Starting off-line could prove McLaren’s undoing (Turkish GP pre-race analysis)

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

Starting on the dirty side of the track could be a problem for Hamilton
Starting on the dirty side of the track could be a problem for Hamilton

McLaren successfully gave the flying Red Bulls some rare opposition in qualifying. Can they go one step forward and keep them from victory in the race?

The start will be crucial – and history shows having both their drivers on the left-hand side of the grid could be a disadvantage for McLaren.

The start

As Robert Kubica found out in Monaco, it’s not enough to split the Red Bulls in qualifying, you have to make it count at the start as well.

And at Istanbul, just like at Monte-Carlo, it’s questionable whether starting from second on the grid offers much of an advantage compared to starting third. Yes, you’re further ahead, but you’re on the dirty side of the track.

Lewis Hamilton starts second and he would do well to copy team mate Jenson Button’s tactics from last year by angling his car sharply across to the right to get onto the cleaner, grippier side of the track – and in front of Sebastian Vettel – as soon as possible.

Button will surely do likewise to impede Michael Schumacher’s progress, and so on down the grid.

If either McLaren driver can come out of turns nine and ten within range of an RB6, their straight-line speed advantage could help them pick off their rivals. The MP4/25s were 6kph faster than any other car through the speed traps during qualifying.

Strategy

Even at Istanbul, where tyre degradation is more of a concern, no driver in Q3 was tempted into qualifying on the hard tyre. Further proof, as argued here last week, that the top ten tyre rule is a complete waste of time.

So expect tyre stops to begin as soon as the midfield runners have enough space to be able to pit and come out in front of the six new cars. Unless, that is, some kind of incident in the midfield opens up a gap there for the leaders to drop into after their pit stops.

Once the pit stops being the destiny of the race could be decided in the ensuing scramble.

Michael Schumacher will not have to start the race on the tyres he spoiled with his spin at the end of qualifying, because the rules require drivers to start the race on the same set of tyres they set their best time on – which was his previous set.

Alonso in the midfield

A poor qualifying session has left Fernando Alonso with some ground to make up if he’s going to score points tomorrow.

Starting from 12th on the grid he will probably have to start his race fighting a rearguard action against 13th-placed Pedro de la Rosa.

He will have a free choice of which tyres to start and he may choose to gamble on the hard tyres. This might make sense if the conditions tomorrow are as hot as they were on Friday and tyre wear is a concern on the soft tyres. But it carries the risk of being vulnerable if the safety car comes out early.

We will also see if turn eight continues to catch out drivers in the race. For most of them it will be a case of judging when – or if – it can be taken flat-out as their fuel load decreases during the race.

Even the Red Bulls have found this corner tricky, and after qualifying Button worried that his McLaren was running too low and at risk of bottoming out in the corner – a concern in the opening laps with a heavy fuel load.

How do you expect the Turkish Grand Prix to unfold? Can Mark Webber win his third race in the row? Have your say in the comments.

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