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Monday, August 22, 2005

Turkish Grand Prix

At last the mentally challenged Hermann Tilke decides to pen a good circuit, after nightmares like Shanghai and Bahrain. Finally we see a return to a flowing layout instead of Tilke's tight drag race like affairs. A Spa Francorchamp it most certainly is not but Istanbul is a lot better than most. Top 5 I should think. Even the slow corners in the first and second sector have a nice flow to it.

In a circuit likened to Spa, the McLarens were always going to look good and so it proved in the practice sessions spoilt only by Riccardo Zonta in the Toyota. In qualifying, Juan Pablo was the first one out and despite that set a time good for an eventual fourth on the grid. Giancarlo Fisichella benefitted from a later run than his teammate to start on the front row. Fernando Alonso's lap being spoilt by tail wind on the back straight. The Spaniard ran slightly wide going into the last corner and losing a few tenths there.

The Ferraris were absolute rubbish on this circuit. Obviously the older spec Bridgestone tyres simply not working at all, whether on a banzai lap or over the longer runs in practice, the cars some two seconds down on the frontrunners. To add to their predicament, Michael Schumacher spun his car going in to turn 9. Again, tail wind was blamed for this but really it boggled the mind to see his car suddenly spinning in the middle of turn 9 for apparently no good reason.

The BARs were looking good during practice and looked set for a good result in Istanbul. However, both Button and Sato made mistakes during qualifying. Both of them making it at the same corner, the much lauded turn 8. Before qualifying Button was quoted as saying that turn 8 was just about the best corner in Formula 1. I don't know about best corner, but it certainly is challenging and spectacular. In the end though, Sato was penalized for holding up Mark Webber during the Australian's flying lap and was stripped of his qualifying time.

Both Williams did well given their form in recent months to qualify sixth and seventh on the grid. Jarno Trulli as ever the qualifier for Toyota starting the race in fifth.

At the start, Kimi Raikkonen had a touch too much wheelspin and this allowed Giancarlo Fisichella to pip him going into the first corner. Fernando Alonso was also broadside going into turn 1 but Kimi managed to squeeze through in second. Behind them Juan Pablo Montoya did better on his start to stay ahead of Jarno Trulli. Two McLarens and two Renaults just like Montreal and it looked game on.

On that first lap, going into turn 9, Giancarlo ran wide on the exit and lost time. Kimi right behind was able to take advantage of it and was side by side with Giancarlo going into 10. The Renaults enjoyed a straight line advantage over the McLaren and Fernando was again side by side with Kimi going into the turn. Under braking though, the greater downforce of the McLaren helped Kimi nutmeg the both of them under braking and he was through.

Giancarlo stayed second at this point but once Kimi was ahead he simply drove away as expected. Renault getting nervous with this situation instigated a nicely worded team order. Fernando Alonso was told that he was quicker than Giancarlo and should therefore overtake. This he duly did on the back straight, and not even under braking as well.

I've always thought the team order rule is silly in motor racing, given its a team sport. Of course in the past there were incidents like Austria 2002 to blame for the current ruling but there were also other events that made it a good show. And as events showed on Sunday, this rule is hard to police.

Kimi kept on going up front with Fernando Alonso safe in second being protected by Giancarlo in third. Juan Pablo was looking rather racy in fourth and one could have no doubt that he would at least leapfrog Fisichella during the pitstops. Behind them, Jarno Trulli kept a watching brief in fifth but otherwise unable to close significantly and challenge the front runners.

Behind them Michael Schumacher had made a great start from the back of the grid and ran behind teammate Rubens Barrichello. Button though, with clearly a much faster car dispatched the both of them on consequent laps. Button had a terrific race and was soon making his way up the grid passing Klein and Coulthard along the way. He was soon up into 6th spot behind Jarno Trulli.

The Renaults pitted for fuel first and much earlier than the McLarens. With the Renaults in the pits the McLaren of Juan Pablo was free to run and at during his stop passed both the Renaults and ran second for much of the race until the last couple of laps. Fisichella though once again ran into bad luck. A fuel rig problem delaying his stop and putting him way down the order.

The top three remained the way the were until just before the end of the race but Juan Pablo was setting some scintillating lap times, setting fastest lap of the race with a high 1m 24. In the process though, he apparently flat spotted his tyres and was nursing his car towards the end of the race. Two laps from the end however, as he lapped Tiago Monteiro, the Portugese perhaps unsighted and losing downforce once the Colombian chopped across him to take turn 9 ran into the back of the McLaren.

As ever in this season, there are many arguments as to who's fault it was. I think it was both their faults. Juan Pablo could have taken his time to lap the hapless Tiago and need not have chopped across the Portugese. After all, Alonso was ten seconds behind and was no threat.

On the other hand, Tiago should also learn that as a backmarker it is your responsibility to let easily let the leaders through and ensure they get plenty of room to do it with. To be honest, I have not been at all impressed with the backmarkers this year. There have been plenty of races this year where the likes of Albers, Monteiro and Karthikeyan seem to suffer from blue flag blindness.

Alright to be fair, the backmarkers have also been wrestling to keep their cars under control more than anything, and really who's fault is that for making these stupid aero rules. Still, it shows incompetence if you're having trouble being aware of things going on around you.

As it were after being thumped at the back, Montoya went into a spin, recovered but lost time and soon Fernando was glued to his tail. A combination of damaged rear diffuser and flat spotted tyre then saw the Colombian run wide at turn 8 letting Alonso through to second much to Kimi's chagrin.

Behind them and earlier on in the race, Webber and Michael Schumacher also had a coming together. Michael was lapping the much delayed Webber (due to tyre punctures) but perhaps he was a little too slow going into turn 9. Webber retook him on the inside and Michael perhaps unsighted crashed straight into him. Mark and Michael both blame one another. However, if I'm being consistent, I should say that Mark is to blame here. Again, he's a backmarker. Move over and stay away for god's sake. However, as seven time world champion with vast experience, he should also have seen Mark side by side with him.

In the end, the top 4 was Raikkonen, Alonso, Montoya and Fisichella, who managed to recover from his pit disaster. Meanwhile behind Jenson Button managed to pass Jarno Trulli in the pits to take fifth. I think he deserved better today. He had a good car but it was his own bloody mistake in qualifying that led to his undoing. Jarno Trulli had a quiet weekend and ended up sixth. The Italian, being one of the few who's not impressed by this Otodrom. I don't know what his problem is because I think Istanbul is a fabulous circuit. But applause must be given to the Red Bulls who made up tremendous ground at the start and were quite quick. They took the last couple of points scoring places. A sixth for Coulthard and seventh for Klein.

The McLarens clearly are unbeatable at this moment. With the exception of the next race in Monza where its not so clear cut I would say they have the potential to win all the remaining races. However, with Alonso finishing second here today the championship you might say is done. The odds for Alonso winning the championship is clearly too great. Still I wouldn't mind seeing Kimi taking more race wins this year. In the constructors championship, I think McLaren are going to clinch it. With Juan Pablo at least landing in the podium slots and Kimi winning they're going to rack up enough points to haul Renault in. All told, perhaps thats the best and most appropriate outcome for this year.

Up next is the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. This is perhaps the only race where the Prancing Mules can take a victory on merit. They have been testing a LOT at Monza and with these new spec Bridgestones available again they should do a fine job of it. I'm still hoping they get beaten in front of their adoring tifosi. By both Renault and McLaren.

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