For the second race weekend in succession in 2009, Force India made it through to the second part of qualifying in Istanbul, with Adrian Sutil taking an impressive 15th place on the starting grid for the Turkish Grand Prix –underlining the step forward Formula 1's traditional tail-enders have taken of late.
If 13th and 15th on the grid respectively for Giancarlo Fisichella and Sutil in Monaco a fortnight ago was a genuine breakthrough – marking the first time in FIF1's short history in the top flight that both cars have made it beyond the Q1 drop – then the German's performance this weekend has corroborated that improvement, as the 26-year-old held off the challenge of defending world champion and former F3 Euroseries team-mate Lewis Hamilton by four hundredths of a second to cling onto his spot in Q2.
Though unable to progress any further, still a lap time less than two tenths adrift of Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Heikki Kovalainen in Q2 was a remarkable feat – and now Sutil hopes to make further progress still on race day in the Turkish capital.
“It was a really good qualifying session for us,” enthused the man from Starnberg, who agonisingly lost a sixth-place finish in the rain-lashed Chinese Grand Prix earlier this year after aquaplaning helplessly off the track and into the barriers barely a handful of laps from home.
“I am very happy with 15th place and Q2 again for the second race in a row. We didn't expect it as we have had a few little issues over the weekend so far, but we managed a good lap when it mattered. I am happy for the team and I think we can be really proud right now. I'm looking forward to a good race; we'll see what we can do.”
Team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, by contrast – a man who has yet to get beyond the first corner in the Turkish Grand Prix in his last three appearances – was rather less satisfied with his 19th position on the grid, almost half a second slower than Sutil in Q1 as Force India's Monte Carlo hero grappled with braking issues and was forced to abort his final flying lap due to yellow flags, brought out for Renault's Nelsinho Piquet, who ironically had spun off due to braking woes himself.
“I had a problem with the brakes and had some front locking since the morning,” reported the experienced Italian, “but we made some changes between FP3 and qualifying that helped. Then unfortunately on my best lap there was a yellow flag as Piquet had spun, and I had to lift off and couldn't get the time back.
“It was possible to be in the top 15, but there you go – sometimes it goes for you and others not. For sure the soft tyres are going to be a bit tricky, especially in the heat, but I hope we can have a good race from where we are on the grid.”
“We're obviously very pleased to be in Q2 for the second event in a row with Adrian,” concluded chief race engineer Dominic Harlow. “He simply drove a very good and clean qualifying and showed how much our performance is improving now.
“Giancarlo had a brake system problem in the morning that was still causing some consistency issues in qualifying, and we need to look carefully at this before the race. He is also clearly fast enough to race in the midfield. A hot race is forecast with another different tyre performance scenario likely, and we are looking forward to it.”