Perhaps to no one’s surprise, Sebastian Vettel won today’s Turkish Grand Prix in commanding style. Although Vettel had made a mis-step earlier in the weekend by crashing during an early practice session, it didn’t seem to hinder him. In fact, so certain was he of his dominant pace that, along with team mate Mark Webber, he only bothered to run a single hot lap during the Q3 qualifying session on Saturday. Nevertheless, he took pole by nearly a half second over his team mate, Webber.
Vettel led nearly from checker to checker, discounting the usual pit stop shuffles. His lead was never under serious threat, and he seemed to control the pace of the race with relative ease, much as he had clinched pole position with little apparent fuss.
Of course, one of the hallmarks of achievement is to make the effort look effortless. Vettel managed to do just that. One was reminded of similar performances by one Michael Schumacher some years ago, when it seemed that the German ace could not be beaten.
The 2011 season is quickly becoming remarkable for the changes wrought by three technical elements working in unison: KERS, DRS and the new Pirelli tires, which have the durability of mush. We’ve seen action-filled races this year, and none more so than Istanbul, which saw more than 80 overtaking moves completed during the race, a new record (since the FIA began counting, in 1993).
Strategy and tire conservation was key, as is quickly becoming the norm, and the teams that fumbled paid for it. Lewis Hamilton, who is not known for treating tires gently, was one who driver who suffered from losing pace at the wrong time. His tire degradation was exacerbated by the fact that he had too much downforce dialed in to the front wing, and his race was further compromised by a 21 second pit stop, the result of a wheel nut issue.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber started from second on the grid and finished in the same, which seems to be indicative of a pattern. While he and Vettel ran somewhat on a par last year, with Vettel having a moderate edge, this year Vettel clearly seems to be setting the pace, often by a half second or so. Clearly, Vettel is a more mature driver this year.
Third on the podium was Fernando Alonso. While Alonso started fifth, his move up to the podium was perhaps more impressive than the numbers indicate. Alonso is clearly one of the class acts of the field. Although he makes the occasional error in the heat of the moment, on the whole his approach to a race is masterful. He’s aggressive when he needs to be, is as tenacious as a pit bull, and knows how take care of this equipment and tires even when he’s pushing.
Today, he was rewarded with third place, and he seemed reasonably happy about it. Considering that his team mate Felipe Massa finished only 11th, both he and the team had reason to be pleased. The Scuderia has gotten off to a slow start this year, but their fight seems to have been aided a new front wing which is said to flex somewhat in the manner of Red Bull’s controversial front appendage.
The McLaren twins, Hamilton and Buton, took fourth and sixth, respectively, and traded places several times during some robust skirmishes along the way. It was the kind of close racing that has been a missing ingredient in F1 for 20 odd years, and it was a pleasure to see. IT wasn’t unique to the Woking squad, however. There was dicing through the field, to the extent that it was actually difficult to keep track of everyone’s positions.
Mercedes showed promise earlier in the weekend, with quick practice times by both drivers, and a third place qualifying position by Rosberg, but in race trim the promise faded. Rosberg managed a fifth, while Michael Schumacher came in a dismal 12th. In Rosberbg’s case, the loss of pace was due to failing tires under a heavy fuel load.
Schumacher’s case was different. The German had another torrid afternoon, that included several scrapes with midfield drivers. Most notable was a dust up with Renault’s Vitaly Petrov. Schumi, the last of the big time door-closers, pulled an aggressive feint on Petrov, who was making perhaps an overly ambitious dive down Schumi’s left flank. The cars touched, and Schumi’s Mercedes got an impromptu nose job. His race seemed to unravel from there.
All in all, it was an exciting race. There was enough drama throughout the field that Sebastian Vettel, as he calmly ran his own race in front, got relatively television coverage. There was too much happening among the also rans. But no one should complain. This is the kind of racing that his been missing from F1 for many years.
Even if the FIA had to fudge the rules a bit to make it happen, it’s worth it. And, as we’ve seen, even if overtaking has been vastly enhanced, it hasn’t made racing a cakewalk for the leaders. Mastering the combination of DRS, KERS and silly putty tires clearly takes a certain acumen, which most of the teams on the grid are still trying to master.
Turkish Grand Prix Results:
1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 58 laps 1hr 30m 17.558s
2. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 08.8s
3. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 10.0s
4. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 40.2s
5. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 47.5s
6. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 59.4s
7. Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault-Renault +01m 00.8s
8. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault +01m 08.1s
9. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari +01m 09.3s
10. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari +01m 18.0s
11. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +01m 19.8s
12. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +01m 25.4s
13. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
14. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
15. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
16. Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
17. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
18. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault +1 lap
19. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault +2 laps
20. Jerome d’Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
21. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth +3 laps
22. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth +5 laps
DNF. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes 44 laps completed
DNF. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth 0 laps completed
Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1m 29.703s lap 48