Lewis Hamilton wins thrilling Turkish Grand Prix

Formula One - F1

Wow! Just where do you start with a race that is packed with excitement and controversy from the get go?  Like it or not, the Turkish Grand Prix of 2010 will be remembered for the ticking time bomb of  4 cars racing it out at the front for the win, and ending with that bomb going off in the hands of the Red Bull team, that will certainly damage their points situation as they threw away a win and handed maximum points to the Mclaren team, but it will also have an emotional cost to the team and crank up the pressure in the team .

Round 7 of the F1 championship was held on the Istanbul Park track, which over the last few years has failed to produce anything nearly as exciting as Sundays race.  In it’s sixth year of running and which still fails to captivate the imagination of the Turkish people meaning one of the exciting Grands Prix in years played out  to an empty stage!

Mark Webber went in to the race on the back of two wins on the spin in Spain and Monaco and after a commanding performance in qualifying, looked the clear favourite for the race win on Sunday. Because the only other person people thought that could get near to Webber was Sebastian Vettel and he was down in 3rd place on the grid having been split by Hamilton in the Mclaren.

The Mclaren’s had shown good pace in practice and qualifying, however, the telling signs was that despite the F-Duct giving the Woking teams cars a visible and distinct advantage down the long straight at Istanbul Park in sectors 1 & 3, the Red Bull was putting them and the rest of the field in the shade through the tight and twisty 2nd sector of the track.

Before the race there was some optimism that if Hamilton could jump Webber at the start of the race, he could have a realistic chance of stopping the in form Aussie from romping off in to the distance.  The only potential flaw in this theory was that Hamilton, like his team-mate Button, were on the dirty side of the starting grid, potentially handicapping their get away from the lights and thus giving away their good from qualifying to the Red Bulls.

As the 5 red lights went out, it was the latter that happened and as the field came through turn 1 Vettel had  jumped Hamilton in to second place and Schumacher caught out Button to demote him to 5th.  However the Mclaren’s were able to re address the balance, with Hamilton bravely driving around Vettel by turn 3 and Button passing Schumacher at the hairpin on lap 1.  By the end of lap 1 the order was back to their starting positions.  Webber – Hamilton – Vettel – Button.

This is how the race started to settle in, with Button and Vettel dropping back slightly from Webber and Hamilton. Hamilton looked particularly aggressive in the opening in the laps and was able to really push the Red Bull for the lead.  This was a great sign that despite the Red Bull’s performance in the last 2 races and in their out and out pace in qualifying, the Mclaren on full tanks was going to be a match and make Webber and Red Bull work for their win today.

The differences in the cars was clear to see during this early phase of the race, with Hamilton trying desperately to hold on to the tail of Webber through the twisty sector 2 which incorporated the challenging turn 8 which requires a car with excellent aerodynamic performance, something which the Red Bull has in bundles but the Mclaren is still clearly lacking.  However once through the never-ending turn 8 it was Hamilton and the F-Duct that inexorably pulled in the Red Bull, lap after lap Hamilton tried desperately to get close enough to pull Webber in down the long straight to be able to try and make a pass stick.  A few times Hamilton looked like he would be close enough, but Webber would have just enough lead to cover off the attempt by the time they made the apex of the tight turn 12.

With Pit stops approaching it looked like the first person to pit out of Hamilton and Webber would get the critical advantage that might give them track position to go on and win the race.  Surprisingly then it was Vettel that was the first of the top 4 to come in for tyres.  It was expected to trigger of Button at least to cover off Vettel, but the 2009 Champion decided to stay out, and started to put in some good sector times. It was clear that Button was hoping to have conserved his tyres in the early part of the race to be able to bang in some good times once he was in clear air, but he would have a bit ask to jump Vettel considering he was at least 2 seconds back on the German.

For Mclaren it was clear, pit Hamilton as soon as possible and hope that Webber stays out, but as this was the likely scenario, Redbull covered the Mclaren team and pulled Webber in at the same time.  It was disastrous for Mclaren, being a few meters down the pit lane from the Red bull team, it make the likelihood  of getting Hamilton released before Webber a virtual impossibility.  With such huge pressure on the Mclaren team it is not surprising that a fumble on the right rear wheel held Hamilton up for a crucial second or two and sealed his fate in that he came out behind Vettel and Webber, which would eventually be 3rd once Button had made his pit stop a lap after, rejoined in 4th.

