for a tough qualifying will probably see both drivers running relatively heavy opening fuel loads, which could elevate them enough to score a point, but reduces the odds of scoring well.
Felipe Massa typically learns tracks quickly and has been very strong in qualifying this year; his imminent departure for Ferrari will do nothing but boost confidence this weekend as he looks to cement his advantage over Jacques Villeneuve. The Canadian, meanwhile, though he has taken a while to get used to the car, is clearly improving in form and is not giving much up to his talented teammate in overall pace. His long experience and renowned bravery on tough corners at this drivers' circuit could be enough to bring back some of the flair of old.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten; score a point - beat Red Bull.
With both cars eliminated in the opening lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix, the team will be able to choose between fitting two new engines to the cars, or running the existing engines - which have done very few miles - and replace them for the Italian GP weekend instead.
Istanbul will see the team struggle to sneak a point; their qualifying performances have been erratic, but even though they seem to be better on a warmer track, their tough slot at the start of the session should see them struggle to get up the grid. This unfortunate circumstance means that the team will be hoping for a rain interrupted session - or an eventful start to the race - to have a hope of getting in to the top ten.
Drivers: David Coulthard's tremendous experience could give the team a boost in setting their car up for a new circuit; his team spirit and willingness to pass information on to Christian Klien should give the younger driver a chance to show what he is capable of on an otherwise level playing field. However, without an upset in qualifying, both drivers will be looking to complete the race distance in order to improve their chances in Italy.
Objectives: finish as well as possible. Beat Sauber, if possible.
A strong outing in Hungary highlights the danger of writing Toyota off: since Jarno Trulli's excellent start to the season, the performance of this outfit has appeared to wane in contrast to McLaren's rising star - yet whilst their results have fallen off, the team have been consistently bringing the car on.
The Hungarian podium was a consequence of Renault dropping off the pace; Toyota's strong qualifying performance was a bonus for the tight nature of the circuit, but they were on the pace for the race. Prospects in Istanbul are positive, as the team hope it will emphasise their strong engine and efficient aero package: the Indy pole was not entirely a fluke, and there are some similarities here that bode well.
Drivers: Ralf Schumacher's podium in Hungary reflects a continuation of the steady improvement he has been showing through the season; his qualifying sessions have not been as spectacular as his teammate, but on race day he has been able to get more from his tyres, with strong results from the full distance. Trulli, meanwhile, has been blisteringly quick in qualifying before turning into a mobile chicane in the races; a repeat performance would not be unwelcome from Toyota's perspective, but a Ralf's better race pace is looking better in balance for maximising points at this end of the season.
Objectives: target points finishes; aiming to collect another podium finish - and beat BAR.
For some time, Jordan have been putting off the racing debut of their revised car (the EJ15B) due to cooling issues. In principle, the three-week break should have given the team sufficient time to iron out the problem, but for the final decision on whether to race it is slightly more complicated. Turkey is expected to be one of the hottest races, so lingering doubts on cooling need to be eliminated before the car can be used. A second issue is that should the threatened rain materialise, it would deprive the team the time they need to get the car set up properly.
Drivers: Although Jordan have their normal third driver for the weekend, Jason Tahincioglu is expected to do little more than entertain his home crowd when he performs some demonstration laps on Sunday morning: his inexperience in the car will offer the team little input, but it might offer them some insight into the condition of the track if it has rained since qualifying, which could make a difference to the tyre pressures with which they start the race.
Narain Karthikeyan and Tiago Monteiro should be able to continue their tussle for qualifying and race honours: unless everything goes horribly wrong, in which case they may have to fight with Minardi to avoid propping up the grid.
Objectives: make a showing, beat Minardi.
Hungary was disappointing for Minardi, who had looked to the circuit and the emphasis on aerodynamics for an opportunity to beat Jordan again: getting neither car to the finish is not a good way to go racing. On the positive side, it does mean two new engines can be fitted this weekend.
Prospects for Turkey are not bright, but if Jordan can't get their new car dialled in - a real possibility with the prospect of thunderstorms. Having a third driver along will allow them to get more work done: the weekend could conspire to offer another chance to finish somewhere other than last.
Objectives: complete race distance - beat Jordan again.