Red Bull Racing continue to lead the way after another one-two in Turkey, with Sebastian Vettel a country mile ahead in the Formula One drivers' standings. The in-season evolution of the competition continues, so just who else will impress in Spain?
Sebastian Vettel (GER), Red Bull – 1st (93pts)
Mark Webber (AUS), Red Bull – 3rd (55pts)
All the drama going on further down the field meant Sebastian hardly featured on TV screens during GP Turkey, but this shouldn’t detract from the fact that it was another imperious performance from the world champion, whose lead at the front meant he avoided involvement in all the excitement behind him. What a difference a year makes after all the controversy of Istanbul in 2010 – this year it was smiles all around in the Red Bull Racing garage with two happy drivers, after Mark’s welcome and deserved second place capped a fine weekend’s work. The others (see below) might be doing their best to narrow the gap to the reigning Constructors’ champions, but there is indeed much to smile about at Red Bull right now.
Fernando Alonso (SPA), Ferrari – 5th (41pts)
Undoubtedly, Ferrari’s car upgrades in Turkey took the Scuderia a step closer to Red Bull. Despite struggling to hold onto Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes early on and losing second place to Mark Webber later, third-placed Fernando Alonso could hardly stop smiling on the podium, and a contract extension for the Spaniard that will see him remain at Ferrari until at least 2016 has extended the warm feeling. Usually it is team-mate Felipe Massa who feels the love at Istanbul Park, but disastrous pitstops for the Brazilian meant it was Alonso who reaped the improved Ferrari’s benefits, and he is surely the key threat ahead of the McLarens as we arrive at Alonso’s home race. “I have the utmost faith in the men and women who work in Maranello and in those who lead them,” said Alonso after his new contract was announced.
Michael Schumacher (GER), Mercedes – 11th (6pts)
After another off-colour performance in the Mercedes that included uncustomary driver errors, Michael Schumacher has tacitly admitted that he is not enjoying his racing at the moment. The Merc might still not be anything like the best car on the grid (Schumi’s bosom pal and sometime tactical genius Ross Brawn is also experiencing something of a downturn in fortunes), but the seven-time world champion and 91-time grand prix-winner is being outclassed by team-mate Nico Rosberg, who has yet to win a grand prix in 93 starts, too often in qualifying and races for it just to be a blip. Unless the fallen star’s performances and points-hauls start to improve, an ignominious end might arrive sooner rather than later. And this, for one of the sport’s greats, would be a real tragedy. “I don't think we should write Michael off by any stretch of the imagination – there's a lot of talent there,” said David Coulthard on the BBC in Turkey. “But he must be asking himself questions.”
Sébastien Buemi (SUI), Toro Rosso – 12th (6pts)
Jaime Alguersuari (SPA), Toro Rosso – 15th (0pts)
With Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost openly mooting reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo for a grid slot for the Scuderia in 2012, Sébastien Buemi’s current form suggests he is coping best with the pressure now necessarily applied both to himself and team-mate Jaime Alguersuari. Unlucky to have been passed by both Renaults late in the Turkish GP, ninth nevertheless represents a decent return for Buemi in a car that seems firmly rooted in the midfield this year, despite its pre-season promise. A third trip to Q3 in five races in Spain could see daylight beginning to emerge – though the determined Alguersuari is on home soil this weekend, so a fascinating battle could be in prospect here.
Jarno Trulli (ITA), Team Lotus – 17th (0pts)
Heikki Kovalainen (FIN), Team Lotus – 20th (0pts)
Largely expected to be the second best of the three new teams on debut last year behind Virgin, Lotus finished as top performers from the newcomers (albeit on the same zero points) and were on occasions pretty impressive in 2010 in the experienced hands of Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen. Thus expected to take a step up into the midfield and points-paying finishes in 2011, Lotus have ironically stayed pretty much at the back of the grid, though team boss Mike Gascoyne has suggested that Spain might be where we see the green car, with a new diffuser and rear end set-up, make the breakthrough. “We think our update is going to allow us to take a clear step into the midfield, so that we are qualifying with them and out-racing them more and more,” said Gascoyne this week.