Starting as we always do on Saturday, qualifying in Istanbul held few surprises in the context of how the season has unfolded so far. For the third consecutive race, Red Bull's Mark Webber landed the pole. His teammate Sebastian Vettel wasn't far behind in third, sandwiching Lewis Hamilton in second. Jenson Button completed the Red Bull-McLaren staggered starting order in fourth position, followed by Mercedes GP's Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg in fifth and sixth respectively. Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov proved Renault is still a force still to be reckoned with by qualifying seventh and ninth, with Ferrari's Felipe Massa in eighth. And for the second time in as many races, Fernando Alonso crashed during qualifying,relegating him to twelfth on the grid.
Few surprises unfolded after the Turkish Delight got underway, either. In the opening laps, Schumacher moved on Button, only for Button to regain position. Massa and Kubica made brief contact, but that was about the extent of the action in the contest's early laps. Hamilton, however, wasn't letting up on Webber, nor was Button on Vettel, the McLarens keeping constant pressure on the Red Bulls at the front of the pack.
Ten laps in, the order remained largely the same, with only a few shake-ups at the back of the field. The only notable surprise was Alonso's inability to get around the mid-fielders and advance up the order, a problem that would plague him the rest of the race.
The first round of pit stops on the track known for being particularly hard on tires came on lap 11. Once the majority of the field – most crucially the race leaders – had re-emerged from pit lane, the order remained largely the same, only with Vettel and Hamilton trading places. Webber remained in the lead, followed by his teammate, then Hamilton (3), Button (4), Schumacher (5), Rosberg (6), Kubica (7), Massa (8), Petrov (9) and Alonso (10).
The top four lapped in close formation, while Schumacher led the rest of the field from P5, behind Button by some 16 seconds and behind Webber by over 30.
Around lap 35, both Lotus cars were sidelined, with Jarno Trulli ditching his broken car at the edge of the track and Kovalainen retiring to the garage. By race's end, they'd be joined by the HRT-Cosworths of Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna, and one more crucial retirement that would significantly change the outcome of the race.
By lap 40, Sebastian Vettel was extremely close on Webber's tail. It was only a matter of time before he'd make his move, but the timing had to be just perfect. Evidently, Vettel's was not. As he made his move on Webber, Vettel apparently miscalculated his wingman's position. During the overtaking maneuver, Vettel closed in and made contact with Webber, sending both cars spinning off the track and out of the lead. Webber regained control and rejoined the race in third, but Vettel was finished. The young German climbed out of the cockpit, signaled that his team-mate was crazy and ended the day, save for some very inquisitive journalists who hounded him all the way to his trailer.
And just like that, a race that looked all but certain to end with another Red Bull 1-2 finish was transformed as the trailing McLarens catapulted into the lead. Webber pitted to replace his damaged tires and front wing, but while he managed to stay ahead of the lagging Schumacher, he would prove unable to catch up to Lewis and Jenson.
The mantle of the intra-team rivalry was picked up instead by the champion pair, who fought a close battle over the remaining laps. At the end of lap 48, Jenson squeezed around Lewis, only for Hamilton to regain the lead past the start/finish line.
Meanwhile, Alonso finally managed to get by rookie Vitaly Petrov's Renault, which had kept the two-time World Champion at bay for much of the race. Brief contact ensued during the passing maneuver, forcing Petrov into the pits with precious few laps to go. Alonso would finish eighth and safely inside the points; Petrov, fifteenth, well outside.
Ahead of them, Lewis Hamilton held on to the lead in front of his charging teammate and chief rival, Jenson Button, for a McLaren 1-2 that would, if not for one crucial, hot-headed mistake, have gone to Red Bull. Webber instead finished third, visibly disappointed but magnanimous in defeat. Schumacher tied his best result of the season so far with a solid fourth place finish, his teammate right behind in fifth. Following up on his podium in Monaco, Robert Kubica brought in his Renault for a respectable sixth place finish ahead of the Ferrari pair of Massa and Alonso (seventh and eighth, respectively), Force India's Sutil (ninth), and Sauber's Kobayashi (tenth). Pedro de la Rosa lead the race finishers outside the points: STR's Jaime Alguersuari, Force India's Tonio Liuzzi, Williams' Rubens Barrichello, Renault's Vitaly Petrov, STR's Sebastian Buemi, Williams' Nico Hulkenberg, and Virgin's Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi.
The results leave Mark Webber still in the lead for the title with 93 points, followed by Button with 88, Hamilton close behind with 84, Alonso with 79, and Vettel with 78. Kubica and Massa trail with 67 apiece, Rosberg with 66, and Schumacher with 34. The combined scores leave McLaren with a narrow lead at 172 points to Red Bull's 171, ahead of Ferrari's 146 and Mercedes 100 even. Join us again in two weeks' time for the Canadian Grand Prix from Le Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal.