Whether it be a spying scandal or inter-team arguments behind closed doors, as the 2007 Formula 1 World Championship heads East to Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix, the emphasis probably isn't where it should be - and that is this year's title race looks set to be the one of the closest and most exciting of modern times.

Indeed, while that fact has likely fuelled - or been fuelled - by the situations currently engulfing the sport, grabbing it headlines around the world, earning opinions from those in the know and creating a flurry of media interest, the Lewis Hamilton-Fernando Alonso-Kimi Raikkonen-Felipe Massa tussle remains the ultimate story heading to Istanbul.

One of the newer events on the calendar, the sweeping Turkish circuit is a curious blend of quality and traditional charm, weaving the high standard facilities required to maintain a place on the Formula 1 calendar, with a dash of the atmosphere that has been missing from some of the superb, if sterile, new venues adorning the championship's list of travels.

Not that the circuit hasn't created a bit of controversy in its two seasons on the calendar, the circuit almost losing its place when it breached podium regulations in 2006.

Still, Istanbul Park - especially that eighth turn - is already mentioned in the same breath as Spa and Suzuka by most drivers; ringing endorsements don't come better than that! So Turkey is here to stay and it is likely to play host to interesting developments both on and off the track.

The world's media is watching - but will it be the race itself that this time makes the back pages by the time Monday's newspapers are printed?


Although the sport was embarking on a much needed summer break to try and ease some of the situations that arose from the end of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Formula 1 was nonetheless rarely out of the news during those three-weeks.

Naturally, the dominating factor was the Lewis Hamilton-Fernando Alonso saga which has, remarkably, managed to overshadow the spying saga that came before it. Reports of the feud have been conflicting, ranging from both extremes - that being 'peace' and 'war'.

Officially, McLaren claim there are no problems with the relationship between their drivers and the team principals, but other sources claim disparity and arguments, which could possibly lead to a disillusioned Alonso walking out at the end of the season. It is the fact that Alonso could leave McLaren at the end of the year that has got the rumour mill flowing at full force, with Renault at least apparently stepping up to try and lure the double world champion before he changes his mind and tries to battle for number one status in McLaren.

Either way, the next few races are likely to be crucial for Alonso's frame of mind, already battered by the way in which rookie Hamilton has come and challenged a superiority he likely assumed he would claim when he switched from Renault.

In the meantime, McLaren are due to spend a very unromantic week in Paris in September as they go to the appeals court on the 13th to decide the outcome of Ferrari's challenge to the original 'spy' ruling in July, before returning six days later to find out whether they can reclaim the constructors' points they were disallowed from that controversial Hungarian weekend.

Still, while the McLaren stories remain shrouded in speculation, at least Scuderia Toro Rosso - themselves prone to a bit of hear' say - managed to confirm something between the races after revealing that Sebastien Bourdais will join the team in 2008.

The three - and possibly four - time Champ Car World Series title winner will make the switch at the end of the season to join Sebastien Vettel in an all-new line-up for the Italian squad.

Perhaps even less of a surprise - despite mentions of Alonso making a shock switch in recent media-fuelled days - BMW have revealed that Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica will be going nowhere in 2008 as they bid to extend a breakthrough season that this year that has put them a comfortable third in the standings.

Although suggestions that Heidfeld could be Toyota-bound and Alonso be BMW-bound were rife at various stages of an increasingly 'silly season', BMW have picked continuity over major changes as they hope to make the step to race winner next year - even though neither Heidfeld or Kubica have won a race yet...

McLaren - Fernando Alonso (#1), Lewis Hamilton (#2):

Hamilton and Alonso remain focused heading into the Turkish Grand Prix, even though their focus is likely to be very different to those of onlookers, who will be watching the two drivers closely for any signs of the bad feeling they have reportedly been experiencing.

Famously tight-lipped McLaren on the other hand will be keen to hide any disparity this weekend and that is likely to mean the drivers will be forced to do their talking on the track and not in the media - something that is hardly a bad thing.

Nonetheless, Hamilton and Alonso may well have to bury their differences if they are fight off Ferrari, who are expected to have a stronger package around the high-speed circuit. Still, the desire getting one over on each other will be strong too and could work in their favour to try and deny their other rivals a victory.

Furthermore, both drivers enjoy the circuit, Alonso in particular after prevailing in a lengthy fight with Michael Schumacher last season that ultimately proved the changing of the guard in terms of Formula 1 superiority.

"It is always great to have a break and re-charge the batteries, but it is fantastic to be getting back out on track in Turkey. I have a solid points total in the Drivers' World Championship and I am aiming to build on that considerably in Istanbul. We are in a strong position in both Championships and there are a lot of points to be won in the final six races.

