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GP Week : Issue 115
For more F1 Words of Wisdom from Windsor, CLICK HERE to check out his website: www.theflyinglap.com like Mark, had much in reserve. A lighter fuel load for one thing. Much more from the car for another. By the lunch-break, then, Seb was back to speed. Friday’s glitch was gone. There was the pole to be taken; and the pole in Turkey would be crucial. No-one has ever won the Turkish Grand Prix from anywhere other than the front row: and the short, downhill run to the first corner leaves no doubt about which is the quicker side. He was P1 in Q1 until right at the end, when Ferrari’s Felipe Massa oddly chose to do a further run on soft tyres. He was P1 in Q2 for the first time in a while. And then, in Q3, with only one lap on soft tyres, he laid down the rear flap even as the last part of Turn 8 – the third apex – was still stretched out in front of him. Perfect had been his entry to this long, long corner; perfect had been his first-apex rotation. Not too much load on the rear tyres; just enough steering input to transfer the energy. Then it was a question of keeping it seamless and neat, of the most subtle of initial inputs giving him the feel of what to do next. It was as if the car was driving Seb rather than the other way round. There were no jolts or shocks: even the kerb strikes were in harmony. He peeled into corners that Mark and Fernando zapped towards; he braked within the rhythm of the lap rather than in big-pedal, jointed segments. And he signed it all with an exit from the car with a good three or four minutes of Q3 still to run. Afterwards – after the interviews and the celebrations – they would say, as they always say (when the driver concerned isn’t listening) that ‘of course’ it was easy for Seb. He has the best car; he has the biggest advantage. Maybe so. Maximising the best car, however, is what Seb now does regularly – maybe four races out of five. And touching this sort of height – great car or not - is the epitome of the F1 art. It is a timelessly skilful thing to achieve. And it is a seductively beautiful thing to watch. In Turkey, in physical terms, it meant a lap time of 1min 25.610sec. No-one in the V8, tyre monopoly era had ever driven Istanbul faster. It was Seb’s fifth successive pole and gave him a clean-sweep for 2011. Only Mika Hakkinen has started a year (1999) better (with five straight poles). From Seb’s perspective, it was a nice- looking grid, too. Alongside him was Mark, which meant the odds of being out- KERSed by a McLaren into Turn 1 (as in China) were relatively small. Nico Rosberg, looking better than ever, was P3 for Mercedes. Then came the two McLarens, split by Alonso. That Lewis and Jenson should be less competitive here than in China was probably a reflection of Istanbul’s long corners. As slow as the Red Bulls remain in a straight line, Adrian Newey ’s logic of just planting the car on the corners, and allowing his drivers to use DRS earlier, cannot be denied. Lewis was quick, though. If you combined his best three sectors. P2 -quick. His inconsistency for sure reflected the imbalance of his car – and the imbalance in turn pointed to its relative lack of downforce. So many pit stops to go awry. So many cars perhaps to pass and re-pass: even from the pole the DHL Turkish Grand Prix was going to be complicated and therefore difficult to manage. And yet Seb made even this day seem perfunctory. He made a perfect start. He drove a perfect opening lap, full fuel-load braking points and all. And, behind, they slowed one another down. Nico was quicker away from the cleaner side of the grid than was Mark from P2; and Lewis, ambitiously trying Mark on the outside of an early corner, was obliged to tiptoe over the marbles and cede position to the likes of Fernando and Jenson. Seb’s early phase was faultless, too. Nico quickly slid backwards, his blistered rear options highlighting Mercedes’ relative inexperience at running near the front. By lap five Seb was nearly five seconds in front – and his car felt perfect, give or take a bit of predictable Pirelli tyre deg. His radio was working, too, which was a nice step forwards from China.... Yes, Seb lost the lead when he made his first pit stop – to Jenson Button, who stayed out until lap 13 to switch to another set of used options. The other main players had stopped earlier, however – Lewis and Felipe on lap nine, Mark, Fernando and Nico on lap 10. Having seen what they were up to, Seb then came in a lap later (on lap 11). He had margin enough to let the oppo decide his race. Thereafter, Seb was able to stop without even losing his lead (on lap 25, also for used options) and then on laps 40 and 47 for new primes. His was a four-stop strategy, yes – but he made his last stop only when all his major rivals had done likewise; there was nothing to lose by playing super-safe at that point. Andhewasnevertroubled.The two McLaren drivers gave another demonstration of how to race one another with respect for the team as a whole but neither were contenders: Jenson tried a decent three-stop strategy but effectively didn’t run the middle stints long enough. This is easy to say in hindsight, of course, when the level of tyre deg is fact rather than presumption! Lewis quickly ruined his rear tyres, took out front wing in the pit stops but then lost a ton of time with two cross-threaded right-front wheel nuts in pit stop three. Mark fought for much of the race with a brilliant Fernando Alonso and finally beat him in the closing stages, when Mark was on new primes and Fernando on a used set of hards. It was great to see Ferrari somewhere near the front again, bearing out what we were saying after China: in terms of downforce – in terms of how much exhaust flow they’re getting under the diffuser, Ferrari do not appear to be too far away from either McLaren or Mercedes; indeed, it could be the question of car management and set-up that many have been suggesting (as distinct from completely re-designing the car in the hope of finding x per cent more downforce). It was also nice, in the weekend on which we lost Seve Ballesteros, for the Spaniards again to have something about which to smile – particularly with Barcelona but two weeks away. For Mark, too, this was a positive result: he set fastest lap (when Seb was cruising); and formed 50 per cent of Red Bull’s ninth one- two finish and of their first front row lock-out since Korea. Michael Schumacher had another terrible day for Mercedes (in contrast to Nico, who massaged his rears nicely to finish fifth); the two Renault drivers did well to finish seventh and eighth (when they weren’t trying to drive into one another, that is); and you couldn’t have expected more either from Sebatien Buemi (Toro Rosso) or Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber-Ferrari). Both of them ran with three stops into point-scoring positions, Buemi from P16, Kamui-san from the back of the grid (after a fuel system problem in Q1). He passed five cars on the opening lap and was as high as P5 when the earlier pit stops had taken effect. Great stuff, particularly as the duo additionally beat Felipe Massa (also delayed with a fluffed pit stop) and Michael Schumacher out of the point-scoring positions. Michael, as I say, looked messy in both defence and attack (and in qualifying, when he was a full second slower than Nico) but at least had the grace afterwards to say ‘I was responsible for my poor weekend’. Here,thenarethepost-Turkeystats:Seb Vettel now leads the championship by 34 points – a margin larger by 20 points than any seen at any stage in 2010. The race saw a record 80 pit stops – five more than the wet-dry European GP of 2007. Seb has not only won three of the first four races of 2011 but has also led 80 per cent of the laps. And he now knows how to dominate a Grand Prix with only four laps in the wet, a big shunt, an hour of free practice and only one lap in Q3 behind him ... 26