Saturday, June 06, 2009

Red Bull and Brawn lead Turkey Grid

It's been a strange couple of days at Istanbul Park as the Formula 1 circus moves there for the Turkish Grand Prix tomorrow. In first practice yesterday we had farcical scenes as a bit of astroturf was dislodged and the marshal who was sent to pick it up rather bizarrely sniffed it.

Another oddity is the complete lack of people rattling around the track - Alonso got a pasting in the Turkish press for an off hand comment that he'd know everyone in the stadium by name by the end of the weekend. It is weird, though, that only around a third of the tickets have been sold. Mental note to book cheap flight to Istanbul for next year..........

I can't really do justice to today's qualifying session as I got interrupted too many times to watch it properly but it had its shocking moments. Lewis Hamilton, having gone very well in final practice earlier, suddenly looked like he was driving a tank around the circuit and couldn't stagger out of Q1. For him to be almost last on the grid without even hitting a barrier is yet another episode in the long overdue building of his character.

The Brawns hadn't looked that great all day Friday - they were complaining about understeer and not having any grip and that kind of stuff. I suppose it's all relative, but you must have some sort of grip if you can get round a 3.3 mile circuit in a minute and a half! Anyway, they finished the day about half way down the pecking order. This morning was better, but I didn't expect them to be challenging for pole.

In the third qualifying session, which I have now taken to watching from behind a cushion with smelling salts to hand because it's so exciting and things change all the time, Rubens in particular seemed to be really struggling, languishing in 8th position. Trulli at one point looked like he might take pole, a bit of comfort for the beleagered Toyota team who have failed to live up to their expectations in recent races, then it was Webber who grabbed the top spot as Rubens came from nowhere into second, then Jenson took pole in the dying moment, only to be pipped seconds letter by Sebastian Vettel. So the Brawns become the meat in a Red Bull sandwich.

This didn't seem to bother Ross Brawn that much who seemed as joyful as if he had won pole, saying that his boys "are the main protagonists", meaning that he reckoned that Red Bull had put Vettel out with a teaspoonful of fuel while his cars were much heavier - and this indeed was proved to be the case. Brawn is not the best strategist in Formula One for no reason and he was undoubtedly a man with a plan to win the race.

But what about the Ferraris? Massa has won for the last 3 years in Turkey and Raikonnen won the year before that with McLaren - not that accuracy should trouble Sky News at all who think the race has only been going for 3 years - and Massa was certainly flying earlier in the weekend. It all went pear shaped in qualifying, though as they could only manage 6th and 7th, even with KERS. In fact, one of the amusing things about today was Red Bull saying to Vettel over team radio as he won pole that "an added bonus is that the highest Ferrari is in P6".

While we're on the subject of the Brawn Team Principal, I have been saying for a while that I feel that he is the key to finding a solution to the current off track politicking that's threatening the future of Formula 1. I also feel that the key to ensuring that there is a solution is the Formula One Teams Association sticking together. As things stand, eight of the current teams have a conditional, block entry for next year's season. BMW Sauber's Mario Thiessen said the other day that this was Max Mosley's suggestion - so Mosley's comments that the FOTA teams could take it or leave it and go and form their own series if they want sound dishonest, treacherous and hypocritical.

Some have suggested that Brawn's team might follow Williams and Force India by breaking ranks and filing an unconditional entry. It would unquestioningly be in their interests to do so as they have gone through the pain of massive budget cuts this year and could easily embrace a low budget cap. However, Brawn is not one to forget who helped him when he was struggling to create his team out of the ashes of Honda GP. He knows that other FOTA teams made the difference for him and is repaying their loyalty to him. His pledge to stick with FOTA also contains a commitment to help new entrants to F1. Brawn has been one of the very few people in the F1 world to consistently talk sense over the years.

And finally, the BBC coverage was brilliant again - from Jake Humphrey in the gym with a more relaxed, less whingy Lewis Hamilton than we've seen for a while, to DC asking Williams' Sam Michaels how much better it was to work for a professional outfit like Williams than a rubbish team like Jordan. A special mention to them for doing what I suggested two weeks ago and getting their people on Twitter and reading out tweets to @5LiveF1 during the practice sessions. We've now got @jakehumphreyF1 on Twitter too giving some insight into his routine on a Grand Prix weekend.

Tomorrow will see a fabulous race, and we also have the European Elections and the Apprentice Final. I'm not sure I can cope with all that excitement in one day!

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