F1 Power Rankings: Turkish Grand Prix

After the now traditional three-week spring break, the stars of the Formula One World Championship are ready to kick-off the European portion of the season with the Turkish Grand Prix. So far this season, one driver has dominated the World Drivers’ Championship but he saw a new contender to his crown rise up in China thanks to tire strategy. So who do I tip as the favourite this weekend: The Champion or the Challenger? Find out in this week’s Formula One Power Rankings.

Due to time constraints in writing this post, most of the analysis will consist of pre-race quotes from drivers.

#1 Sebastian Vettel (Last Race #1)
The Championship leader on the Istanbul Park circuit: “I like the Turkish circuit, it has all types of corners, slow and fast, like Turn 8. It’s an awesome corner, we try to take it flat year by year. It’s fast and extremely bumpy, so you can hardly see where you’re going – you turn in and hope for the best. Turkey is a hard track on tyres and it’s usually quite hot there – but I especially like the place as it’s where I had my first F1 test drive. Our car should be strong there, but of course we have to respect our competitors and can never take anything for granted. People are pushing hard, but we are pushing very hard too to maintain our strengths.”

#2 Mark Webber (LR#2)
Webber talks about his Easter break: “I hope you all had a good Easter. I caught up with some friends and had some good downtime. It’s a bit odd in the UK at the moment with all the bank holidays, but the weather has been sensational. And, of course, I ate a few Easter eggs…”

#3 Lewis Hamilton (LR#4)
Lewis on where and how to pass in Turkey: “This is also a circuit where KERS Hybrid will be a major benefit – most of the straights come after low-speed corners, so there’s plenty of scope for using the KERS Hybrid – most notably out of Turn 10, but also out of the final corner. There’s always quite a big chance for passing into Turn 12, because it’s quite easy to stay with a leading car out of Turn 10 and duck into the tow.”

#4 Jenson Button (LR#3)
Button on Turn 8 and tires: “Looking at the track configuration, our simulations suggest that Turkey will be a critical test for the tyres – particularly the front-right, which will be placed under considerable load through Turn Eight. It’s a high-speed, multi-apex turn with a lot of loading, so I think we’ll spend part of Friday monitoring the loads through the tyres to make sure we can achieve a safe and achievable balance for the race before we head into qualifying on Saturday.”

#5 Felipe Massa (LR#7)
I know that Alonso has more points and a better best finish of the season than Massa but head-to-head, Massa leads the Ferrari driver battle 2-to-1. Massa has well outdriven Alonso so far this season. Of course, Massa is driving for a race seat in 2012. I don’t think he’d be willing to come back to Ferrari as a second fiddle to Alonso. His spot next year could come down to what Webber does in 2012.

#6 Nico Rosberg (LR#12)
Nico on Mercedes’ start to the season: “We had a more difficult start to 2011 than we had expected, and the first three races felt a little like a rollercoaster of emotions. We were all disappointed in Melbourne and Malaysia but, after leading the race in Shanghai, we have confirmed the potential of our car. The team did a very good job to take a step forward and we learned a lot from the weekend. Hopefully we can now make a further step for Turkey and produce another positive performance.”

#7 Fernando Alonso (LR#5)
I doubt very much that Alonso cares what the press says about him and his supposed intra-team battle with Felipe Massa. Alonso, as Schumacher before him, is the unquestioned #1 driver for his squad. Unlike Michael, though, his #2 driver is outperforming him after three races. That has to put added strain on Fernando because there’s nothing he can really demand from the team this early in the season to put him back ahead.

#8 Vitaly Petrov (LR#8)
Petrov looks at his surprising start to the season: “We have made real progress this year with the design of the car and innovations and it looks very strong. We have had some good races and took two podiums. We’ve also had some bad luck but we’ve still remained strong. Things are looking good for us I think. I’m pleased with my performance so far and with the results we have obtained but we need to stay focused and continue to work at the same rate.”

#9 Michael Schumacher (LR#11)
Generic Stig comments about the upcoming race: “The venue for our next race, Istanbul Park, is a great track and provides a good challenge for the drivers. It’s anti-clockwise, has a lot of gradient changes and different corner layouts, so it’s quite nice to drive. I know that the team have been working very hard to continue the progress that we made during the last race weekend in China and, with the help of some developments planned for Istanbul, I am confident that we can enjoy an equally positive weekend.”

#10 Kamui Kobayashi (LR#9)
Kobayashi on tires: “There are a couple of high speed corners which I like, and I feel we should be quite competitive in Turkey. However, the corner I like most is the triple left hander which forms turn eight. Regarding tyre management, I find it difficult to predict how the situation will develop. The grip level at this circuit is normally very low, which means the cars tend to slide a lot. I believe it will be crucial to save the front tyres in particular so the wear is as low as possible.”

#11 Sebastien Buemi (LR#10)
For as highly as I rate Buemi this season, he’s only 12th in the WDC with only the one points paying finish in the Aussie Grand Prix. He has finished better than his teammate in all three races this season, though. And to think that I started the season thinking that the younger Alguersuari was more likely to have a Toro Rosso race seat at season’s end instead of Buemi.

