Saturday, 29 May 2010

Red Bull remain fast but fragile

It was 7 out of 7 for Red Bull this afternoon in Turkey as Mark Webber took his 3rd consecutive pole position. Lewis Hamilton was 2nd in a strong showing with Sebastian Vettel 3rd after problems in Q3. Jenson Button was just behind the German and was 1 of several drivers who abandoned their last laps after Michael Schumacher spun at turn 8 on his last lap. The Mercedes driver wrecked his tyres but as he set his fastest lap on another set of tyres he will be able to use them for the first stint tomorrow. He starts 5th alongside Nico Rosberg. Felipe Massa is in a Renault sandwich in 8th while Kamui Kobayashi impressed in getting tenth though he was limited in Q3 as he only had 1 new set of soft tyres left to use. It was a bad day for Ferrari with Fernando Alonso only qualifying 12th. He had a spin on the first flying lap of his final run and was slightly up on his final attempt but with the track temperature in the 40's the tyres were giving up in the twisty final section and he lost time. Ferrari will need a better day tomorrow in their 800th grand prix.

The casualty of Q1 was, not for the first time this season, Vitantonio Liuzzi. The Italian ran with the teams new F-Duct device unlike team mate Adrian Sutil who was not comfortable with it after limited running in practice. Liuzzi had a shocker though, way off the pace and going out with a wimper. He complained of having little rear end grip but the team were not happy with this performance and the pressure is on with Paul Di Resta an available option to the team. Vijay Mallya has put a lot of trust in Liuzzi who has been with the team since it's beginnings but patience could begin to wear thin if this form continues. Lotus were leading the way in the B-class with Jarno Trulli just 1.4 seconds off the Force India. Timo Glock wasn't far behind but team mate Lucas Di Grassi was beaten by Bruno Senna in the HRT. The Brazilian was almost a second clear of Karun Chandhok. The Indian put the big difference down to straight line speed issues and staying on the hard tyres.

It was certainly eventful for Red Bull, on and off the track. After deciding not to run their new F-Duct system for the remainder of the weekend, the team ran a different wing on Vettel's car. However, Webbers only arrived on Turkish soil 30 minutes before the start of Q1. A quick drive to the track and the wing was fitted on in time for Webber. Vettel cruised through the first 2 sessions and was set to take provisional pole in his first run but locked up at turn 12 and ran wide at turn 14. He was 0.5secs slower than Webber in S3. In his final run, he ran wide at turn 1. The problem has been identified by Red Bull as a failed anti-roll bar at the rear of the car. After Webber's engine failure on Friday and throttle linkage problems in morning practice, it shows that Red Bull's title aspirations could be hindered by unreliabilty. Vettel probably would have been on pole if it hadn't been for the problem and he seem very frustrated in the press conference. We also had a little insight into the team when Mark Webber commented that he went out before Vettel at the end when he should have been the last to go. Perhaps this was because they were assessing Vettels car. It turned out well for Webber as he avoided the yellow flags for Schumachers spin.

Things certainly didn't go to plan for Ferrari as they qualified 8th and 12th. Fernando Alonso reported no problems, syaing that the spin he had made no difference and that the car was on the limit. The gaps were small but even so Massa was not near the battle for pole position on a track he goes well on. Alonso has a free choice of tyres tomorrow so he can either go on softs and try to make early progress or go for the harder compound and try and run a long first stint. A safety car period is not improbable but unlikely. The Ferrari is kind to its tyres and the team usually run better in race trim than in qualifying. If we get hot conditions like Friday for the race then this could be to the benefit of Massa and Alonso.

So is Mark Webber on for another victory or can Lewis Hamilton get in on the winning act? The run to turn 1 is relatively short and we've seen incidents in the past. Hamilton is on the dirty side of the grid so it may be difficult for him. However in the GP2 race earlier, the person starting 2nd was first into turn 1. In terms of the on track battle the strength for McLaren is its speed down the back straight whereas the Red Bull is supreme through turn 8. Jenson Button said that he was running a low ride height so it may be tricky for him early in the race on full tanks. If the McLarens want to get past they need to be close coming out of turn 10 but that will be difficult with the advantage the Bulls have in turn 8. McLaren best chance may be toward the end of the race though whether they're in a position to attack at that stage remains to be seen. Tyre strategy is expected to be the normal 1 stopper though this is a stressful track for the tyres so those who switch early may struggle in the closing stages. A 2 stopper is an option but will need track position and probably overtaking to make it happen. Could Hamilton try it? Perhaps as he is the quickest man in a straight line this weekend, it would certainly be fascinating to see but i still expect the 1 stop option to be the choice for the majority of the field.

It should be a good race as Hamilton looks for his first win of the season and Vettel aims to bounce back from his recent difficulties. Will Renault turn a strong qualifying into a double points finish and can Fernando Alonso haul his prancing horse up the order in Ferrari's 800th Grand Prix. The race starts at 1pm BST with dry conditions expected. Check out my twitter page throughout the race for updates and views as the 58 laps unfold.

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