2009 Turkish Grand Prix – Click above for a high-res image gallery
With the established teams still threatening to walk and new teams lining up by the dozen, nothing could have better characterized Formula One's transition from old to new better than the move from the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago to the Turkish Grand Prix this weekend. While the Monaco race – held on the streets of Monte Carlo, with its close proximities and timeless seaside city-scape – remains one of the sport's oldest venues, the race in Turkey – at the new-school Istanbul Park Circuit, characterized by wide run-offs and state-of-the-art accommodations – is one of its youngest.
First held in 2005, the Turkish Grand Prix has been won the past three years running by the same driver: Ferrari's Felipe Massa, the young Brazilian who narrowly lost out on the driver's crown last year to Lewis Hamilton. Surely Ferrari's golden boy was eager to extend his domination at the Ottoman autodrom, but would he and his Maranello squad be able to translate the marked improvement which they displayed in Monte Carlo just a fortnight ago into a return to winning form in Istanbul? Follow the jump to find out.
Practice sessions on Friday and Saturday in Istanbul leading up to Race Sunday were a mixed bag, with drivers changing places in the time sheets faster than they could change tires. Saturday morning Massa was at the top, but by the time qualifying was done that afternoon the Brazilian had fallen down to seventh place on the grid behind his own team-mate, 2007's world champion Kimi Raikkonen. Leading the grid were Red Bull wunderkind Sebastian Vettel on pole, championship leader Jenson Button beside him in 2nd, perennial runner-up Rubens Barrichello in 3rd, Vettel's veteran wing-man Mark Webber in 4th, and Toyota's Jarno Trulli in 5th. Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso trailed Massa in 8th, and defending champion Lewis Hamilton never made it out of the first qualifying session, placing him way down the field in 16th place. Once the lights flashed green and the race got under way, however, all bets were off.
By half-way through the first lap, Vettel and Button were well clear of the rest of the field, while Barrichello dropped down to 13th place right off the line due to a bad start. That would prove only the first of Barrichello's problems this afternoon, but by the end of that first lap, his team-mate had already taken the lead from Vettel, who ran wide on the chicane between turns 9 and 10. And there Button would stay for the 57 laps remaining to score yet another race victory, making it six for seven and even further entrenching what has become a practically unassailable lead for the dominant Brit and the Little Team That Could.
The four-second lead that Button managed to open up over Vettel prompted Red Bull to switch the young German to a three-stop strategy, but by the closing laps Button was too far ahead and Webber closed the distance to squeak by his team-mate, leading him home to a strong two-three finish for RBR.
All the while, Barrichello was struggling. Following his disappointing start, the elder statesman of the F1 circus fought the most engaging battle of a race otherwise rather devoid of action. Fighting his way from 13th back to his "rightful" place in second, the veteran Brazilian tried passing McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen, only to have the door shut on him. The two made contact and Rubens spun out, and after recovering he busted his front wing on Adrian Sutil's Force India. Administering a heaping dose of wheel-to-wheel action, Barrichello managed to fight his way back up to the middle of the field, only to have his overburdened gearbox fail on him with just 11 laps to go.
What of his fellow Brazilian, the driver who assumed his seat at Ferrari and who so hoped to turn Istanbul – the track which he made his home away from home three years running – into a turning point in this fruitless season? Sixth place was the best he could muster this year in Turkey – an improvement over the seventh place he started on the grid, but hardly a new beginning for Massa or Ferrari.
Ahead of Massa and behind the podium finishers Button, Webber and Vettel came Toyota's Jarno Trulli in 4th and a solid 5th place finish for Williams' Nico Rosberg. BMW's Robert Kubica scored his first point this season in 7th, with Trulli's wing-man Timo Glock picking up the final point in 8th. Behind them everyone finished but Barrichello and Force India's Giancarlo Fisichello (who was out by lap 5): Raikkonen, Alonso, Heidfeld (BMW), Nakajima (Williams), Hamilton, Kovalainen, Buemi (STR), Piquet (Renault), Sutil, and Bourdais (STR) all finished outside the points.
Button now leads with a menacing 61 points, his team-mate following a distant 2nd in the standings with 35. Vettel trails in 3rd with 29, ahead of his team-mate Webber 27.5. Trulli and Glock pick up 5th and 6th with 19.5 and 13 points respectively, Rosberg sandwiched with 11.5 ahead of Massa and Alonso with 11 points apiece. With seven out of seventeen races completed, the Brawn GP team holds a commanding 96 points in the constructors' championship ahead of Red Bull's 56.5, Toyota's 32.5 and Ferrari's 20. Watch this space in two weeks' time as the circus heads back to the old school for the British Grand Prix from Silverstone.