Felipe Massa's hopes of making it a record-equalling four consecutive Turkish Grand Prix triumphs took a knock in qualifying ahead of the 2009 edition, as Ferrari admitted to failing to extract the maximum out of its package – leaving the two scarlet machines to begin the race from the third and fourth rows of the grid.
Indeed, despite being considered something of an Istanbul Park Circuit specialist – until this weekend, unbeaten in either qualifying or the grand prix itself there since 2006 – Massa this time around found himself outpaced by team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the only other previous winner of the race, with the Finn having mounted the top step of the rostrum with McLaren-Mercedes in the inaugural event back in 2005.
Though there was little to choose between the two drivers in terms of ultimate lap time – barely four hundredths of a second separating the pair in Q3, each around half a second shy of pole – it is Raikkonen who carries the heavier fuel load into race day, though the 29-year-old knows he is facing the disadvantage of having to begin from the dirtier side of the grid.
“In qualifying, the car was better balanced than in free practice,” reported the 2007 Formula 1 World Champion, “but even on a light fuel load, today we were a bit slower than the best. All weekend we have struggled a bit to get the tyres working at their best on the first lap.
“For sure, starting from the dirty side of the grid won't be easy – especially on a track like this, which is hardly ever used for racing, meaning the track surface offers little grip off the racing line. We have made progress recently, but the others have also done the same, which is what always happens.”
“On low fuel, the car was well-balanced and had good grip, while once we had the race fuel on-board, the situation got worse and we suffered oversteer, mainly on the softer tyre,” echoed Massa, who should he prevail on Sunday, would join multiple world champions Juan-Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna and former team-mate Michael Schumacher in a very select club of drivers to have won the same grand prix four times in succession.
“Honestly, I'd expected to start higher up the grid, especially as we were pretty competitive in Q1 and Q2. Starting from seventh, it becomes tough to aim for the top, so we have to be realistic. However, we mustn't forget this will be a long race and anything can happen. As usual, I will give it my best shot.”
On the positive side, the double top ten qualifying performance at least confirmed what had already been seen in Spain and Monaco – that following a distinctly trying start to proceedings in 2009, the Scuderia
is finally on the comeback trail. Now the task is to take that one final step further back towards the front of the grid to enable both drivers to fight regularly for podium finishes and victories once more.
“This was a reasonable qualifying,” summarised the Maranello-based outfit's team principal Stefano Domenicali, “even if it did not quite come up to our expectations. From what we saw over the course of the day, we can say that we did not get the maximum out of the potential available to us, especially in Q3. Having said that, we can expect a very tough and open race – we have a good strategy, and we will try to exploit that to pick up a good result.”
“It was a very close qualifying,” agreed chief race engineer Chris Dyer, “especially at the top end of the timesheet. The cars ran trouble-free all day; the major difficulty concerned tyre choice. In the end, we opted for the softer compound and all-in-all, we believe that was the right choice, even if the difference in performance between the two over the first timed lap was not as markèd as on other occasions.”