"However, we are looking at the races one by one, and my focus is on this Grand Prix and getting the best result possible in Turkey. I have come second in the two years we have raced here previously and I will be aiming to improve on that this time. The track is great to drive, with some sections that are really on the limit and what you want to race on as a driver, turn eight in particular."

Hamilton meanwhile will be experiencing the circuit for the first time in the McLaren, but will no doubt be basking in the memory of his fine drive in GP2 last year when he battled up from the back of the field to claim second place, executing some of the masterful overtaking manoeuvres that got the F1 paddock sitting up and taking notice in the first place. One year on, Hamilton is again facing a moment of truth.

"I have great memories of the Istanbul Park, last year this was a defining race in the GP2 Championship for me and I am really looking forward to getting out there with the MP4-22. It is an amazing track to drive, with so many different challenges, and overtaking is possible.

"During the short summer break I have been keeping up with my training to ensure I am fully prepared for it. Along with the team, I am very motivated right now. There are six races remaining and I am looking forward to the challenge."

Renault - Giancarlo Fisichella (#3), Heikki Kovalainen (#4):

Giancarlo Fisichella is under pressure to perform in Turkey as his place within the Renault team looks increasingly perilous, Italian now just one point ahead of rookie team-mate - and number two driver - Heikki Kovalainen.

Indeed, the Finn has been on a good run of form in recent races and has begun out-qualifying and out-racing Fisichella on a regular basis, something that is likely to be taken into account when Renault decide their driver line-up for 2008 with a number of other drivers in mind.

However, what the drivers are doing personally though continues to pale into comparison of the overall team performance, with Renault looking almost certain not to catch ultimate rivals BMW over the remaining six races, despite their best attempts - and claims.

Nonetheless, Renault are looking to forge a gap between BMW and remainder of the mid-field over the next few races and it is something Fisichella is confident of achieving in Turkey.

"I am focused on the weekend ahead. We will be trying to have a strong race, it's important for me and for the team's championship position as well.

"It is a new generation circuit, everything is still very new and it is a properly challenging circuit. I have always raced well here in the past, and I hope it will be the case again this year."

Kovalainen meanwhile cannot wait to get back out on circuit, despite admitting he needed a break to take stock on a first two-thirds of a season that started slowly but is beginning to pick up.

"I actually drove an F1 car here last year when we did a demonstration run as part of the World Series by Renault race weekend, so I have some idea of how the circuit feels in an F1 car. It is a very tough circuit and I must say, one of my favourites.

"Everything has been really well thought-out, they did a fantastic job to bring F1 to Turkey and the atmosphere is always special, because the Turkish fans seem to really enjoy the race weekend. I can't wait to race in Istanbul."

Ferrari - Felipe Massa (#5), Kimi Raikkonen (#6):

No doubt hoping to capitalise on the furore surrounding McLaren, Ferrari are heading to Turkey confident they can get back to winning ways on a circuit that is likely to suit the F2007 better than most.

The longer wheelbase designed for faster circuits in the same vein as Albert Park, Bahrain Magny-Cours and Silverstone - all of which Ferrari have won at this year - mean Istanbul Park could well put McLaren's driver feud into perspective.

For Massa, Istanbul is the scene of many happy memories, last year's race having signalled the first of his four career victories to this point. Indeed, he will need a repeat of last year's race if he is to maintain contact in this season's title race, the Brazilian's abysmal Hungarian Grand Prix putting him back behind Kimi Raikkonen and 21 points off the championship lead.

Nonetheless, the Brazilian is confident that both he and the car will be the combination to beat come race day.

"I am looking forward to Turkey, which will always have a special significance for me, as it was in Istanbul last year that I got my first ever Grand Prix victory. It is still fresh in my mind and it is a great memory and a nice feeling to be carrying back with me to this year's race. It was a great victory for me. I love the track and the city and I really hope to repeat the great result from last year, when I was very strong all weekend, starting from pole position and winning on Sunday. I hope we can do it again. Istanbul Park is a really great track.

"Turkey last year I was a first time race winner and in the space of twelve months things have changed as I am now chasing a title. As a team, we try and have a package that is competitive at every circuit, but Istanbul is the first of a series of quick tracks and I think these will suit us particularly well. Last year, from Turkey onwards I had a great championship, so that is an encouraging sign."

Although beaten fairly in a tense head-to-head in Hungary, Raikkonen is confident for Turkey too, particularly as he clings onto the fact that he is - and will always be - the first winner of the race in 2005.

Now, like Massa, he needs a repeat of that win after seeing Hamilton eke out another two points to his advantage, the 20 point gap now meaning Raikkonen's rival needs to hit problems over the remainder of the season if he is to realistically overhaul him.

