Lewis heads to Istanbul

The next stop on the 2008 Formula 1 calendar.

The race was introduced to the sport in 2005, with the inaugural race won by the team. The event takes place at the Istanbul Speed Park in the Tepeören - Tuzla area near Istanbul, on the Asian side of the Bosporus river.

Following his accident at the Spanish Grand Prix, Heikki Kovalainen will be required to pass the mandatory FIA fitness checks, which are required after any concussion, before participating in the race. These will take place at the Istanbul circuit on Thursday 8th May.


Following a solid result in Spain, what are your thoughts ahead of the Turkish race?

"Qualifying was surprising close in Spain, both at the front of the grid and in the midfield. Whilst there are clear chances to overtake at the Istanbul Speed Park, it is going to be vital to qualify well. The balance of the car felt good in Spain, and this is really key at Turkey because of the high speed corners. You need to have a stable balance to be quick through them, such as turn three. You also need a very stable car through turn eight, to ensure you conserve your Bridgestone Potenzas and that you are able to carry speed through there. This section of the track is key as you can gain a lot of time."

Turkey is one of the anti-clockwise races, can you outline any impact this has on the driver and the Bridgestone Potenza tyres?"On the tyres, the issue is more turn eight. This is where tyres can suffer on the track and you have to be careful to ensure you don’t scrub them. The anti-clockwise direction doesn’t really have an effect. The majority of the tracks we race at during the year are clockwise, so it is inevitable that the right side of your next gets stronger. As a result, you do need to prepare the left side of your neck a little bit more to make sure that it doesn’t weaken over the course of the race weekend. I have spent some time doing this with my trainer since Spain so it shouldn’t be a problem."

Do you enjoy racing at the Istanbul Speed Park? "I do, it is a fantastic circuit. It is quite demanding, particularly through turn eight, but it provides a good challenge. I always look forward to the race and hope to improve on last year’s result. I also hope to have Heikki alongside me for the race so we can get a good joint result for the team, I know he has a final check at the track on Thursday so we will have to wait and see until then."


It is a few days since we last caught up with you, how are you feeling now?"I am feeling good, the stiffness in my neck has pretty much gone and I have been back training. I left Spain on Thursday and went back to Finland, where I have spent some time working with the team doctor at our facility there on ensuring I am fit for the race. Initially during the week we were doing some light training before starting on my full programme just before the weekend. Lewis will also be here over the weekend doing his training before the race. Next stage for me is the fitness test at the track in Turkey on Thursday with the FIA. I can’t wait to get back into the car and race with the team next weekend, but at the end of the day that decision is out of my hands, the FIA will make it based on safety grounds only."

After an accident of that scale, do you have any doubts about getting back into a Formula 1 car? "None whatsoever, I want to get back racing as soon as possible, since the accident at Barcelona it has been my only focus. Everyone involved in the sport, the FIA in particular, is always working on improving safety for the drivers, but Formula 1 is a risky business. You know that as a driver, but you don’t think about it. If you worry about things like that, you lose focus; I guess it is just not in my psyche."

Can you talk us through the famed turn eight at the Istanbul Speed Park? "Turn eight is made up of four corners, one corner after another just turning left, left, left and left, with four apexes. To get it right you have to hit one apex, then just lift a little bit at the right point and then you can go full throttle again for the next. It is not easily flat out, but it is almost flat out and the line is so crucial, that is one reason why it is so challenging and drivers like big challenges so I guess that is why we enjoy it so much. Also, it compresses in the middle of the corner, it dips a little bit and the car quite easily bottoms out. This is why you sometimes dust coming from the bottom of the car."

The circuit is also known for its elevation changes, is this something that has an impact on set-up?"It is definitely one of the circuits that has more up hills and down hills, also there are some apexes that are on the brown of the hill and are blind. There are also parts of the circuit that are very flat, so it doesn’t have a big effect on the set-up as it would be too much of a compromise. It does mean you pay attention more to your driving lines and trying to maximise when you go on the power over these hills, trying to maximise your own technique. Going over the crest of hills is the same as in a road car, you get that sensation with your stomach, but you get used to it as you do more laps over the course of the weekend."

What is the track like for overtaking?"Its good, it has a number of places with straight line speed going into some slower corners and this means there are opportunities to overtake. I think the best place is at the end of the back straight. It is very long and you can outbrake."


