Felipe Massa may line up on pole position but if McLaren have paid attention to the starts at past Turkish Grands Prix they’ll know how to exploit any vulnerability he shows on the way to the first corner.
Here’s what’s happened in the past – and how McLaren might use it.
At Istanbul the odd-numbered grid hatchings sit on the racing line. Off the line it is dusty – much dustier than at a typical circuit, as Istanbul is used much less often than the likes of the Circuit de Catalunya or Silverstone.
That’s good news for pole sitter Massa and third placed Lewis Hamilton. A glance back at recent Turkish Grands Prix shows how that advantage can play out:
Top four on the grid: Felipe Massa, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Giancarlo Fisichella.
Third-placed Alonso made a far better start than Schumacher and only co-ordinated defensive driving by the two Ferraris kept Alonso behind.
While Alonso held back Fisichella spun trying to avoid his team mate, triggering a multi-car accident.
Top four the on grid: Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso
The McLaren drivers on the dirty side of the suffered badly, Raikkonen passing Hamilton and Alonso falling behind the BMWs of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld.
Kovalainen is the crucial piece in the puzzle this year. Assuming Massa and Hamilton get good starts (which is not a given considering Hamilton’s troubles in Bahrain) whether Kovalainen starts well or poorly gives McLaren several options at turn one.
Obviously the ideal scenario is that he starts well and can force Massa to defend at turn one. That could allow Hamilton to get a run on the pair of them. Better yet, if Kovalainen can get down the inside of Massa he could force him wide at the exit of the corner, passing him and assisting Hamilton’s passage into second place.
That all presupposes that Massa might be bullied into giving way at the first corner but we’ve seen before how robust he can be – remember what happened when Alonso tried to elbow him aside at the start of last year’s Spanish race?
If Kovalainen gets a poor start then a potential opportunity turns into a crisis for McLaren. He needs to funnel in between Massa and Hamilton, or Hamilton and Raikkonen, without handing again kind of advantage to Raikkonen. The chance to take points off the championship leader this weekend is just too precious for McLaren to squander in a blunder at the first corner.
Above all they will want to avoid that other common feature of starts at Istanbul – first-lap crashes.