TURKISH GRAND PRIX

By Pat Espresso

Domination is set to be the theme at this weekend’s Turkish GP. Mark Webber will be aiming to complete a hat-trick of victories in the all-conquering Red Bull while engineering genius Adrian Newey is likely to provide yet another display of flawless design in high-speed action. For rival teams, the only chink in Red Bull’s armour could be reliability problems or Sebastian Vettel’s growing frustration at fighting a revitalised team-mate.

As far as the spectacle goes, Istanbul Park is probably one of the best circuits from the drawing board of Bernie Ecclestone’s favourite architect, Hermann Tilke. Despite his reputation for blandness, Tilke’s Turkey does provide drivers with a testing lap at high-speeds with several bumpy overtaking places. It’s an indictment of modern F1 that a circuit where you can overtake is now worthy of comment.  Unfortunately, the 155,000-capacity venue is almost certain to remain unfilled. Formula 1 in Asia Minor does not attract the numbers we see in Italy or the UK. Somehow, I suspect Ecclestone will still be smiling all the way to his offshore bank.

The big question is whether the tifosi will be cheering. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso remains for many the most-fancied to beat Webber and Vettel to the Championship. And it’s not because the Spanish are good at bull-fighting. For many team bosses, the Asturian is the most complete driver on the grid. When Force India boss Vijay Mallya was recently asked which two drivers he’d most like to employ, he answered immediately: ‘Alonso and Vettel, no question. Alonso is at the peak of his powers.’ For his team-mate Felipe Massa, a satisfactory performance in Monaco is unlikely to ease the pressure on his position. Despite several wins in previous Turkish GPs, it seems almost certain that he will be leaving at the end of the campaign.

McLaren’s so-called ‘British dream team’ pairing of Hamilton and Button look more likely to have sleepless nights over the team’s failure to upgrade the performance of their car to match the Red Bulls. Once again the season seems to be slipping away from them and the drivers can do little about it. It would be interesting to hear Ron Dennis’s thoughts on another difficult season for the Woking powerhouse. Team boss Martin Whitmarsh’s  assurance that they have the design talent to make good the car’s deficiencies seems a bit hollow.

For engine supplier Mercedes, its own team is providing one of the stories of the season. Michael Schumacher is showing fresh signs of being back to his old self, even going so far as to try cheating at Monte Carlo again. The grin on his face after his illegal overtake of Alonso on the final corner at Monaco told us all we need to know about his competitive hunger. Whether he can best Nico Rosberg will be fascinating to see. The sponsors will be praying for his resurgence.  And short of the Greeks finding a large amount of change down the back of the sofa, it’s about the only good news for Germany on the horizon.

Robert Kubica will be hoping that he can polish up his curriculum vitae with a good performance in Istanbul. Ferrari already like what they see but the Renault driver will want to show that he can perform in all conditions for them. In the right car he seems a dead cert to be world champion one day. The Renault’s strong showing so far can only be good news for F1 fans. And not just people like me with fond memories of the wonky dashboard gearshift in my old rusting Renault 5.

From the middle to the rear of the grid, you can only wonder what Williams and Sauber are thinking. Almost totally anonymous, despite millions spent. Force India seem to have made a leap forward in performance, showing respectable speed and mopping up results that must give them hope for the future. Even the Lotus-Virgin-Hispania battles get more television coverage. What would poor Frank Williams give to have Adrian Newey back in his factory for a re-run of their 1990s success?

So, unless you are in a Red Bull or Ferrari – possibly a McLaren – it could be that the most interesting part of this weekend is the fact that the drivers will race in an anticlockwise direction. Istanbul Park is one of only four circuits that go the wrong way – Interlagos, Singapore and Abu Dhabi are the others. For many of the drivers and team bosses, it seems, this weekend will be a mighty pain i

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