Felipe Massa will become a member of a very exclusive Formula 1 club should he prevail in this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix – joining multiple world champions Juan-Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher as one of only six drivers to have ever triumphed in four successive races at the same track.
Since dropping out with engine failure in the inaugural event to be held around the Istanbul Park Circuit in the Bosphorous nation in 2005, the Ferrari star remains unbeaten, storming to both pole position and victory on each subsequent occasion, even comprehensively out-performing legendary, record-breaking team-mate Schumacher into the bargain in 2006.
The Brazilian admits that he is at a loss to explain his superiority around the undulating, technically-demanding, Hermann Tilke-designed track – one of only two anti-clockwise venues on the annual calendar – and if he recognises that getting the better of early-season pace-setters Jenson Button and Brawn GP this weekend will be a tall order for a team still recovering from its worst start to an F1 campaign in almost three decades, it is clear that he will be trying hard.
“I have a very good record in Istanbul,” the 28-year-old reflected, “having won for the last three years starting from pole position each time. I find it difficult to explain why I should be so strong there, other than the fact that we had three fantastic weekends in Turkey, when everything worked perfectly, with the car performing very well right from the first session.
“It would be nice to carry on in the same direction. I just like the track and feel comfortable there, but it's hard to pinpoint why it suits me better than some other circuits. It is a fantastic track, a very pleasurable track to drive and very challenging. I do prefer fast-flowing tracks and have a feel for all the corners there, as it's not good enough to only be fast over one particular section of the track. I think I've also found a good way to set up the car perfectly for this circuit.
“It's not just Turkey, though, as I've won in Brazil for the last two years – and actually it should have been the last three in my home race. In fact, it's been suggested to me that maybe the reason is that they are the only two anti-clockwise circuits on the calendar. Who knows? Maybe I'm better than others at driving through left handed corners!
“Turn eight in Istanbul is an amazing corner, where you hit one of the highest lateral G-force levels of the season, which puts a lot of stress on your neck and body. On top of that, in the middle of the corner you have a big bump, which can give you a problem in terms of stability. It is a really a tricky corner, with different lines to choose from, depending on how your car is behaving – sometimes you have too much understeer or oversteer in the middle, and all these factors make it very challenging.
“[In] the last few years, I haven't had to give much thought to the overtaking possibilities in Istanbul, starting from the number one slot on the grid. This year, given how competitive the front of the field is in qualifying, it is going to be a very interesting Saturday afternoon, but at least the track does provide some passing opportunities, especially with the long main straight. Last year, Lewis [Hamilton] changed his strategy to a three-stop and was easily able to pass me. I can't wait for Friday to see if the progress seen in Spain and Monaco will continue in Turkey.”
Indeed, though Ferrari undeniably took a step forward around the narrow, tortuous streets of the glamorous Principality last time out – emerging as Brawn's closest challengers ahead of habitual pursuers Red Bull Racing, with Kimi Raikkonen and Massa taking the chequered flag separated by just 1.7 seconds in third and fourth positions respectively – Button remains firm favourite to stand atop the rostrum once again as the top flight heads further east. Should the British star succeed in doing so, it will be he that equals a record – that set by Schumacher in 2004, of six victories from the opening seven races.