Formula One’s first ‘European’ race of the season took place in Asia – on the other side of the Bosphorus. The mighty Istanbul Park, complete with tumbleweeds and vast, empty grandstands, could be seeing the last running of the Turkish Grand Prix but after the stunning spectacle in Shanghai, the few hardy souls that did show up knew they were in for a special weekend.
After his first defeat of the year, Sebastian Vettel arrived in Istanbul insisting RBR learn from their mistakes.
"McLaren didn't win (in China) because they were lucky – they did a better job than us. I don't think our decisions were down to luck and neither were theirs. It's important to learn from those things and make sure you don't do the same mistake twice."
Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull Racing
Meanwhile Mark Webber was – earlier than usual – being asked about his plans for the future.
“Aw… can’t we talk about this in August? We haven’t had too many discussions as yet, but obviously in the next few months we’ll start. I was asked the same question at a karting event and I said one of three things will happen: I’ll stay here; I’ll stop; I’ll go somewhere else. When a decision’s made, a decision’s made and I’ll tell you about it then. Kimi Räikkönen was supposed to replace me about six years ago, and that hasn’t happens yet either.”
Mark Webber – Red Bull Racing
The big news on Friday came from the sky. Heavy rain meant morning practice was wet but the afternoon was dry. Mercedes looked quick, but Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari topped FP1 and Jenson Button was fastest for McLaren in FP2. Sebastian Vettel knocked all four corners off his car in the morning and couldn’t run in the afternoon.
“I’m pretty happy with how today went. The car’s been working reasonably well. Turn 12 is really bumpy – it’s like they put a motocross jump in there!”
Jenson Button – McLaren
“These two sessions were very different because of the change in the weather. I think we have made progress, but there are teams that are quicker than us.”
Fernando Alonso – Ferrari
“We, as a team, were keen to have a look at the inter [intermediate tyre]. As Sebastian went out the rain increased slightly, he got a little bit high on the exit of Turn Eight, put a wheel on the Astroturf and was just unlucky – he must have hit just about every corner on the car so it has given the boys plenty of work to do this evening.”
But it was business as usual on Saturday as Sebastian took pole with Mark next to him. Confirming Mercedes’ pace, Nico Rosberg was third.
“It’s the ultimate result for the team. It would be nice to get pole but we’re on the front row. Seb did a good job, deserved pole and we’ll see how we go tomorrow. It’s the first lock-out we’ve had of the front row so we’ll try and have a smooth day tomorrow and that will be nice."
Significantly, neither of the Red Bull’s did more than one run in any of the qualifying sessions, hoarding their unused tyres for the race
“The tyres get destroyed through [Turn Eight] and there’s a few other corners where they’re having a hard time, which is normal here. How many stops will we make? We’ll have a few, I’m sure. More than two and less than six.”
“It’s going to be an issue, for everybody, for sure. It’s just a matter of finding the compromise in the race, how much you can push, how much you need to save tyres.”
Nico Rosberg – Mercedes
“All the ingredients are there for an exciting race, and the teams are already thinking about their tyre strategy. We’re expecting dry weather, which means that we should see about three pit stops, but different teams are likely to try different things. It’s just one of the elements that has made Formula One so interesting this year.”
Paul Hembery – Pirelli Motorsport Director
Behind the top three, the McLarens were split by Fernando Alonso. All the talk was about how slippery the even side of the grid would be and how difficult it would be.
“We’re starting on the dirty side of the grid – so our biggest challenge could be getting off the line. Every year here I’ve started on the dirty side here!”
Lewis Hamilton – McLaren (fourth)
“I’m going to have a stunning start because I’m going to be on the clean side of the grid, so I’m going to go straight past Mark and then we will see!”
So it proved, with Rosberg slipping past Webber at the start, holding the field up and allowing Vettel to pull out an early lead.
“It was a bit of a comfortable situation having Nico behind me, at least for the first five laps, as I was able to open a gap maybe quicker than if Mark had been behind. Throughout the race I had this cushion and we were able to react rather than act.”
“With last year’s regulations you might have panicked, but the way things are now, it wasn’t a huge problem when Nico got a good start.”
The race became tactical: Rosberg fell back, Webber and Alonso squabbled over second. Alonso took it, and pulled out a lead, but Webber snatched it back in the final stages.
“Fernando drove a very good race and with the DRS was able to execute a good move. I would not have liked to fight with him in the middle part of the race [but] at the end I could come back. Obviously I had a slightly better set of tyres than Fernando which is very important these days. We know the tyres are virtually everything and I arrived back on him and thankfully he returned the favour.”
“Tyres make a huge difference. Even with three or four laps on the tyres you can feel the drop in performance. In the last part, I think Mark had a new set of prime tyres and I didn’t, and maybe that was enough to make a difference. But anyway, fighting with Red Bull is not easy.”
The race had more pitstops (82) than any since the wet-dry-wet-dry-wet-dry-wet European Grand Prix of 1993. The big question was whether to do three stops or four. Most opted for four, but Sebastian Buemi (ninth) and Kamui Kobayashi (tenth) both used a three-stop strategy to drag themselves into the points.
“It was a lot of fun today. Before the race I had promised Peter (Sauber) to score points today. It is just one point now because we lost so much time due to a puncture, which was the result of touching Sébastien Buemi when I overtook him. Otherwise I think I could have finished seventh.”
Kamui Kobayashi – Sauber
“In general I am very happy with my race and I don’t think I could have done better. However, in the final two laps I lost two places... But I could not even hold the steering wheel anymore because there was so much vibration coming through from the tyres.”
At the front, Vettel was long gone. Cruising to a third win in four 2011 races.
“This one is for the guys, as I wrecked the car on Friday. Not only my mechanics, but also Mark’s mechanics helped a lot to fix the car and get ready. I have to say, when I walked in on Saturday morning every little worry was gone immediately, as the mechanics gave me the impression that nothing happened, nothing is wrong and we will continue as usual. That helps a lot.”
Webber was not too unhappy with second, and Alonso seemed content with third.
“I was saying to myself ‘I can’t finish third having started eighteenth on the grid and then finished third having started on the front row.’ So I needed to finish second, so thank God we did that. The guys did a great job all weekend, maximum result for the team, so we can’t do much more than that.”
“It was a good race from us and, I think, a good weekend overall. Friday we had some issues but Saturday and Sunday were perfect for the team. So yeah, very, very happy with the result but this is only the first step. We want to win races.”
“Yeah, wasn’t a bad car race, was it? I think. I’ll have a look at it on telly.”
Some people are saying Sebastian Vettel has his second championship in the bag already – but you won’t find any of them working in the F1 paddock. And so on we go to Spain. Fernando Alonso will be on home turf, Mark Webber is always stellar around the Circuit de Catalunya and McLaren have a big upgrade package on the way. Michael Schumacher is moaning but Nico Rosberg has shown that the Mercedes can compete. Red Bull Racing may lead both championships, but they’re starting to look over their shoulders with interest. The season is only just beginning.
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