Fernando Alonso was within 19 laps of dealing a major blow to Michael Schumacher’s recovery in the title battle at the Hungaroring. But an errant wheel nut – the first mechanical failure in a race for either of the championship protagonists this year – put paid to that.
Now Alonso’s hopes of retaining his crown seem to rest on one crucially important date – Tuesday 22nd August, on which the FIA will rule on whether or not Renault can re-fit the much talked about mass dampers to their cars.
With that in mind, let’s look ahead to the Turkish Grand Prix.
Pat Symonds put a sufficiently convincing case to the German Grand Prix stewards to earn Renault a reprieve. But the FIA have previously shown no compunction about overruling stewards’ decisions – as they did after the 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Nor are they fazed by the accusation that a substantial change in the rules late in the season might swing the championship from one team to another: Witness the Michelin debacle in 2003.
And, of course, there are many who will feel that the FIA invariably make decisions that favour Ferrari – as did the two above – and Renault don’t have a chance.
Cynicism aside, it’s hard not to be swayed by the weight of opinion which holds that the FIA will not contradict their own previous edict on mass dampers. Regardless of the implications which may follow from saying that a suspension component is, in fact, an aerodynamic device.
Working on the assumption that mass dampers are out, the hot, dry climate of Istanbul would certainly benefit Ferrari. Yet permitting the mass dampers – or unseasonably cool weather – would swing the balance towards Renault. So let’s hope we get at least one of those and, with it, the prospect of an entertaining race.
If the Hungaroring can serve up the best race of the season so far then we can have high hopes for the exciting Istanbul Kurtkoy track, the newest on the calendar so far. Hermann Tilke was on top form for this one, adding gradient and the intricate, quadruple-apex turn eight to his usual prescription of overtaking-friendly tight, wide corners.
In an Alonso vs Schumacher situation Ferrari might struggle to effectively deploy Felipe Massa as a blocker, because there’s room to pass in Istanbul – even if Ferrari boast the prodigious straight-line speed evident all year.
What of the latest addition to the roster of Grand Prix winners, Jenson Button? Expect his Hungaroring win to have re-ignited his zeal for dragging the unco-operative Honda to the sharp end of the field – it will be fascinating to see if Honda can rival McLaren.
Another man brimming with confidence and on a mission is Pedro de la Rosa. His best-ever finish last time out has probably guaranteed him the McLaren seat for the rest of the year. Now he has to prove to Ron Dennis that, if Kimi Raikkonen does skulk off at the end of the year, he would be a much safer pair of hands than Gary Paffett or Lewis Hamilton.
Toyota languished in Bridgestone hell at the Hungaroring. Turkey should see them back on form and, as ever, look for Jarno Trulli to be lurking around the front of the grid in qualifying.
Christian Klien is apparently unhappy with his dismissal from Red Bull for next year – boss Dietrich Mateschitz cites Klien’s two points to team mate David Coulthard’s fourteen. Klien reckons the points don’t tell the story (he retired from a potential third place at Monaco, handing it to Coulthard) and sorely needs to put a few over his stable mate before the end of the season.
The teams do not have the stacks of data on Istanbul as they do other circuits, the track invites driver errors (see last year’s qualifying), and the championshop is tighter than ever, so there are plenty of causes for optimism this weekend.