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Making sense of Turkey's strategic chaos

Karun Chandhok May 10, 2011
It may have been a familiar car out in front but it was a tense fight behind © Getty Images
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The Turkish Grand Prix was another all action race full of strategic chaos that was enough to confuse the teams, drivers and commentators alike! On the face of it, the top six in qualifying finished in the top six in the race and Sebastian Vettel once again took a dominant victory but that doesn't even begin to tell the full story...

Seb's just driving in an unbeatable zone of self-confidence and belief. Since Japan at the end of last year he has been pretty faultless and only an engine failure in Korea 2010 and an inspired drive on a better strategy from Lewis in China 2011 have stopped the German from winning eight in a row. A massive crash on Friday at turn eight, which prevented him running in FP2, was a minor hitch, although it only took five laps in FP3 for the No. 1 car to be back at the top of the times again on Saturday morning! His qualifying lap was pretty mighty - indeed a lot of reports indicated he had his DRS flap open before the third apex of turn eight on his pole lap, which is just astounding considering most others had to wait till after the fourth one. Once the start was out of the way, Seb could've won the race on either a three or four stop strategy, but the safe thing to do was the four stop once Fernando and Mark had done the same.

Behind Sebastian the race was a fantastic mix of on track action and strategic complexities. Most of the points scorers opted for four stops, with Jenson, Buemi and Kamui the only three stoppers in the top ten. This strategy didn't really work for Jenson but I do think the other two guys benefitted from it as they moved up considerably from their grid positions. What has become clear just listening to the drivers' comments after the race, is that the engineers and drivers need to find ways to communicate more during the race about what strategies they're on and where they are in the race.

Andrea Stella resorted to speaking in Italian to try and keep his message to Fernando Alonso a secret © Sutton Images
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It's always hard driving around and not really knowing where you are in the race relative to other cars that you may not be able to see. Nico Rosberg was one driver I heard afterwards talking about how confused he was at one point to be racing the Renaults and going backwards but then eventually he pulled ahead again to jump Jenson before the flag for fifth place.

The teams are always worried about saying too much on the radio to the drivers for fear of either distracting the driver or giving away information to other teams. Indeed, it was amusing to hear Andrea Stella speaking to Fernando in Italian on the radio to tell him they were just going to cover whatever the Red Bulls did - I bet there was a quick search for an Italian speaker at Red Bull and McLaren at that point. It took only about 30 seconds in the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary box for our twitter page to be full of translations so I doubt it would've taken the teams long, but it's all part of the game to throw a curve ball in there.

Ferrari and Fernando had a great race. To come from being a long way behind in China - and in fact in qualifying on Saturday - to finishing 10 seconds behind the race winner and within striking distance of Mark all afternoon was a very impressive result. Yet again they've shown that their Sunday pace is a significant step up on their relative one-lap pace in qualifying, which this year doesn't seem to be a major issue - at the end of the day, they're flying back to Maranello with more points than Nico took for his great P3 result in qualifying. It's clearly important to qualify in the top five, but the actual order of where you start doesn't seem to be as important as in years gone by and that's mainly thanks to the Pirelli tyres and the DRS.

Sebastien Buemi and Kamui Kobayashi made a three-stop strategy work in Turkey © Getty Images
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It's also been interesting to see that for two races in a row now, more pitstops and more running on fresh tyres has worked out to be the better strategy - comparing the two McLarens is a good example. They started close to each other on the grid but Lewis, despite losing a couple places by running wide at turn three on the opening lap and then losing another huge amount of time in the pit stop where they had a problem with the front tyre, still managed to finish nearly 20 seconds up the road from Jenson. Even Jenson's silky-smooth style wasn't enough to make the strategy work, which is an indicator that the others really have much less chance. A tyre engineer said to me that he reckoned the three-stop strategy worked OK for Kamui and Buemi because on average they're running about a second a lap slower than the Red Bulls and McLarens and are therefore putting less strain through identical tyres. This school of thought seems to make sense to me.

There are a lot of questions now being asked about whether the DRS made overtaking too easy. There seems to be a 50/50 divide in the paddock on that but my view on that is: Do most people at home watching on TV really know what the DRS is? My mum doesn't, my neighbour doesn't, my local pub owner doesn't - so really all they're seeing is a great race with plenty of overtaking which is what the fans want.

The other talking point post Turkey seems to be Michael Schumacher. I understand that in a post race interview, he admitted that he's not enjoying F1 at the moment which is really sad to hear. Michael's a true legend of our sport and was one of my heroes when I was starting out. His return to F1 was a real feel-good story last year and I think most people, within and outside the paddock, would agree with me when I say I'd love to see him win a race this year. There's no lack of bravery or commitment from Michael, as anyone who saw him fighting the wheel at turn eight would agree, but he was once again a few tenths shy of Rosberg this weekend, apart from Q3 when a mistake at turn one cost him a chunk of time.

Off to Barcelona next which should be a real test for the 2011 rules - you never know, we may even see someone overtake another car at the Circuit de Catalunya!

Karun Chandhok gives his views exclusively to ESPNF1 at the end of every grand prix weekend

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0 Karun Chandhok gives his views exclusively to ESPNF1 at the end of every grand prix weekend Karun Chandhok is one of just two Indians to sit on a Formula One starting grid, making his debut in 2010 with HRT. A motor sport fan since he was a kid, in his first year in the paddock he quickly built up a solid reputation, not only as a driver, but also as an impeccable source of F1 trivia. Now he draws on both his first-hand experience and his extensive knowledge to offer his views on the sport he loves.