The F1 circus yesterday arrived in Istanbul, with a backdrop of conflict between the teams and the FIA. But on the track there is a real possibility that this weekend will be a tipping point, with Brawn GP aiming to lay one hand on the world championship should they win convincingly on Sunday.
The key in Turkey is the nature of the track. Smooth and fast-flowing, it is one of Hermann Tilke’s best creations, with its centrepiece the magnificent Turn 8. That corner is in effect four sweeping left-handers, with the bravest drivers keeping their right foot planted for as long as they dare, or the car can take it. A slight lift is normally required, but drivers with confidence in their car can decide to lift when they choose through Eight, knowing how the car will respond. A good aerodynamic balance is required by this Istanbul track, with other medium and fast corners making a pleasant whole to drive and to watch.
So who stands to benefit from good aero, and who will lose out? Brawn’s car has suited almost every track they have visited so far, the difference lying in the size of the cushion they have. So they will go well. But Red Bull are quietly hoping for a stellar weekend, and many people are backing them. The RB5 is a work of art aerodynamically, with the genius of Adrian Newey coming to the fore. It remains to be seen how close Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber will get to the Brawns, but do not be surprised to see them fighting them at the front.
Ferrari are the other name in with a shout. The Maranello squad have progressively been adding downforce to the F60, which is turning at last into the car it was supposed to be at the start of the season. Felipe Massa likes Istanbul and has won here a few times – he knows how to set the car up well. If the modified Ferrari tallies well with the nature of the track, expect to see them at or near the front.
Toyota and Williams are due a good result, as their machines are fundamentally good ones. But it would truly be a surprise if a Lewis Hamilton or a Fernando Alonso managed to get to the front.
So it’s the Brawns’ race to lose. Red Bull urgently need to stamp their authority on this race to retain a psychological chance in the championship. If Brawn won, they could still be mathematically threatened, but maybe would start to dream that it was theirs. They would have beaten their closest rivals on a track at which they are comparatively weaker.