Turkish Grand Prix: the PUMA Perspective

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Two red glasses, one half full; the other half empty: that best summarises Ferrari’s Turkish Grand Prix weekend. PUMA’s partner team scored its first podium of the 2011 Formula 1 season after posting a definite upswing in performance in qualifying, followed by robust race from Fernando Alonso.

The Spaniard was absolutely elated after mixing it with Mark Webber’s Red Bull in the 58-lap grand prix, and pointed to a narrowing of the deficit to the two blue cars as proof of real progress having been made back at base. Where the gap to perennial pole sitter Sebastian Vettel averaged 1.4 seconds over the three opening races, on Saturday it had been just 0.8 seconds.

On the other hand Felipe Massa had a mercurial race at a circuit that previously saw him take a hat trick of victories – for Ferrari, in 2006-2008. However, it all unravelled for the chirpy Brazilian in Q1 on Saturday, when he was forced to set a time on soft rubber after failing to record a ‘safe’ lap on the harder compound. This compromised his tyre availability in the final qualifying session, resulting in tenth on the grid.

Still, all was not lost, and he climbed up the order, only to each time lose his hard-gained advantages after suffering issues during three of his four pit stops. However his post-race smile said it all: Ferrari is out of the doldrums. Yes, both drivers emphasised that much work remained to be done before the red cars could regularly contest victory on pure speed, but at least the team was now able to fight for podiums on merit.

A feature of the race was the number of pit stops: 82, of which just two resulted from on-track incidents. Given 23 starters, the average pans out at almost four per car. Indeed, each of the top five finishers stopped four times, with a minority pitting thrice and just two tail-enders stopping twice.

All of which begs the questions whether Formula 1, having last year seen just one stop per car at many circuits, has gone from one extreme to the other in its quest to spice up the show, and, crucially, whether any of the sport’s purity has been lost as a result.

Certainly, the last two races saw an average of two overtakes per lap – contrasting sharply with grands prix in the recent past, when most changes of position came via pit stops – so arguably the sport’s overtaking initiatives, namely switchable drag-reducing rear wings and planned tyre degradation, have been too successful.

Post-race, many in the paddock, including Ferrari sporting director Stefano Domenicali, indicated that overtaking frequency could now be on the ‘excessive’ side. The next two circuits on the schedule, namely Barcelona and Monaco, have traditionally been characterised by a dearth of position changes, so little action in this regard can be expected within the next fortnight, but the sport’s authorities are believed to be monitoring the situation.

But for now the message from Turkey for Formula 1 fans across the world is that Ferrari on the attack!