Drivers itching to get to grips with new Istanbul venue
There is always an even greater frisson of excitement when Formula One racing visits a new circuit, and there is a great deal of expectation riding on this weekends inaugural Turkish Grand Prix.
The Istanbul Park track is located on the Asian side of Istanbul, six kilometres from the junction of Kurtkoy on the north side of the TEM motorway which links Istanbul to Ankara. It is also close to the newly constructed Sabiha Gokcen Istanbul Airport.
The 5.340 km circuit is the work of Hermann Tilke and is unusual in running anti-clockwise, like Imola and Interlagos. It features six right-handers and eight left-handers and is particularly notable for its gradients. Nobody has raced there previously, but BAR team leader Jenson Button has seen it and given it an enthusiastic thumbs-up. "I was really impressed by the layout of the circuit. The design is very interesting and I think it's going to make for some very good racing. The undulations that are part of the circuit make it very exciting from the driver's point of view - especially when it comes to overtaking and in qualifying when you are pushing to the limit trying to find braking points for the corners when you can hardly see the corners. It also makes for some very good viewing for the spectators. I can't wait to race there, although it will be very physical because it is one of only three anti-clockwise tracks we race at, and it will be incredibly hot."
Championship leader Fernando Alonso is also a fan of the city of Istanbul, after demonstrating a Renault there recently. Where do I start? I think I'd go for fantastic! I demonstrated the car in the middle of the city centre, and it was an amazing experience to run on the old streets in front of the public. Istanbul was really varied - there were so many different things to see, and I'm looking forward to getting back there again. You can tell straight away that there is a mixture of cultures, between the European and the Asian, and it means there is lots to discover. I saw the Blue Mosque, and some of the other sights in the city, but the best thing was doing the demonstration run around the old hippodrome. That was where they raced hundreds of years ago, and we started the new era of Formula One in the same place. It was pretty cool.
Alonso expects an enthusiastic fan turnout. I think we had something like 30,000 people turn out to watch us, so they definitely know something about F1 already! Some of the people knew a lot, others were there for the first time, but everybody was really enthusiastic and excited to see the car and the team. I hope we will see a very passionate crowd at the race.
Like everybody else, however, Button and Alonso and their teams are eager to assess the circuit at first-hand. Every new venue presents teams with a challenge: achieving a basic setting for their cars so that they can go there and hit the ground running.
We begin with a copy of the track layout, which we obtain from the FIA once the circuit design has been finalised, says Willy Rampf, technical director at Sauber. We have computer software that allows us to input data into a simple programme. Each team has developed their own software over the years, sometimes working from a basic proprietary tool which has been customised. So, you start to run a basic car model, looking at normal things such as different levels of downforce, different levels of mechanical grip. If the grip level of the track surface is very low, then obviously it is a high-downforce circuit, so you try to find what is the optimum level of downforce. There are a number of options for lap time, but from experience we know a major consideration is whether the top speed is high enough. Very high downforce is okay, but maybe that makes the top speed too low to defend yourself against being overtaken on a straight, such as at Indianapolis.
Most of the team employ similar methods, and they are very accurate. Teams develop over the years quite a few ideas for lap simulation and car performance optimisation, says BARs technical director Geoffrey Willis, so with a new circuit like Turkey well have track data from the circuit organisers, well know geometrically what the track is like in terms of corner profiles, elevation changes, this sort of thing. Then we have a number of tools for generating an initial first lap, getting speed, braking and cornering profile. Then we can start to use that with our car simulation package to work on the set-up. A lot of it is a mixture of using the tools as well as the experience of the engineers, because after a while you get to know certain types of circuit and you can characterise each via a lot of factors. The speed spectrum or its concerning spectrum or its braking energy or its acceleration time; that way you can get a picture of whats involved.
We can do all this straight from the circuit geometry, but the tarmac surface itself is very critical. Michelin in our case will have been out there and studied the surface and given us estimates of what it thinks the surface looks like. A combination of what the surface is like and what the lap simulation model is telling us about the loads on the car - braking, cornering, high speed or whatever - means we can then start to match everything to a circuit we know so that we can get some reasonably good ideas what sort of tyres we are going to take to an unknown circuit.
Only Ferrari have done any on-track testing over the summer break, but everyone will have updates on their cars in the search for maximum downforce. There will also be some new faces. F3000 contender Enrique Toccacelo will graduate to F1 as Minardis third driver, and while Nicolas Kiesa remains in that role for Jordan, Turkish Formula Renault racer Jason Tahincioglu will do a demonstration run for the team. He familiarised himself with the EJ15 at Silverstone recently, and will make his home crowd-pleasing run on raceday, just as Hungarian Zsolt Baumgartner did at the Hungaroring in 2002.