There is no denying that the pit stops changed the complex of the race. Webber now had his worse case scenario playing out – Vettel in the same superbly handling car as Webber behind him and desperate to halt the Australian’s march in recent races. The pace of the top 4 was immense, with fastest laps being traded between the leading drivers lap after lap, but unlike Hamilton, Vettel didn’t seem to be able to amount a tangible attack on Webber.  Did Webber have the race under control or were there team orders dictating that Vettel stay put?  One thing is for sure it was neither!

Despite the frantic pace at the front, the Red Bull’s were still being hampered by Hamilton and Button, however the Mclaren’s were unable to make the F-Duct work as strong in the second half of the race.   Then on lap 38 the worst case scenario happened for the Red bull team.

Unknown to us at the time, both Mclaren’s and Red bull’s were tight on fuel margins, meaning that neither team could allow its drivers to race flat-out to the end of the race without having to lean off the engine and fuel mixture to get them to the end.  Mark Webber was now in this ‘fuel saving’ mode and this gave Vettel a run on him as they came out of turn 10 and out on the flat-out section through turn 11 and down the tight hairpin at turn 12.

Red Bull Formula One driver Webber of Australia leads the race ahead of team mate Vettel of Germany during the Turkish F1 Grand Prix race in Istanbul

Webber spotted Vettel’s charge coming and specifically placed his car in the middle of the road through the flat-out kink that is turn 11 and as they made the run down to the hairpin Vettel pulled alongside to the left of Webber.  Webber had left just enough space for a car to get through as the headed to the left had corner at turn 12.  Vettel looked to have the position in his pocket with the next corner being a left hander he would have the line and Webber would have to capitulate his hard-earned lead.  But in what seemed like seismic seconds, the two cars touched and were unbelievably out of control with debris flying everywhere.  In scenes that were almost beyond belief Vettel had spun off the track in to retirement and Webber was making his way back on to the track in 3rd place after taking avoidance of the out of control Vettel.  Webber needed a new nose to replace damage, and in a second the race was past to the Mclaren team. With the crowd barely recovered from the Red Bull incident, the Mclaren’s were at it as well.

Formula One Turkish Grand Prix

TV viewers were able to hear radio messages to Hamilton that both cars were to enter in to their ‘fuel saving’ mode to ensure that both cars were to get to the end of the race.  This message most people interpreted as the order to hold station and bring it home, but to Lewis Hamilton’s surprise Jenson Button didn’t seem to understand the significance of the message.  Like Webber and Vettel the two Mclaren drivers were side by side in to the turn 12 hairpin, with Jenson Button sensationally trying to go round the outside of Hamilton. The outside became the inside in to turn 13 and Button took the lead with Hamilton shaping up to pounce along the start finish straight and in to turn 1.  It was in to turn 1 that the Mclaren management and mechanics had to close their eyes as Hamilton dived deep in to the apex giving Button the choice to surrender his short reign in the lead or to have a crash with his team-mate.  Luckily Button is a much more mature driver than Vettel and he let Hamilton ease back in to the lead.

F1 2010 - Rd7 Turkish GP - Hamilton wins in McLaren 1-2

It was then an easy run to the flag for the Mclaren drivers after both having to be told again to stop racing due to fuel shortages.  Hamilton’s emotions were telling in the lack of celebration or the restrain he showed through his body language.  He wasn’t happy with Button.  Having been told to back off and preserve fuel Button seemed to chance his luck and try to take Hamilton by surprise.  A word in Hamilton’s ear from Button post race seemed to ease the tension, but like Red Bull, the Mclaren team has some pressure to ease within their camp before the next race in Canada.

What about the others, oh yes, there were others in this race, but they seemed to pale in to insignificance due to the red-hot battle at the front.  Key headlines were Schumacher beating his team-mate Rosberg again, and the lack luster performance all weekend from Ferrari and Fernando Alonso in particular.

Mclaren jump Redbull in the Constructors Championship and both Mclaren drivers are now within touching distance of Webber who managed to bring the car back in 3rd despite the mayhem.

Canada is going to be thrilling, not only because the Mclaren should be good there too with the long back straight, but the lack of high-speed corners should bring the rest of the field back towards the Red Bull’s which is probably the least of your worries if you are a Red Bull fan. Let the inquest begin….