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GP Week : Issue 115
OOPS I DID IT AGAIN Sebastian Vettel was back on the top step in Turkey, proving that not even a big crash in practice can distract him from absolute dominance. PETER WINDSOR analyses an action packed race from lights to flag F1 TURKEY >> Inthemonthsaheadthatwill merge to become the 2011 F1 World Championship, the DhL turkish Grand Prix will stand up there with the best of them as yet another statistical freak: a record 82 pits stops in one afternoon and enough ‘passes’ to satisfy even the slipperiest of market surveyors. What they won’t remember, perhaps, is FP2 on Friday afternoon, when the rain had subsided and the track was drying. Those who had sat out the wet morning – like the McLaren drivers – suddenly looked smart. They hadn’t used up any of their wet tyre allocation (for at that point they were still predicting more rain for the weekend) – and nor had they damaged their machinery. No surprise, then, that Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton (tip-toeing around the dreaded Turn Eight) finished FP2 one- three, sandwiching the Mercedes of a neat- looking Nico Rosberg. Michael Schumacher, underlining the Mercedes pace, was fourth; and Fernando Alonso finished fifth on that Friday, reflecting some improvement at Ferrari. What you didn’t see in FP2 was the Red Bull-Renault of the world champion, Sebastian Vettel. Crazily – stupidly – he had run wide out of a wet Turn 8 that morning, had hit the exit kerb and then the Astroturf at the wrong angle and had crashed heavily into the inside barrier, badly damaging the car. There was no need for it. It was the kind of thing you’d expect of a rookie after only four laps of practice. It was embarrassing. And it meant that there would be no dry-weather running for Sebastian that afternoon. Advantage McLaren. Advantage Mercedes. Advantage Ferrari. And advantage Mark Webber. It’s not often that a driver as good as Vettel makes a mistake that big - or, to be more precise, that a mistake that small is rewarded with a shunt that big. The initiative was there to be taken. And this pivotal moment of the weekend, for Seb, was there to be handled. How, though? Sit in the motorhome and thus avoid the TV cameras and the questions? Sit in the truck, studying the telemetry? None of these. Not one. Instead, Seb donned a hooded Red Bull sweat shirt and hung around the garage and pit wall, laughing and joking with his (hard-working) mechanics, studying Mark’s telemetry, watching the lap times...and watching other cars. Car-less he was; still, though, there was a motor race to win and Seb’s demeanour said this: ‘You think a little thing like missing FP2 is going to hurt me?’ Jerez, September, 2005. Sebastian Vettel’s first drive of an F1 car (the Williams-BMW): ‘After five laps I came back into the pits and tried to play it cool: ‘Oh yeah. I’m really on top of this.’ But I was completely lost. I was completely overwhelmed. I tried not to let anyone see it but my neck had gone completely. On the outside, though, I remember I was quite calm. I really did enjoy myself – and nothing has changed in that way.’ Thus Mark was only fifth fastest on Friday afternoon: he wasn’t going for a time, of course, and RBR regularly use Fridays for heavy-fuel running. Seb would have been in his eye-line, however – just as Seb’s smiling face filled the TV screens whenever the action ebbed. It wasn’t what Mark needed to see between the long runs, particularly as the job list was long. Seb looking happy and calm. Just as if he was some kid out there, waiting for his first drive in an F1 car... And here’s the thing: Seb wasn’t doing any of this because of what they like to call gamesmanship; and nor was he doing it because he ‘needed to be seen’. He was out there because he’s still just a young German karter at heart – a karter who also drives F1 cars exceptionally well and who likes hanging around his race team whenever he’s not in the car. It’s more fun than playing computer games or surfing the net. Simple as that. The punch-line, of course, would come on Saturday morning, when Seb would have to jump back into his rebuilt car and instantly take control. Not easy when the car’s been savaged and the rest of them have some mileage. He was perfect, though: Greet the boys. Have a laugh. Carry on as if nothing has happened. Installation lap. IN. Car systems all ok. Car feels ok, too. No signs of the shunt AT ALL. It’s as if it hadn’t happened. Out on a set of hard tyres. Five laps. Lovely to feel the dry track and to see the blue sky. Nice to feel the KERS. 1min 27.134.sec. P1. Bang. Just like that. 0.3 quicker than Mark. IN . More fuel. More checks. Ride height. Front wing. The same set of hard tyres. Out. Another five laps. P1 again. 1min 26.940. And – yes! He was able to flatten the rear wing even before the exit of Turn Eight. This was the focus, then, as the soft tyres were bolted into place. Shave the DRS. Out of T6. Out of T8 a little more. Out of T10. KERS, too. Get it right. Fantastic circuit. Turkish GP, 2006: ‘This was my first F1 weekend. I had been in Greece, on holiday. It had taken ages to get there but after two days I received a call from Mario Theissen, who was running Sauber. He said, ‘We’ve decided to put you in the car in Turkey on Friday and we need to do a seat-fitting the day after tomorrow.’ I said ‘OK’ and packed my stuff. I then drove all the way back to Switzerland, to the Sauber factory...’ On the soft tyres, at the end of the hour, Seb put it all together with a 1 min 26.037sec lap. That other German, Michael Schumacher, almost matched him, but Seb, 25