MPH: Is a perfect lap at Istanbul Park possible?


Formula 1 returns to Istanbul Park for the Turkish Grand Prix this weekend and the teams will be facing the same dilemma they always have done: how to achieve the perfect lap around the challenging circuit?

Lewis Hamilton, 2009 Turkihs GP

Turn Eight should be flat out in the 2020 cars

Peter J Fox/Getty Images

Formula 1 returns to Istanbul Park this coming weekend for the first time in nine years. Of the current grid, only Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez were there last time.

It’s an awesome track with a unique set of challenges and some of the pole laps there over the years have been very dramatic. But arguably it wasn’t one of those which was actually the most remarkable qualifying lap ever seen around the place. I’d contend that was Anthony Davidson’s 11th-fastest time in the Super Aguri in 2007.

Davidson qualified the tiny team’s SA07 just 0.67sec slower than Felipe Massa’s pole time, not quite enough to get him into Q3. But if he had scraped in and been able to repeat that time there, it would have put him sixth on the grid! It was faster than the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and David Coulthard, and the Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello.

Davidson is of course now a great analyst for Sky F1’s TV coverage, but even as a driver he had a great way of analysing and explaining. Sitting down with him after that lap and getting him to explain it gives an understanding of the particular challenges presented by the circuit.

Tyre preparation was one of the keys. The softer tyre had slightly better ultimate pace but tended to destroy itself with front and rear graining before the end of the lap, mainly because of the relentless pounding it took through the never-ending, super-fast Turn Eight.

Given the massive downforce of current cars that corner looks set to be flat-out – which, given its super-long duration, must be a particular concern for Pirelli. Even back in ’07, it induced a failure of the front right of Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren in the race.

Anthony Davidson, 2007 Turkish GP

Davidson negotiates the final chicane at Istanbul Park

Grand Prix Photo

The prime tyre that weekend was much easier to get a good lap out of because it wasn’t giving out before the end of the lap. But if you could get the preparation of the softer tyre perfect, then it would buy you more time early in the lap than it would lose you later. The warm-up of the soft was good, and Davidson figured that this may have allowed him to do a very slow out-lap to protect it but still have the required temperature at the start of the flying lap.

He tried a slow out-lap. It still gave out at the end of the qualifying lap. He tried a super-slow out-lap. It wasn’t up to temperature by the start of the lap – which meant the pressures were not right through Turn Eight, causing the car to bottom out there and be a real handful.

But it made the end of the lap really good. So for Davidson’s next run he asked for more tyre pressure, to give him the super-slow out-lap but without the bottoming. This just brought the graining back at the end of the lap.

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“That just taught me there wasn’t really a window where you could have a stable and easy car through Turn Eight but not have the graining at the end. So for my final Q2 lap I went halfway house with the pressures and accepted it was going to be difficult through Turn Eight, knowing I was just going to have to keep my foot in. I had nothing to lose. Just getting through to Q2 was already a result.

“I came so close to going off. It bottomed out, ran wide, just about touched the exit kerb. I could feel it going light, like it does just before you lose it, but I just kept my foot in. Then somehow the car just came back onto the rubbered-in line and I hadn’t lost any momentum at all and it just gripped at the final apex. From there, it was all gain.

“I braked as late as I dared for Turn 12, which can be tricky when you have a tailwind. It’s easy to lock up and lose the lap. But I attacked it because I had nothing to lose. I looked at the wheel as I turned in and it was just beginning to lock – but it didn’t quite, so it was perfect…

“That’s what a perfect lap is. It’s when you nearly crash at every corner, where you nearly lock up but don’t, where the car twitches nervously on exit but doesn’t let go. That lap was damn well as close as it can get.”

With today’s very different downforce levels but similar tyre traits, it’s going to be fascinating to see what the key challenges of such a quality of lap will be this weekend.

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