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Sunday race preview - a gripper is in prospect 26 Aug 2007

Post qualifying top 3: Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari, third; Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari, pole position; Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren, second.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Turkish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Saturday, 25 August 2007 Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Turkish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Saturday, 25 August 2007 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.07.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Turkish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Saturday, 25 August 2007 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault R27 in the pits.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Turkish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Friday, 24 August 2007 Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Turkish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Friday, 24 August 2007

€t was very tough, very tight, always a big fight between all four drivers,” Felipe Massa beamed after qualifying on Saturday afternoon saw him edge out Lewis Hamilton for pole position at €stanbul Park.

And precisely the same thing will apply in the race. Any one of the top four drivers on the grid: Massa, Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, can win. Turkey is always a very tough Grand Prix, very hard on the machinery and very tough on the drivers, as they have to negotiate the 4g Turn Eight 58 times at racing speed.

Ferrari and McLaren are perfectly poised. Massa put the perfect qualifying lap together in 1m 27.329s, while Hamilton lost a fraction in the slippery final Turn 14 on his way to 1m 27.373s and Raikkonen made an error between 13 and 14 that sapped his speed and left him on 1m 27.546s.

€f you had to guess, you’d suggest that Massa is on a slightly lighter fuel load than Raikkonen. But it is harder to quantify that situation between the two McLaren pilots. Alonso set his best time on the medium tyre, but then opted for the Bridgestone prime, the harder compound here, for his final run. Where Hamilton was busy digging deep to find six-tenths over his first Q3 run, Alonso was also fighting stress issues as his strategy called for a very late run in which he would only reach the chequered flag seconds before it fell, and he ran into traffic which made it an even closer call than planned. He felt those factors prevented him from bettering his previous time of 1m 27.574s, but like all three of his rivals he believes that he has a very strong car for the race.

Assuming all four make the first corner without incident, and that the dirty line on which the McLarens start doesn’t affect them too badly, the race will be a play centring on initial fuel loads and the way in which the prime and option tyres wear in a very hot and punishing race. That, and personal commitment when it comes to taking what chances this great circuit offers an adventurous driver in the overtaking stakes.

Perhaps it will transpire that Robert Kubica is running relatively light, but the Pole’s performance for BMW Sauber in posting a lap of 1m 27.722s, and team mate Nick Heidfeld’s best of 1m 28.037s, underlines the growing threat of the Swiss-German team. Both are realistic enough to now that expecting any more of them in qualifying was a tall order, likewise that they will be able to challenge the Ferraris and McLarens on pure pace, but the F1.07s are reliable, team strategy is good, and they can never be ruled out for a podium if any of the leading runners falter.

Renault were not as close to BMW Sauber on Saturday as they have been of late, but a more careful approach to qualifying yielded two top 10 placings with Heikki Kovalainen seventh on 1m 28.491s and Giancarlo Fisichella 10th with 1m 29.322s The Finn was relatively satisfied, but the €talian struggled to achieve a decent balance all through the final session as he was dogged by understeer on his R27.

Nico Rosberg wanted a top 10 position, and with eighth he got one with space to spare in his Williams FW29. €nitially he wasn’t sure the team could be strong here, but the performance in practice carried over into a solid 1m 28.501s. Team mate Alex Wurz struggled again, however, and was only 16th on 1m 28.390s set in Q2.

After their strong showing on Friday afternoon, Toyota came down with a bump as Jarno Trulli qualified ninth on 1m 28.740s and Ralf Schumacher could manage no better than an 18th fastest 1m 28.809s which weeded him out in Q1. Difficult track conditions, with wind-induced understeer at times, hurt Trulli’s search for good balance (but were the same for everyone), while locking rear wheels hampered Schumacher initially, and a change of front wing and tyres ended in oversteer thereafter.

Anthony Davidson really seems to have the hang of qualifying now, and his 11th overall on 1m 28.002s for Super Aguri was an excellent performance. To have missed out on Q3 by less than two tenths of a second really was impressive. Team mate Takuma Sato was less happy, languishing in 19th place on 1m 28.953s after Q1. He said the balance was as good as Davidson seemed to think it was, but that his car simply lacked grip.

The Red Bulls qualified 12th and 13th courtesy of Mark Webber (1m 28.013s) and David Coulthard (1m 28.100s), the drivers bemoaning lack of downforce or the need for a reduction in drag. The two Hondas were likewise at the limit of their performance, with Rubens Barrichello this time just edging out Jenson Button. The Brazilian was 15th on 1m 28.188s, the Englishman 16th on 1m 28.188s. Button is set to start last, however, after the team opted to change his engine following power loss problems at the very end of qualifying.

At Toro Rosso, Tonio Liuzzi again showed rookie Sebastian Vettel the way around, lapping confidently in 1m 28.798s and just losing out in Q1 to Barrichello by six thousandths of a second. The overriding problem for him was that he was sent out in traffic, couldn’t quite warm the front tyres quickly enough, and thus lost out despite the rest of the lap being perfect. Vettel lost time on the weighbridge and thus the team had to revise his strategy, and as last car out he struggled with tyre pressures and temperatures as he recorded 1m 29.408s.

Adrian Sutil got worryingly close to that for Spyker with 1m 29.861s, this time comfortably outpacing team mate Sakon Yamamoto, whose eventual best was 1m 31.479s. First the latter spun, then he had a gear selection problem which prevented him making a final run.

Sunday's 58-lap race gets underway at 1500 local time (1200 GMT) and is set to be run in perfect weather conditions, with light winds and temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius.

David Tremayne