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The Turkish Grand Prix Preview - a three-way fight in Istanbul? 04 Jun 2009

Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB4.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Turkish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Friday, 9 May 2008 Jenson Button (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix BGP 001.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 23 May 2009 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 24 April 2009 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.09.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 8 May 2009 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday, 21 May 2009

This weekend’s race round Turkey’s Istanbul Park Circuit could show the direction in which the world championship battle will go over the next few Grands Prix. The unusual track, which runs anti-clockwise, places a premium on aerodynamic performance and that is bound to favour the Brawns.

However, it could also finally show us the true potential of Red Bull’s RB5, now boasting its own trick diffuser. And don’t discount Ferrari, the team on the rise and winners here the last three years…

This weekend’s race round Turkey’s Istanbul Park Circuit could show the direction in which the world championship battle will go over the next few Grands Prix. The unusual track, which runs anti-clockwise, places a premium on aerodynamic performance and that is bound to favour the Brawns, which demonstrated convincingly in Barcelona, another aero venue, that they are still highly effective even though everybody else now has similar multi-tier diffusers.

Istanbul Park Circuit undulates over its 5.338 kilometre (3.316 mile) lap length. For 2009 the back of the apex kerbs in Turns Nine and 12 have been graded to prevent a car from launching. Speed bumps, similar to Turn Two in Barcelona, have been installed behind the apex of Turn 10. And additional conveyor belts have been added mid-way through the tyre barriers at Turns One, Seven, Nine and 12.

The track is best known for the challenge presented by Turn Eight, a triple-apex left-hander that seems to go on and on. It is taken around 250 km/h generates arguably the highest G-forces drivers see over the season. Elsewhere, speeds reach 320 km/h and track temperatures of up to 55 degrees Celsius have been seen. It is thus as much a challenge for the drivers and cars as it is the engineers, who have to set them up, and the tyre manufacturer.

Bridgestone have brought their hard and soft compounds here, which are very different, and the harder tyre in particular could have engineers scratching their heads on set-ups.

This could be the first race at which we really see the potential of Red Bull’s RB5. Adrian Newey’s latest weapon has been very close to the Brawns all season even without a trick diffuser, but team boss Christian Horner believes its race performances in both Bahrain and Barcelona were disguised because Sebastian Vettel got trapped behind cars with KERS (Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren and Felipe Massa’s Ferrari respectively). Since Monaco the car has a two-tier diffuser, and this weekend will be the first time that the car will get to stretch its legs in this guise. With some more minor aero tweaks, expect it to fly.

Likewise, the Ferraris will be strong here, and the team are feeling buoyed after their competitive performances in Spain and Monaco. Felipe Massa has been unbeatable here for the last three years, and is raring to make it four in a row.

“We will have another small step in terms of aerodynamic development, which should improve the car still further, and that is down to a big push from the guys in the factory," he reports. "We want to continue to improve as quickly as possible, to try and win some races. If will be fantastic if we find we are in a position to fight for the win in Turkey.

"I just like the track and feel comfortable there, but it's hard to pinpoint why it suits me better than some other circuits. I do prefer fast flowing tracks and have a feel for all the corners here, as it's not good enough to only be fast over one particular section of the track. I think I've also found a good way to set up the car perfectly for this circuit."

BMW Sauber will be running a two-tier diffuser for the first time as part of an aero package that includes modified front wings, side bargeboards, rim shields and engine cover. Both they and Toyota have high hopes for this weekend and are desperate to wipe out memories of their troubled Monaco outings. Hamilton is also hopeful of a better time in the McLaren.

“I love racing in Turkey,” he says. “It’s a real challenge because you need to attack the lap to get a good time, but you also need to be careful with your tyres - if you push too much, particularly through Turn Eight, then your tyres are going to suffer. It’s all about finding the perfect balance in practice and being disciplined in the race so you don’t overdo it.

“I also love the fact that it’s a new circuit that has really captured the flavour of some of the older, classic tracks - it’s got a bit of everything and is fantastic to drive. Also, as it’s anti-clockwise, it gives your neck a bit of a workout, but you just need to make sure you’ve exercised the left side of your neck a little more than usual before getting in the car.”

However, though McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh says that the MP4-24 will have some further upgrades, he does not expect Turkey to suit it as well as Monaco did. Championship leader Jenson Button starts favourite, though. He and Brawn team mate Rubens Barrichello will have a new front wing, other minor aero revisions, and modified rear suspension to play with this weekend on their BGP 001s.

"The Turkish Grand Prix is always a race that I look forward to as I really enjoy driving the Istanbul Park circuit and have been quite competitive there in the past,” Button says. “Hermann Tilke did a great job with the layout of the track here and the changes in gradient are great fun and quite challenging. We've seen some excellent racing here, with good overtaking opportunities at Turns One and Three.

“You can also pass down the hill into Turn Nine and at Turns 12 and 13 if you brake late enough and get it just right. Turn Eight is obviously the corner that everyone talks about and it's probably the longest that I've ever driven. It's quite high G-force, up to 5G for seven seconds, which puts a lot of stress on your neck. You have to be as smooth as possible through the triple apex and if you get it right and take it flat, then it is one of those corners where you exit with a huge smile having made up a lot of time."