Turkish GP - Preview

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Turkish Grand Prix facts:

Track length: 3.317 miles (5.338 km)
Number of laps: 58 (192.250 miles/309.396 km)
Lap record: Juan Pablo Montoya (McLaren) 1 min 24.770sec (2005)
2007 winner: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)

Thanks to a tally of two victories and one second place from four races, Kimi Raikkonen heads into this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix with an impressive nine-point lead over his nearest pursuer Lewis Hamilton.

Good news then for fans of both the Finn and Ferrari; perhaps not so good for those of us who suspect that neither Hamilton nor anyone else has the wherewithal to mount a challenge to the World Champion in 2008.

Sounding understandably confident, Raikkonen is predicting more of the same at the 3.317-mile Istanbul Park circuit this weekend.

"When you have a look at this year's tracks so far, the one at Istanbul is very similar to the one at Sepang and Sakhir, where we could win," Raikkonen said. "That makes us think that we'll be competitive over the weekend."

Nevertheless, if past form by the Bosphorus is anything to go by, Raikkonen could face a stiff challenge from team-mate Felipe Massa, who has made the race his own over the past couple of seasons.

The Brazilian scored his first grand prix victory in Istanbul two years ago and repeated the feat in 2007, when he had the better of Raikkonen in a Ferrari one-two that saw the Scuderia begin the surge which eventually brought a double title success.

Faced with such statistical evidence, you'd understand the plight of Ferrari's rivals, were they simply to throw in the towel before the weekend even gets underway.

But such an attitude perhaps explains why they do their job and we do ours: the competitiveness of the F1 breed exemplified in the super-positive attitude radiated by Hamilton.


After the blip of both the Malaysian and Bahrain grands prix, Lewis put in more the sort of display we've become accustomed to in Spain, passing Robert Kubica's BMW Sauber at the lights before chasing Raikkonen and Massa home to complete the podium.

The critics were thus put in their place, but the fact remains that if Barcelona demonstrated anything, it was that McLaren Mercedes currently do not seem to have any answer to Ferrari's pace.

However, Hamilton says the team want to do more than just make up the numbers in Turkey: "This weekend I obviously want to get points, but I want to win. I miss winning, so that's my plan.

"The longer you go without winning, so the anxiety probably grows because as a racer you want to win. I've tasted victory quite a few times, and that's what we're here to do. We're here to win."

The 23-year-old - who suffered a puncture in Turkey last year before recovering to finish fifth - also reckons that the stability of McLaren's MP4-23 chassis will help cut down on tyre wear, something which has come into play in years' past.

"The balance of the car felt good in Spain, and this is really key at Turkey because of the high speed corners," Hamilton added. "You need to have a stable balance to be quick through them, such as turn three.

"You also need a very stable car through turn eight, to ensure you conserve your Bridgestone Potenzas and that you are able to carry speed through there. This section of the track is key as you can gain a lot of time."

Even so, the timing of the race - moved forward this year from August - should result in cooler conditions, giving a track surface that is slightly less demanding on tyres.

Thursday brought the thankful - though anticipated - news that Hamilton's team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen, will race, a fortnight after the Finn suffered concussion and a stiff neck following his 140 mph head-on crash in Spain.


Not making the trip, however (although the team's transporters did, getting as far as the circuit gates before being turned away) will be the now defunct Super Aguri, who have not managed to convince weary backers Honda that a last-minute takeover can secure their long-term future.

Thus, deals for 2008 in F1 and elsewhere having already been done, drivers Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato are left in career limbo - as are other personnel in a team who, in their two-and-a-bit seasons on the grid, brought the type of underdog spirit that all sport needs.

The question is, on a grid were manufacturers hold sway, and with 2010 rules precluding the sort of 'customer' deal that allowed Honda (and Red Bull for that matter, who supply Toro Rosso) to provide both chassis and expertise, will we ever see their like again?

In contrast, longevity could well be Rubens Barrichello's middle name and the Brazilian certainly celebrates a milestone this weekend - the Turkish Grand Prix being his 257th F1 start (his first coming in the 1993 South African GP), beating Riccardo Patrese's record.

With both his helmet and his Honda car carrying a special livery to celebrate, the 36-year-old will be placing his decrepid neck muscles through a kind of purgatory this weekend: Istanbul Park being one of only two anti-clockwise tracks on the calendar.

Still, the general consensus is that Istanbul is one of the most popular recent additions to the calendar, featuring as it does lots of elevation changes and also Turn 8, a very long left hander where the drivers experience loads of more than 4g.

The long back straight leading into the tight hairpin of Turn 12 also offers an ideal opportunity to overtake - something sadly lacking last time out in Spain.