Defending Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he cannot wait to get to Istanbul for this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix – but his McLaren-Mercedes team are urging caution about what can be achieved around a track that on paper will not play to the MP4-24's strengths.
With its high-speed corners and fast, flowing nature, the Istanbul Park Circuit is likely to expose the inherent weaknesses of the Woking-based outfit's aerodynamically-underperforming challenger in much the same way as did the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. Hamilton finished a lowly and lapped ninth in the Spanish Grand Prix – outside of the points and lamenting a total lack of pace from his car – but he nonetheless remains hopeful of enjoying better fortunes as F1 heads further east.
“I love racing in Turkey,” enthused the nine-time grand prix-winner, who has yet to triumph in Istanbul. “It's a real challenge because you need to attack the lap to get a good time, but you also need to be careful with your tyres – if you push too much, particularly through turn eight, then your tyres are going to suffer. It's all about finding the perfect balance in practice and being disciplined in the race so you don't overdo it.
“I love the fact that it's a new circuit that has really captured the flavour of some of the older, classic tracks – it's got a bit of everything and is fantastic to drive. Also, as it's anti-clockwise, it gives your neck a bit of a work-out – but you just need to make sure you've exercised the left side of your neck a little more than usual before getting in the car.”
Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen finished an impressive sixth in Istanbul during the course of his 'rookie' campaign in the top flight with Renault in 2007, and achieved his maiden front row starting position there this time last year ahead of Hamilton, but a touch from behind from compatriot Kimi Raikkonen into the first corner left the Finn with a puncture and dropped him to the rear of the field, from where he could only recover to twelfth at the chequered flag. This time around he is looking for payback.
“Turkey is all about turn eight, the high-speed, four-apex left-hander,” contended the 27-year-old, echoing Hamilton's sentiments. “On a good day in qualifying, it's flat-out – and that's a pretty good feeling when you get it right.
“It's also very important to look after your tyres through turn eight – you put a lot of load through the tyres, particularly the fronts, so it's a good idea to look after them during the race. The best place to overtake here is into turn twelve, the corner at the end of the back straight. You can get a good tow and slipstream past – and with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems), we should hopefully see some exciting racing.”
Following a crushingly disappointing Monaco Grand Prix just over a week ago – an event in which Hamilton was tipped as a potential pole position challenger only to crash out of Q1 in qualifying, and in which Kovalainen threw away sixth place with a similar error 52 laps into race day – McLaren is desperate to get back on the points-scoring trail this weekend. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh is hopeful that the multiple world champions may be able to do just that.
“The Istanbul Park circuit is one of the most challenging modern circuits, for both teams and drivers,” the Englishman remarked. “Firstly, it's a real set-up challenge – you need to find a handling balance between the high-speed corners, the slower infield section and the long straights. In addition, tyre-wear – particularly to the heavily-loaded front-right through turn eight – is a crucial factor in determining overall strategy.
“For the drivers, a combination of multi-apex and blind corners adds to the challenge. We go to Turkey in the knowledge that the track characteristics are a bit less likely to suit our package than Monaco, but we are improving all the time, have several minor upgrades for the MP4-24 and look forward to assessing our competitiveness against our rivals.”
“The layout of the circuit is challenging and, in turn eight, comprises the longest and fastest corner on the calendar as well as very slow corners where good braking stability and good traction are needed,” agreed Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. “KERS should again be a good support to improve our lap times, but nevertheless the Turkish Grand Prix will be a demanding challenge for us.”