The Turkish Grand Prix weekend is underway, and as the we hit the 8th round of this year’s world championship things are really starting to hot up. Can Red Bull maintain their pace? Can the new teams get among the midfield? Can Badger go a whole weekend without using the phrase ‘Turkish Delight’ to describe a happy driver? There are just so many questions to be answered.
A dusty, dirty track resulted in no flying laps for the first 25 minutes of practice one, and when a time was posted it was by the less than inspiring combination of Sakon Yamamoto and a Hispania car. Yamamoto replaced Bruno Senna in the first session, the team calling on his limited experience and substantial financial backing to help propel them forward.
When the quick drivers started to set times a familiar practice pattern emerged, with Lewis Hamilton going to the top of the timesheets and staying there. Hamilton was a whopping 9 tenths quicker than McLaren teammate Button, but behind him things were a lot closer, with the same gap separating Button from 10th placed man Sutil. The usual suspects popped up in between- the Mercedes, Red Bull and Renault drivers- but Felipe Massa was notable by his absence, achieving only the 13th fastest time. The hard tyres Bridgestone have brought to Istanbul could hamper the three-time winners progress this weekend- he’s yet to find the right balance on them this season.
The session concluded with a big shunt for Adrian Sutil, who’d earlier been complaining to his engineers about a lack of grip in his Force India. The German lost the rear of his car at the exit of turn 8, seriously damaging the front end.
On to practice two then, and the track had heated up, temperature-wise anyway. In fact there was more action too, with an immediate flurry of laps going in.
Kudos to the Force India mechanics, who missed their lunch (mad, we know) to get Adrian Sutil’s damaged car back on track for the session- good work. Adrian ended the session a solid 11th.
Out front Lewis Hamilton was the early pacesetter, holding the top stop until around the hour mark. Sebastian Vettel topped that in the Red Bull, before Jenson Button sent his McLaren to the summit with the quickest lap of the day. Mark Webber went second, and that’s how it stayed, with Vettel, Hamilton and Fernando Alonso completing the top five.
But despite Red Bull’s strong form in the session there was drama in the final moments. Mark Webber stopped exiting turn 2 with a troubled sounding engine, before rolling (quite gracefully) backwards down the track and off a service road. A chink in the Red Bull armour to be sure, and with Vettel having water pressure issues earlier in the session they might not have quite such an easy time of it this weekend.
So it’s a double success for McLaren, who’ve now topped the first session in four of the last five grand prix: Hamilton in Malaysia, Jenson Button in China, and Hamilton again in Spain and now Turkey. It’s a great way to start the weekend, but only in China- where Button went on to win- has it translated into a good result on Sunday. And honestly, who’d bet that Hamilton will be able to beat the Red Bulls to the chequered flag this weekend? Even with their technical problems they have to be the team to beat in Turkey.