#12 Nick Heidfeld (LR#6)
Heidfeld on how he’s settling in with the team since replacing Kubica: “Everything has gone so fast since February, which means that it’s been a very quick learning process… It’s an ongoing challenge to have everything working perfectly at once but having said this, I’m impressed by the quality of the relationship we’ve built up over just a few weeks. People at Lotus Renault GP really want the driver to feel comfortable in the car and they give you a lot of confidence. They’ve really listened, as have I, and this has helped us develop constructively as a team. Above all, I’m really enjoying this open, two-way approach that we have.”

#13 Paul di Resta (LR#13)
Paul discusses his prep work before his first visit to Istanbul: “Racing at Istanbul will be a new experience for me because I didn’t take part in Friday practice last year and I’ve never driven the track. All I have to go on is the simulator work I’ve carried out in preparation for the event. Turn eight will be difficult, but the other corners are equally important for a good laptime. For learning a new track the simulation work helps and the team also provide me with as much information as possible. But I need to get an impression first before I think too much about it.”

#14 Adrian Sutil (LR#16)
Sutil analyzes 2011 so far: “It feels like ages since the last race, but it was good to have a short break to think about our start to the season, to analyse all the data and to relax a bit. In many ways the first three races were better than expected: we scored points and were always quite close to the top ten. As a team I think we did a good job and we’ve shown we have pretty solid reliability. The task now is developing the car and the updates we have coming look interesting so I’m excited to see how it goes.”

#15 Sergio Perez (LR#14)
Sergio on coming back to tracks he knows: “In a way I feel for me the championship is about to start now with these next races on circuits I know. I have raced at Istanbul Park twice in the GP2 series and I find the track very nice. I especially used to enjoy turn eight a lot. With the Formula One car it will, of course, be physically demanding for the neck muscles, and turn eight will also be a special challenge for the front tyres. We will have to be careful with them. In any case I’m really looking forward to the Turkish Grand Prix and I want to bag my first points.”

#16 Jaime Alguersuari (LR#15)
To hell with how Alguersuari’s season is going. We all know that Daniel Ricciardo will replace either Buemi or Jaime based on performance and money. So I’m going to complain about Toro Rosso and Ferrari being the only teams whose PR departments don’t release generic pre-race quotes to the press. Those things make my life much easier (as made perfectly obvious by this particular post) and I don’t have infinite time on my hands.

#17 Rubens Barrichello (LR#17)
Rubens talks about his love for this weekend’s track:  “I love Istanbul Park. It is one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar and we will aim to be flat out there. Everyone says Turn 8 is a highlight, and it is, but I also find the circuit nice from a set-up point of view with qualifying also a good challenge. I like the track as a whole.”

#18 Pastor Maldonado (LR #18)
Williams are officially off to their worst start to a World Championship season since 1979. According to F1 Fanatic, the last time Williams failed to score in the first three races was in 1979 when they were still a relatively new team. They did have two ninths and a tenth place over that stretch in 1979. Since those spots are worth points today, you could easily argue that this is the worst Williams start ever to a season.

#19 Heikki Kovalainen (LR #19)
Kovalainen talks about his demo day at the Caterham factory: “We’ve obviously been pretty busy since getting back from China and it was great to see so many fans turn out for us at Duxford last week. I had a really good day and it was cool to be given the chance to be the first person drive the Caterham in our team colours in front of everyone.”

#20 Jarno Trulli (LR #20)
Jarno on what the team has been up to otherwise during the break: “Turkey’s another chance for us to keep growing as a team and after the short break we’ve had it’ll be good to get back into the car. The team’s been hard at work on the aero updates we’ll introduce at the Spanish Grand Prix and on a couple of mechanical fixes that will give me a better platform to really push on from.”

#21 Timo Glock (LR #21)
Glock on the team’s first upgrade package of the season: “Then there’s a lot of hard work to focus on with our new upgrade. It’s quite a major package but these things take time to adapt to the track and our focus has to be getting as much running as possible so we can get maximum data and use it to keep working with the car in the next few races.”

#22 Jerome d’Ambrosio (LR# 22)
Jerome on his season so far: “For me it’s all about steady progress now. I’m really happy with my first three races in F1 and now I have to not just maintain that but keep pushing myself and moving forward as there is still so much to learn.”

#23 Tonio Liuzzi (LR# 23)
Liuzzi on the teams goals for Turkey: “Our target for Turkey is to verify that our updates are working as per plan, closing the gap on the leader and obviously finishing the race ahead of our direct competitors. If everything goes to plan, I think Hispania Racing can surprise a lot of people by closing the gap considerably with respect to other teams thereby showing how serious our intentions of growing are.”

#24 Narain Karthikeyan (LR# 24)
Narain being Narain (contributing little to F1): “I don’t have great memories of this circuit as my only previous visit in 2005 with Jordan GP was marred by mechanical problems but my memories of Turkey itself are great, the people are so nice and the food is fantastic.”

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