"We are optimistic for Turkey: I won the first race ever held here, which gave me a very special feeling. The track is similar to the one at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps, where the aerodynamic efficiency counts a lot. And then we drive anti-clockwise: nothing changes in terms of the technics, but the driver's necks will suffer slightly.

"Everybody is talking about turn number 8: it doesn't have the fascination of the Eau Rouge but is very demanding in its own way. It is really nice to have new kinds of fast corners to drive through at the max: everybody always wants to have more. I can't wait for Friday morning so that I can drive my laps behind the wheel of my Ferrari!"

Honda - Jenson Button (#7), Rubens Barrichello (#8):

If Hungary 2006 was a high for Honda, then arguably Hungary 2007 was possibly a new low. The low-speed Hungaroring made the RA107 more ponderous than usual and did nothing to silence the cynics who scoffed at claims the team were making a step forward.

Nonetheless, that remains the word coming from Honda, who believe the high-speed nature of the Istanbul Park circuit will suit the car much better and see them challenge in the mid-field more effectively.

Still, Honda suffered the indignation of neither car making it through to the second phase of qualifying, while Rubens Barrichello went on to be out raced by Adrian Sutil in the Spyker, representing an even lower point than the team could have possibly envisaged early in the year when they looked to be struggling most.

Although both drivers accept there is much more development that needs to be done, both Jenson Button and Barrichello are remaining positive that they can at least banish some of those Hungary memories with a better performance in Turkey.

"The Turkish Grand Prix has quickly become one of my favourite races on the F1 calendar," said Button, who finished fourth in 2006. "The track layout is excellent with a challenging combination of long straights, tight hairpins and the very high-speed turn eight. The changes in elevation also contribute to making it a fun circuit for the drivers. There are some really good overtaking opportunities at turn one and turn three where I gained a place in the race last year. You also have a chance at passing into turns nine and twelve.

"To get a really quick lap around this circuit, you really need to consciously push hard all the way round and use the track's camber to your full advantage. I have had a couple of great races here in the last two years to finish in the top six, and whilst our performance isn't quite there this year, I am expecting an improvement from the last race."

Like Button, Barrichello rates Istanbul as one of his favourites, while he too scored points in the race last year, finishing eighth having started 13th.

"I have been very impressed with the Istanbul circuit over the past two years and we have seen some exciting races there. The track is fairly challenging from a drivers' point of view as it runs anti-clockwise which is quite unusual and physically tough, and also the undulations are quite extreme which can make your lap quite exciting. The highlight for most drivers is the high-speed turn eight where the triple apex makes it really important to get your line right.

"The break has been good to recharge and get ready for the final stage of the season but I know that work has been continuing at the factory to push the development of the car. I am confident that we will have a better race weekend in Turkey."

BMW Sauber - Nick Heidfeld (#9), Robert Kubica (#10):

Confirmed for 2008, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica can complete the 2007 with even more confidence than they currently have as they continue to cause a few headaches for the Ferrari and McLaren team.

Although not regularly on their pace, both Heidfeld and Kubica are bothering the top teams, particularly when the likes of Alonso and Massa slip up ? la Hungary.

Third place signalled a second podium of the season for both Heidfeld and BMW in Hungary, while even Kubica starred by managing to overcome a problem in qualifying to finish fifth, just behind Alonso.

It now puts the duo comfortably ahead of the chasing pack in the driver standings, while BMW now command a comprehensive 38-point lead over a still optimistic Renault heading to Turkey.

Still, the 2006 race was not kind to Heidfeld and Kubica, the former qualifying sixth but being tipped into a spin by Fisichella on the first corner, while the latter struggled with tyre problems, leaving both well outside of the points. Nonetheless, both have high hopes this time around.

"The race in 2006 was disappointing," Heidfeld lamented. "Sixth place on the grid was good, but I was hit by Giancarlo Fisichella in the first corner and ultimately only just managed to coax a damaged car across the finishing line. The circuit does have overtaking possibilities, which is very good. It has an extremely long straight and there are slow and high-speed corners. Turn 8 is a favourite of mine: it's very fast and difficult."

"An amazing circuit - Turn 8 has already staked its claim to fame," Kubica added. "Most drivers find this section quite a challenge. It is very long and in fact consists of four different bends. It's great fun as soon as you've got your line sorted out.

"The circuit can also be pretty vicious, because occasionally you bottom out, lose traction and the car becomes unstable. We weren't particularly fast there in 2006. I hope things will look better in 2007."

For more see Part 2 of our European Grand Prix preview...



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