Of the new generation tracks, and by that I mean the eight tracks on this year’s calendar that have been designed and built since 1999 by Hermann Tilke, Istanbul Park is the most demanding, both technically and physically.
Technically, the track’s mix of 180-degree corners and long, fast sweeps puts such an emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency that bad cars are left with nowhere to hide. Physically, its anti-clockwise direction tests the drivers’ physical stamina to the limit.
The most physically demanding corner on the lap is Turn 8, a triple-apex left-hander where the minimum speed doesn’t drop below 155mph. The drivers pull up to 5G for seven seconds through here, which makes Sunday’s 66-lap race a real endurance test – and a good gauge of driver fitness.
There has been no testing since the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks ago because all of the Formula 1 freight was shipped by sea from Trieste to Istanbul. So, using Barcelona as a form guide, you need look no further than Ferrari for a winner on Sunday. The F2008 is the best car on the grid and the challenging layout of Istanbul Park will allow it to exploit its aerodynamic advantage to the maximum. Felipe Massa has won this race for the last two years from pole position, but Raikkonen won it in ’05 and he’s currently the man to beat.
Expect Lewis Hamilton to drag the absolute maximum from his McLaren MP4-23 because he loves Istanbul Park. He dominated the GP2 race here in 2006, climbing from 16th to second, and he was looking competitive last year until a tyre failure dropped him to fifth. His team-mate Heikki Kovalainen has been cleared to race following his 125mph shunt in Spain, but he’ll need to do something special to overcome the challenge from Hamilton.
The battle behind Ferrari will be enthralling because McLaren have BMW and Renault breathing down their neck. Their respective cars were separated by only a few tenths of a second in Spain, where Fernando Alonso’s Renault was quicker than both McLarens in Q1 and Q2, when the cars ran on equal fuel loads.
Sounds exciting, but don’t expect too much overtaking. We’ll need next year’s radical new rules for much of that.
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