Turkey made its F1 debut last season and the purpose built, Herman Tilke designed circuit on the Asian side of the Bosphorous won approval from drivers and fans alike.
This coming weekend's Turkish Grand Prix signals the end of the three week summer break and it will be back to business in Istanbul. With both Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher going out of the last race the championship battle still has a 10 point advantage in Alonso's favour, although Schumacher did close the gap with one bonus point thanks to BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica being disqualified.
Ferrari also closed in on Renault, as Felipe Massa picked up a couple of points, so with five races remaining it looks set to be a very interesting end to the season. Popular opinion seems to be split, with one faction believing Ferrari and Schumacher can regain their crowns and the other equally confident that Renault and Alonso won't be beaten.
Turkey made its F1 debut last season and the purpose built, Herman Tilke designed circuit on the Asian side of the Bosphorous won approval from drivers and fans alike. Like Imola and Interlagos, Istanbul is an anti-clockwise track and has a mixture of slow sections and straights, and the already infamous turn eight.
"With its pronounced ups and downs, Istanbul Park is a little reminiscent of Spa- Francorchamps," said BMW Sauber technical director Willy Rampf. "The long straights and the uphill sections make high aerodynamic efficiency crucial. That aspect has become even more important since the switch to V8 engines. If you've got good top speeds, you can overtake here."
I learnt a lot in Hungary and this will help for the next grand prix,
Turkey is expected to be hot -- but then again, so was Hungary -- and the smooth track surface lends itself to medium to soft tyre compounds. "What makes this circuit interesting is that the track surface itself is very smooth similar to Monaco and Montreal and consequently we require a tyre compound which can provide grip as well as durability," said Bridgestone technical manager Hisao Suganuma.
McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen won in Istanbul last year but the team has yet to score a victory this season. "The Istanbul Speed Park is a terrific circuit, it is demanding on the cars, but great fun to drive, with lots of different types of corner, some straights and elevation changes," said Raikkonen. "All the ups and downs of the track don't really affect the set up; they just make it more interesting to drive."
Jenson Button and Honda finally notched up that elusive first victory in Hungary but, with no offence to Button or the team, the circumstances were exceptional. Given Honda's previous form this season it's not a certainty that it can fight with Ferrari and Renault for wins in the remaining events but the Budapest result was a confidence booster.
"In Hungary, everything came together for us when it counted and it has given the whole team renewed motivation," said Button. "We never doubted our potential but now we know we are winners. There are likely to be challenging times again over the coming races but our car is well-suited to the Istanbul Park Circuit and we are capable of a good result there."
Alonso's retirement at the Hungaroring should have been a gift to Ferrari and Schumacher but they failed to take advantage because the German also retired. In the recent races Ferrari looked to have the edge over Renault in the competitiveness stakes but Alonso is confident that he and Renault still have the upper hand.
"I'm feeling very positive," he commented. "I am in the position where everybody wants to be -- leading the championship, with the races counting down. There was some pressure on us after Germany, but the race in Hungary showed that the R26 is still very competitive, and that you have to take every weekend one at a time. Turkey will be a new race with its own challenges, but I am feeling confident."
Naturally, Schumacher is equally ready to rejoin the fight. "I am sure that we can be competitive, as our performance data confirms," said the former champion. "We have already seen how tiny modifications can change the situation, as occurred in recent races… we will, as ever, be focusing on the aim of being competitive and high performing. We are ready for the Istanbul challenge."
BMW Sauber scored its first podium finish in Hungary, courtesy of Nick Heidfeld in third, but newly promoted teammate Kubica attracted equal attention on his competition debut. F1's first Polish driver had an eventful race and crossed the line in seventh but was later disqualified due to his car being underweight. Istanbul will be a new track for Kubica.
"I learnt a lot in Hungary and this will help for the next grand prix," said the youngster, who replaced Jacques Villeneuve. "I have never raced in Istanbul; actually, I have never been to Istanbul at all. I watched last year's race on TV and I appreciated the layout of the track that provides overtaking opportunities, which always make for good racing."
Mark Webber was thought to be heading to Renault next year but Red Bull announced after Hungary that the Australian would join David Coulthard as a racer for the indescribably-flavoured energy drink team for 2007. Meanwhile, Williams hasn't scored a point since the European GP back in May, when Nico Rosberg finished seventh.
"I hope things will change for the team because luck just hasn't been on our side recently," said Rosberg, who will be partnered by current test driver Alex Wurz next year. "Our car has definitely shown progress in recent races, particularly in Magny-Cours and at Hockenheim where we really made some good steps forward, so I hope this carries through."
Hungary was arguably one of the best races we've had this season, which is quite some going for a track that is usually about as exciting as watching paint dry. Turkey may not be quite so unpredictable but it's a good track and last year's event was entertaining. As for the title fight, your guess is as good as mine.