Ferrari reel in Renault, but Alonso stands firm
The only thing that could have been better for Ferrari in Turkey was to have Michael Schumacher finish first and Felipe Massa second, but even so first place for the Brazilian and third for the German netted 16 valuable points that brought the Italian team within two points of Renault in the constructors championship.
In all probability Schumacher would have won, all things being equal, but Michael lost out when the safety car was deployed on the 13th lap and he had to wait behind Massa while they were serviced in the pits. Then Michael blistered his second set of Bridgestones pushing overly hard to make up time while running with a heavier fuel load than his two rivals. His performance in the closing laps was mighty, but those two factors militated against the victory that would have decreased the gap to Alonso.
Instead, the Spaniard opened it out by two, and it is 12 going into the final four races. So it was good and bad news after all. From a sporting perspective, Massas victory was most welcome, making him the second first-time winner of the season after Jenson Button.
The other good news for Ferrari and Bridgestone was that they had race pace, against the expectations of Renault and Michelin. As both Schumacher and Alonso stress continually, the championship will be won or lost on tyre performance.
Renault expected to be more competitive in the race than they were in qualifying, with better tyre performance over a long run that they had enjoyed in short duration qualifying laps. Overall this proved to be the case. Alonsos lap times were competitive with the Ferraris for much of the race, his fastest lap of 1m 28.245s comparing strongly with Schumachers overall fastest of 1m 28.005s and Massas 1m 28.123s. But the Spaniard lost sufficient ground in the opening stages to have no chance of catching Massa, and admitted afterwards that Renault have to improve the R26. I think this afternoon also showed that we needed something more to fight with Ferrari for the win, but I am very optimistic for these last races. Monza will probably be the hardest one to win, looking at the characteristics of the Ferrari car. But everybody at Renault, and our partners at Michelin and Elf, is very focused on those four races - and I am confident we can find what we need to win again, he said.
Encouragingly for Michelin, Giancarlo Fisichellas tyres stood up well in his one-stop recovery drive after his first corner spin.
Honda were also encouraged as Jenson Button took a strong fourth place finish and Rubens Barrichello took the final point for eighth. We just didn't have the pace of the Ferraris or Alonso in the Renault but we know where we're weaker and where we're losing out to them, so when we get on top of that we're going to be very competitive, Button enthused. The last stint was very strong for us. We had a lot less tyre graining and I was getting quicker and quicker. Not quite as good as my result in the last race but a good weekend nonetheless.
His fastest lap, 1m 28.474s, wasnt far off the Ferraris and Alonso.
Yet another disastrous opening lap for McLaren saw Kimi Raikkonen attacked in the first corner by Scott Speed, who also swiped Pedro de la Rosa. The Spaniard survived unscathed, but the Finn pitted with a damaged left rear Michelin and then crashed after running wide in Turn Four as his slow lap had damaged the undertray. The resultant loss of downforce put him off the road. De la Rosa drove a strong race to fifth, preserving his rear tyres while exploiting a single-stop strategy.
Toyota took home two points after Ralf Schumachers recovery from a first lap pit stop to seventh at the finish. Even though he whacked his team mate in the melee in the first corner, this was not a bad performance after he started down in 15th place on the grid. Jarno Trulli also looked strong at times, but steadily lost grip as the race progressed and could not summon the speed to challenge Barrichello for the final point.
Williams had another disappointing day, especially as Mark Webber ended the first lap in fourth and Nico Rosberg sixth. Gradually both were overtaken by faster cars, but Webber fought valiantly before slipping back to 10th in Trullis wake, while Rosbergs FW28 suffered water pressure loss in its Cosworth V8 and retired after 25 laps.
Red Bull had a similarly unhappy day. David Coulthard was on schedule for 11th place ahead of team mate Christian Klien, having improved his RB2 with subtle front wing adjustment during the first stop, but succumbed to a gearbox problem three laps from the finish. Klien, who had run well and occupied a top-eight position for a long time before gradually slipping back to finish 11th after a damaged barge board resulted in increasing understeer.
BMW Saubers hopes took a bashing with Nick Heidfelds tangle with Fisichella in the first corner. The German lost his front wing, which also damaged the floor as it folded back under the car initially. A rear tyre was also damaged, in turn damaging the rear wing, so he was consigned to an afternoon of struggling with limited grip. Team mate Robert Kubica lost out by stopping from sixth place when the safety car came out on lap 13, had a few off-track adventures along the way, and suffered serious tyre graining in his final stint on the way to 12th.
Speeds involvement in the first corner accident obliged him to pit at the end of the lap, and to fight back thereafter. He was helped by the intervention of the safety car, but couldnt better a 13th place finish.
Toro Rosso team mate Tonio Liuzzi finished the opening lap in seventh place but didnt have the pace to stay there. Subsequently he spun on lap 13 and triggered the safety car deployment. The Italian suspected a seized differential.
Midland lost Tiago Monteiro right from the start after he was presented with a sideways Takuma Sato, whom he could not avoid. Christijan Albers, however, put in a spirited performance to run as high as ninth at one stage, a few seconds behind the sixth place runner, but crashed into the barrier in Turn 6 with 11 laps to go.
Neither Super Aguri finished. Takuma Satos car was seriously damaged in the first corner accident, and he rejoined the race 16 laps down and was unclassified. Team mate Sakon Yamamoto spun off in Turn 1 on lap 23 and was unable to continue.
The second Turkish Grand Prix was a great race, and the relative performances of Ferrari and Renault, Bridgestone and Michelin, bode well for further excitement over the course of the four remaining races which will decide the outcome of the drivers and constructors world championships.