What is the latest situation with Heikki, his car from Barcelona and the car for Turkey?"Heikki is fighting fit. Our team doctor has kept an eye on him during the week both in Spain and then at the Kuortane Sports Institute in Finland and there has been no development of any secondary symptoms so everything is positive on that front. Before traveling to Istanbul, we will organise a full neurological examination for Heikki with our specialists in Finland as a matter of course. He will then have the mandatory FIA evaluation on Thursday at the circuit, which is a routine neuro and physiological test completed after any concussion. Of course we have a plan in place should the FIA request Heikki sits this race out, as at all Grands Prix, but we have a race driver who is naturally impatient to get back out there and this is the aim of the team. That said, we will fully respect the decision of the medical professionals, they are the specialists. On the car front, Heikki’s car from Spain was transferred back to the McLaren Technology Centre arriving lunchtime on the Monday following the race. Every part was immediately quarantined whilst the forensic analysis into the cause of the incident is completed. This is usual practice and some components may be salvaged in due course. In the meantime, the spare chassis that was in Spain is in the process of being built into a complete MP4-23, which Heikki will race, all being well, in Turkey. Some of this work took place in Spain, some back at base and some more in Turkey. Istanbul is a very challenging location for the team, as it is not a traditional European race or a flyaway. The majority of the equipment travels to the event by ship, taking much longer to get there and, naturally, to come back. The race team equipment, including the cars departed for Turkey directly from Spain, this includes the spare chassis just mentioned. A new spare chassis will be sent to Turkey directly from the McLaren Technology Centre."

The Istanbul Speed Park tends to be quite a demanding circuit on tyres, what are your expectations in this area for the race?"The circuit has actually some terrifically demanding corners, and it is therefore positive that we are coming away from Barcelona where the MP4-23 was very strong in high speed corners. If you can have a well balanced car through high speed corners then you can be kinder to the tyres. So we have every reason to be optimistic that we will be able to preserve our Bridgestone Potenzas at this track. A key part of the practice sessions is understanding the conditions we find when we get to the track, we will be very careful in these sessions to analyse, working together with Bridgestone, tyre wear and degradation with representative race fuel loads".

Has the team been focusing on any particular areas of development prior to this race, what is required from a car to be quick here?"Given the challenging nature of the circuit, we have come away from Barcelona with some confidence for the high speed corners, but we also come away knowing that we have areas where we need to strengthen the car. The tighter, more twisty parts of the Circuit de Catalunya were certainly our Achilles heel during the race weekend, and there has been a lot of analysis and study of that as we endeavour to strengthen our car in that area."


How is Heikki Kovalainen doing following his accident in the Spanish Grand Prix on 27th April?“Heikki was really lucky, and we were too of course. The MP4-23’s safety cell prevented the outcome from being worse, as did the safety barriers at the race track. This accident might have had more serious consequences, had it not been for the FIA and the teams working intensively and continuously on improved safety standards over the past 14 years. The medical teams at the racetrack and in the hospital did exemplary jobs as well as the marshals. Heikki and the team want to thank all of them. Heikki didn’t have any injuries; however, he did have a headache. One day after the accident, he was released from the hospital in Barcelona. First he took time to recover, and now he is preparing for the next Grand Prix in Istanbul. Before that he of course has to undergo the medical check by the FIA. It is not so important that Heikki will take part in the next race; it is important that he will be racing again when he will have fully recovered.”

Prior to Barcelona, it has been the opinion of experts that on this track the real balance of power would become obvious and that the team which is in front in Barcelona would remain in front for the rest of the year. What is your opinion?“Barcelona as the first Grand Prix of the European season and, with its challenging track layout, is definitely a yardstick for the following races. In qualifying, we missed pole position by less than three tenths of a second; however, we carried a little more fuel and therefore more weight. Anyway, even with the same fuel load we wouldn’t have been fast enough to beat Ferrari. Since winning the season opener in Melbourne, our car has improved gradually and has become significantly faster. Unfortunately, we didn’t score all possible points, neither in Melbourne, Malaysia, Bahrain or Barcelona, mostly due to self-induced mistakes and this is the reason for the gap to the top of the rankings, after Ferrari had scored only one point in Melbourne. Our aim is to improve further over the next few races, however it is possible the Turkish Grand Prix might be a challenging race for the team.”

How do you evaluate the chances of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in the Turkish Grand Prix?“We didn’t really shine here in the past, and also this time we are not the current benchmark. The team wants to score as many points as possible, but after three consecutive wins Ferrari obviously arrive here as the favourites.”