2011 Turkish GP – Qualifying Analysis

Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position for tomorrow’s Turkish Grand Prix, but he didn’t blitz everyone else by a full second at the very end of the session as he usually does. This time, he did an early lap in Q3, a truly staggering 1:25.019 time that was miles ahead of all the other drivers on their first runs. Then he sat around, waiting for someone to get within striking distance of his time, possibly got bored, got out of the cockpit with utter confidence while everyone else went out for a second run. He has now been on pole position for all the races in 2011, a 5 race unbeaten streak if you count from Abu Dhabi last year.

If you were among the few who thought his Friday practice woes would peg him back this weekend, well, you’ve been proven wrong, quite comprehensively. Mark Webber must have been disappointed with second, I am sure. He had more dry running than Sebastian, he didn’t have a rebuilt car to familiarise himself with today, and yet he was four tenths off his team mate’s pace in Q3. Maybe Webber didn’t push too hard, planning for two runs, which turned out to be unnecessary in the end. Even so, this time around last year he had the measure of Vettel, and as things stand, the world champion seems to have moved the goalposts quite some way forward . With one extra set of option tyres available, the already dominant Red Bulls are going to be a lot harder to beat.

Rosberg’s third place was proof, if required, that the Mercedes is a properly quick car. Nico has been around the top of the timesheets throughout practice, and he was the only guy out there who got close to Vettel’s phenomenal Q2 time. He is clearly getting more out of that Mercedes than seven-times champion Michael Schumacher, who could do no better than eighth. From third on the grid, anything is possible. Mercedes GP have to aim for a podium at the very least tomorrow, in the event the Red Bulls run on a rampage and turn out to be unbeatable. Schumacher needs to up his game quickly, else he could find himself in the peculiar position of dragging his team down in the constructor’s championship race.

McLaren weren’t expecting to beat Red Bull today, and they didn’t, but what the Woking squad probably didn’t expect was ending up behind Mercedes on the grid. Lewis Hamilton was fourth fastest while Jenson could manage only sixth. The team admitted that they weren’t able to get all the updates on the car as they had planned, and it showed – Jenson was almost a second off Sebastian’s lap time. But lets not forget, McLaren won the last race on strategy than on pace, so a good start by the drivers, and dodgy pitstop here and there for one of the Red Bull drivers could change the game in a moment. McLaren also have an excellent DRS and KERS package, strong race pace, so it’s too early to rule them out of contention for the win. Sector times also show Lewis was actually quicker than Webber on an ‘ultimate’ lap.

Fernando Alonso put aside his practice troubles and extracted every ounce of speed from his Ferrari to split the two McLarens in fifth. Like Rosberg, he was also out-performing the car, in contrast to his team mate who ended up tenth. Massa ended up tenth because he did not set a time in Q3, and the reason for that was he had used up an extra set of option tyres to get through to Q2. Rather than totally compromise his strategy for the race, he sensibly elected to sacrifice a couple of places on the grid for a fresh set of tyres. Strategy aside, the 150 Italia seems to be an improved car, but has been demoted to fourth fastest by the resurgent MGP W02. The Ferrari seems to more gentle on its tyres, so it ought to be a close fight for the podium, unless Alonso makes a bad start yet again. He really needs to start gaining a place or two at the start, and not fall behind Massa every time.

Both Renaults made it through to to Q3, and it really was a case of the 10 best cars in the field right now making it to the final qualifying shoot-out. Vitaly Petrov has been quite impressive in practice, and carried that form to Q3, where he beat his team mate Heidfeld, Schumacher and Massa. He starts seventh, while Nick will start directly behind him in ninth. With their lightning fast starts, the McLarens and Fernando will have to make flawless getaways to retain their places.

Behind these cars came the Williams of Barrichello, who was knocked out of the top 10 at the last moment by Heidfeld’s Renault. Just 24 thousands of a second separated these two. The other Williams qualified 14th, Maldonado putting on an improved showing, sandwiching the two Force Indias between them. For once, Adrian Sutil managed to outqualify his talented rookie team mate, though it must be said Paul di Resta had time for just one Q2 run. Sergio Perez tried hard, and stayed in the top 10 for a long time, but was quickly pushed down the order as the other cars completed their final runs. Behind him line up the Toro Rossos, Buemi ahead of Alguersuari, both cars comprehensively outpaced in the midfield fight.

As is the norm now, Kovalainen came closest to making it into Q2, with a highly respectable lap that was only half a second above the cut-off. The two Lotus cars are comfortable ahead of Virgin and HRT now, and it showed in the gap between the cars. Trulli was easily 19th fastest, while d’Ambrosio was 20th, although the Belgian will start right at the back with a five-place grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags during practice. That leaves Tonio Liuzzi 20th with a superb final run in Q1, beating Timo Glock into 21st, while Narain Karthikeyan lines up 22nd.

Kamui Kobayashi was the shock elimination in Q1 – he went out for an exploratory lap which ended with a fuel pressure problem that meant he took no further part in qualifying. Despite a back of the grid start, the Sauber team is optimistic – they know their man is one of the best overtakers in the business, but more importantly, Kamui has a fresh set of rubber for every stint tomorrow. And we saw the difference in pace it brings, in the last race with Mark Webber. So we might see plenty of action from the feisty Japanese driver during the race.

If there are no major incidents at the first corner, this may turn into a procession that Istanbul has usually given us. It is hard to predict how much of an impact the DRS wing and KERS boost will have on the racing action, and the lower-than-expected degradation levels of the Pirellis are slightly disappointing. Rain was predicted for all three days of running, which has proven to be wide off the mark. The race is expected to be fully dry now, and you would have to be a brave man to bet against Sebastian Vettel making it three wins out of four races in 2011. Equally, Mark Webber will be keen to avenge the loss of a win here last year thanks to Sebastian’s impetuousness.

Will Red Bull be challenged in the race? It depends on the order at the end of lap 1. Without any untoward incidents into Turn 1, I very much doubt it. The McLarens have fallen behind slightly, and even though Hamilton appears to have the pace to fight for a win, he needs a brilliant strategy to overhaul Vettel. Rosberg is the dark horse at the moment – if his car is capable, Nico will deliver, of that I am sure. But then Vettel also has an extra set of fresh options available. And therefore, unless he has reliability issues, problems at the start or during the pitstops, the reigning world champion has this one in the bag.


One Response to “2011 Turkish GP – Qualifying Analysis”

  1. Saiprasaad Ganapthy Says:

    Another Force fact for you now – under braking for turn 12 at Istanbul Park, the drivers experience 5.4g. They brake from 310kph down to 77kph. It’s tough work!!!!!
    “Straight away I felt comfortable in the car, felt the rhythm of the track very quickly,” said Vettel, who clocked 1 minute, 25.049 seconds.
    Certainly a good showing from the Red Bull boys as usual but a marked improvemnt for Mercedes, who could dice it up up at the front tomorrow along with Red Bull and Mercedes.

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