This weekend, as the European Season gets underway, two things are on the mind of most F1 fans: how will the Pirelli tyres stand up to the Istanbul Park’s famous high-speed Turn Eight, and will someone other than Sebastian Vettel win?
Three weeks ago in China, Lewis Hamilton injected some much-need variety into the winners’ list, and he will be keen to match his 2010 Turkish GP victory.
Red Bull, on the other hand, will be looking for a markedly different Turkish Grand Prix to the 2010 edition, which saw Vettel collide with Mark Webber as the former attempted to pass for the lead.
The incident was not a good look but the spectacular diplomacy fail from the team dominated the headlines for weeks after the event.
In 2011 Red Bull have been in a class of their own on outright pace, while McLaren have been closer in race trim. Daylight is currently sitting third, followed by the Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari gaggle.
Renault can be very pleased with their start to the season, although they would have liked more of a return in China.
Unfortunately Vitaly Petrov’s car stopped on-track at the end of second qualifying, which cost he and Nick Heidfeld. Heidfeld was on his final flying lap when the red flag was shown, and as a result could not set a competitive time in second qualifying, and failed to make it to third.
Renault are introducing a range of upgrades to their car this weekend and will hope to be much closer to the front.
Ferrari have spent the break since China trying to get to the bottom of their aerodynamic problems.
They identified that the data coming out of the wind tunnel was not matching what was occurring at the track. In the weeks since they believe they have made some progress in resolving the problems, and will introduce new front and rear wings and brake ducts.
They expect to see some improvement, but don’t expect to be on the pace of McLaren and Red Bull yet.
Many eyes will also be on Williams and Lotus this weekend. In China Williams suffered the embarrassment of being the first of the established teams to be beaten in a straight fight by one of F1′s new boys: Lotus.
In response to their unexpectedly poor start to the season, Williams this week announced that technical director Sam Michael and chief aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson are going to leave the team at the end of the season.
They also announced that Mike Coughlan of McLaren spygate infamy will be joining the team as chief engineer.
Williams are bringing a package of updates with them to Turkey that they expect to begin to unlock the potential of the FW33. A little further down the pit lane, Lotus hope to continue their march toward the midfield, building on the improvements made to the car for China, while working on a significant upgrade to the car for the Barcelona in two weeks’ time.
Jarno Trulli is also pinning his hopes on an upgrade to the power steering system which he hopes will enable him to match the performance of team mate Heikki Kovalainen.
The high speed nature of the track will also be a tough test for Pirelli’s tyres. Pirelli motorsports director Paul Hembry expects three to four stops will be required, meaning fans are going have to pay close attention to the on-track action with more than 60 stops likely.
Added to that is the growing belief amongst some teams that they are better off saving the soft tyres for the race, meaning some drivers will compromise their grid position and run all three qualifying sessions on the hard tyre in the hope of taking a speed advantage into the race.
This will likely result in some cars out of position, which should make for a fascinating race.