2011 Turkish GP – Race Analysis

Sebastian Vettel waltzed to an easy victory in the Turkish GP today and serenely went about his business of increasing his already huge points lead while an exciting race unfolded behind him. The Red Bull man has now won three of the four races so far in 2011 and finished second in the one race he missed out. This is hardly the traditional Red Bull start to the season – not a single retirement so far, no squabbles between the drivers, and no sign of the young impetuous German who made several driving errors. Instead, what we have seen so far is a calm, composed, confident champion who has barely put a foot wrong, and has made a scorching start to his title defence.

Mark Webber continued his excellent form from China to make it a Red Bull 1-2, but there’s no doubt that the Aussie is now being shown a clean pair of Pirellis by his team mate. For a while, it appeared as though Mark would have an advantage this weekend, after Vettel crashed out in FP1 and missed the dry run in FP2. But from FP3 onwards, he has been clearly outpaced, and it has been a Sebastian show all the way. The situation more or less reminds me of the Ferrari dominance less than a decade ago, when Michael Schumacher was proving to be unstoppable.

Speaking of the old devil, he had a dreadful race, looking rather desperate when going wheel-to-wheel with other drivers, hit almost everyone who raced around him and was forced to make an extra pitstop for a new front wing. That ruined his race and he spent the rest of the afternoon coming through the field to 12th place. Rosberg too had high hopes resting on his shoulders after qualifying third, and when he slotted into second at the start, ahead of a slow starting Webber, it was natural to entertain thoughts of getting a podium. In the end, the race pace of the Mercedes was utterly disappointing, though it must be said Rosberg punched above his weight to bring the car home in fifth place.

So the next time Rosberg outqualifies a McLaren or a Red Bull, don’t expect any miracles, because that car is clearly optimised for the Saturday afternoon run and not the Sunday session that gives you points in the championship. Ross Brawn has spoken of a need to focus on race setup from now on, but with two races in three weeks, don’t expect any miracles from the Mercedes team. Besides, with Michael Schumacher struggling to come to terms with his car as well as this highly talented bunch of young drivers, it is difficult to foresee the Brackley based team threatening McLaren or even Ferrari for a while.

The Italian team certainly showed much improved pace this afternoon, the wind tunnel recalibration and new parts seemingly doing the trick. And even though the team will derive a lot of encouragement from the car’s performance in today’s race, the drivers had mixed fortunes. Fernando Alonso was arguably the driver of the day, putting in a superlative drive to third and the first podium of the year for both himself and the Scuderia. He maintained his fifth place at the start, took over fourth when Hamilton botched an overtaking manoeuvre on Webber, and used the DRS to get past Rosberg into third. He then preserved his tyres in the first stint, timed his stop to perfection and emerged with fresher tyres compared to the Aussie and shot past him into second place.

In the end, it was the extra set of tyres that the Red Bull drivers had saved in qualifying, that made the difference. Vettel ran away, and Webber, on fresh rubber, hunted down Alonso in the final stint and overtook him seven laps from the end. It was clear that Fernando was out-performing his car, and if Ferrari can give him one that is a match for the RB7, he will be extremely difficult to beat. On the other hand, Massa had a torrid afternoon, with several problems during pitstops, and a wild moment off the circuit in the latter part of the race that severely hampered his progress. He was also noticeably slower than Alonso and the McLarens, which meant he finished outside the points in 11th. Without the pitstop woes, he might have finished even 7th, but that is only speculation. One wonders if he will ever close the gap to Alonso, and he may be running out of time.

McLaren. Oh dear, where do we start. A mistake by Hamilton at the start while trying to overtake Webber dropped him two places down behind Alonso and his team mate Button. The two McLarens then fought a thrilling and remarkably close battle for several laps, and I am sure Martin Whitmarsh must have been one nervous man on the pitwall. While they scrambled for position, Massa quietly sneaked up behind them and overtook Lewis. At this point, McLaren chose to switch Hamilton to a four-stop strategy instead of the planned three, to get him out of sync with the cars around him. And even though Massa’s delayed pitstop allowed him to leapfrog the Ferrari, he suffered pitstop problems of his own in later stop, and fell way back. Jenson, used his three stops to move ahead of Hamilton, but his tyres gave up their job well before the finish, and he lost two places – to Nico and Lewis. At the end of a chaotic race, 4th and 6th weren’t what the team were expecting, and these mistakes won’t help their attempts to beat Red Bull.

Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov notched up a solid double-points-finish for Renault, in 7th and 8th, both having an eventful afternoon of fighting midfield runners left and right. And to top it off, they even went wheel banging with each other into the final corner, leaving Nick a very unhappy man. In the end, he managed to beat his Russian team mate who had a big scrap with Michael Schumacher at one point. The two drivers behind them were far more impressive in their performance – Sebastian Buemi three-stopped from 16th on the grid to 9th at the flag, showing good maturity in bringing the car home safely in an action-packed race. Likewise, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi scythed through the field on a three stop strategy and overtook just about everyone he saw en route to 10th and a single point, despite having to pit early thanks to a puncture in the second stint.

Their team mates, sadly had problems that compromised their race, and spent their afternoon squabbling with the Force Indias and Williams men, stacking up behind the top 10. Paul di Resta was the only retirement today, with an unspecified problem. Rubens Barrichello drove impressively for most part of the race, even pulling off a fantastic overtaking manoeuvre on Schumacher, but in the end, his car lacked pace and could do no better than 15th. Among the new teams, Lotus were far ahead of Virgin and HRT as we have now come to expect, even though the car is still not quite as reliable as it should be. Timo Glock, embarrassingly, was unable to take part in the race after his team failed to solve some gearbox issues, whilst HRT managed to get both cars to the finish.

Considering the nature of the races Istanbul usually gives us, today was a pleasant surprise – and it really seems to be the combination of DRS, KERS and Pirelli tyres that is making every race a great spectacle. But credit also to the circuit designer Hermann Tilke, for the track is a wonderful piece of design and on its own, it produced some incredible wheel-to-wheel battles this time. Will this be the final race at Istanbul? I certainly hope not. It would be a great pity to waste this brilliant circuit for the fault of the organizers and promoters who have failed to develop public interest in the sport. I feel Bernie could certainly compromise a little bit on his exorbitant fees to keep the race on the calendar. And with races like these, who wouldn’t want to watch the Turkish GP next year? If the teams, Bernie and the promoters can find ways to make the GP more popular and accessible to the public, and keep it on the 2012 schedule, that would be great. We like Istanbul, and we want it to stay.

Overall, a weekend for Red Bull to savour, for they have now taken their lead over McLaren to 43 points – the value of a 1-2 finish. Sebastian Vettel in the meantime, has stretched his lead to 34 points over Hamilton. Can this German juggernaut be stopped? As Fernando Alonso proved, they are not far beyond reach, and with a little bit of help from their cars or strategy, Hamilton and Alonso can beat the Red Bulls. And that is the biggest headache for the teams at the moment, for Adrian Newey’s RB7 is so good in qualifying that is almost guaranteed a front-row start. And so for McLaren and Ferrari, race wins depends on strategy, luck and a flawless performance from both car and driver. Lets put it this way – until McLaren and Ferrari can push the RB7 down the starting grid, they will always have a mountain to climb every weekend. And with the reigning champions on a roll at the moment, the two oldest team in Formula 1 will have to dig deep to get back to winning ways and restore some pride.


2 Responses to “2011 Turkish GP – Race Analysis”

  1. Louise Says:

    Excellent article Sundar – you are absolutely brilliant in your round ups! You should be journalist!

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