The three week summer break is just about over and now there are six races left to decide the 2007 championships, starting with this coming weekend's Turkish Grand Prix. As has been the case most of the season, McLaren and Ferrari and their ...
The three week summer break is just about over and now there are six races left to decide the 2007 championships, starting with this coming weekend's Turkish Grand Prix. As has been the case most of the season, McLaren and Ferrari and their respective drivers are the main protagonists for this year's honours but which of the two teams and four drivers will triumph? With only 21 points between the drivers and 19 between the teams it's far from decided.
Istanbul is a popular circuit with drivers and fans alike. It's fast, with long straights that mean extended periods at full throttle, it has several different corner combinations along with elevation changes not often seen at other tracks and, of course, it has Turn Eight. It may have a less than impressive name but few can talk about Istanbul without mentioning that corner, usually with a great deal of enthusiasm.
"It is probably the most difficult corner in the whole championship," is the opinion of Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella. "A long-left hander, with an apex speed of around 250 kph, for about 6.5 seconds. There are some high g-forces to contend with, on your body but especially on the neck, and it can be very difficult, especially at the end of the race. It is demanding for the drivers, but that is the attraction for us!"
A medium downforce package is generally required for the straights -- nearly 70% of a lap is spent at full throttle -- and corner combinations, while the smooth track surface and low kerbs mean fairly stiff suspension settings are possible. Braking is not unduly hard at this track but into Turn 12 it can be significant as it's a good overtaking place. Tyres will be from the harder end of the compound range, hard and medium.
Turkey has good memories for Ferrari's Felipe Massa as last year he took his first F1 pole position there followed by his maiden victory. The Brazilian suffered in the last race before the break when Ferrari messed up his fuel load in qualifying at the Hungaroring, with the result that he started 14th and only managed to gain one place. However, he remains optimistic for the next few races.
"Turkey last year I was a first time race winner and in the space of twelve months things have changed as I am now chasing a title," Massa said. "As a team, we try and have a package that is competitive at every circuit, but Istanbul is the first of a series of quick tracks and I think these will suit us particularly well. Last year, from Turkey onwards I had a great championship, so that is an encouraging sign."
McLaren's lead over Ferrari in the constructors' standings may be bigger if the Woking squad wins its appeal to have the points it lost in Hungary reinstated, but recently it seems that the rivalry between its teammates is more of a threat than Ferrari. Hungary showed that, despite McLaren's previous denials, there is a lot of tension between reigning champion Fernando Alonso and standings' leader Lewis Hamilton.
The media went into overdrive about the situation but for now the drivers are toeing the party line and focusing on the races ahead, at least as far as PR is concerned. "I have come second in the two years we have raced here (Turkey) previously and I will be aiming to improve on that this time," said Alonso, who is seven points behind Hamilton.
"It tends to be very hot at this race and this can have an effect on tyre wear. We race anti-clockwise and this also adds to the tyre wear, with the front right higher than at other tracks. The final factor is that the track is one of the fastest circuits on the calendar, with long fast corners, and this is also tough on tyres but we will work with Bridgestone to set the cars up to cope with these characteristics."
This week BMW Sauber confirmed that Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica will continue to race for the team in 2008, putting an end to rumours about the German manufacturer waiting to see if Alonso would become available. With McLaren and Ferrari dominating the field there's small chance of BMW scoring its maiden win this year, but should the leaders encounter misfortune BMW is competitive enough to take advantage of any opportunity.
Closest rival Renault is well over 30 points behind BMW and motorsport director Mario Theissen is obviously keen to keep that gap, if not widen it further. "Having established ourselves as the third strongest team in the constructors' championship and built up a decent buffer of points between us and our nearest rivals, we certainly don't want to relinquish that position for the remainder of the season," he commented.
Eight points cover Williams, Red Bull and Toyota in fifth, sixth and seventh the competition remains close in the midfield. For Honda, however, things seem to be getting worse and the team reached an all-time low in Hungary with Rubens Barrichello last of all and Jenson Button retiring with an engine problem. The team hopes that the Istanbul circuit will be better suited to the RA107.
"To get a really quick lap around this circuit, you really need to consciously push hard all the way round and use the track's camber to your full advantage," is Button's assessment. "I have had a couple of great races here in the last two years to finish in the top six, and whilst our performance isn't quite there this year, I am expecting an improvement from the last race."
While the teams and drivers gear up for the race to the end of the season, McLaren still has the looming spectre of the FIA appeal court hanging over its head. The case, in regard to the Ferrari 'spy' saga and the World Motor Sport Council not giving the Woking squad any penalty despite being found in breach of the sporting regulations, is to be heard on September 13th.
As far as this weekend is concerned let's hope it will be controversy free for once -- there has been far too much said and done recently that has been detrimental to the sport and a clean, competitive race in Turkey would be a welcome event. What are the chances of that happening? Istanbul has provided a couple of great races in the past so with a bit of luck it might carry on with that tradition.