Saturday 7 May 2011

Istanbul Preview: Seb still on top as Merc make a step

The Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul is the first race of F1's European season (despite the track actually being on the Asian side of the Bosporus), a race meeting usually associated with a variety of new technical pieces on cars up and down the grid. In other words, it is usually here that we find out where everyone really is at.

And in spite of these developments in the past three weeks, in which the teams' staff no doubt resembled characters in those manic, speeded up comedy films of the 1920s, it appears that Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull remain the package to beat. Even after sitting out most of Friday, with a smash in the rain in first practice, forcing him to sit out the second, dry, session, he calmly re-asserted himself in the order of things by claiming top spot in practice this morning. Indicative of a team and driver absolutely at the top of their game.

Pole is probably Seb's for the taking, in part because Red Bulls have more of a DRS advantage than the cars around them such as the McLaren (which can be used liberally in qualifying and practice). Things nevertheless should be closer come race day, and Mercedes appear to have confirmed their progress seen in China. Schumi and Rosberg ended up second and third this morning, and look like they're somewhere near McLaren's level at least. There are also big bumps in the braking zone at Turn 12, which the Mercs are riding much more comfortably than the long-time stiff McLarens. Also, Seb's Red Bull had its nth case of KERS trouble his morning as well, they don't look any closer to having it running reliably, which may make them easy meat on the straights tomorrow, if anyone can get close to them.

As for Ferrari, they're confident they're getting to the bottom of their wind tunnel correlation problems, and seem to at least be heading in the right direction. By both drivers' admissions their technical step here is more evolution than revolution, and their big upgrade is planned for the next race (the races come think and fast then, so Ferrari's season probably hinges on that upgrade). They'll struggle to get in among the big three teams in qualifying today but their longer runs look more impressive (as has been the case all season so far), so they may make some progress tomorrow. Felipe Massa always goes well in Turkey, and has looked in good form for the past couple of races, so may be a man to watch.

And for all of the talk of the Pirellis not lasting for long here, primarily because of Turn 8 taking it out of them, the tyres have been holding on remarkably well. Indeed Nick Heidfeld managed a 17-lap run on Friday, meaning that a two-stopper may be possible. It may be China all over again, with two-stoppers taking on three-stoppers.

Second practice highlights

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