x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lewis Hamilton cautious on Turkish Grand Prix chances

The McLaren-Mercedes driver is wary of the weather in Istanbul and is hopeful that strategy will come to his aid as it did in Shanghai.

Lewis Hamilton was keeping his feet on the ground about his prospects of victory at this weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix yesterday, despite the Briton having won the last round of the championship in China three weeks ago.
Lewis Hamilton was keeping his feet on the ground about his prospects of victory at this weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix yesterday, despite the Briton having won the last round of the championship in China three weeks ago.

ISTANBUL // If he is true to his word and keeps his feet on the ground this weekend, Lewis Hamilton, winner of last month's Chinese Grand Prix, would do well to swap his race boots for Wellingtons.

The Turkish Grand Prix, billed as the start of the European season despite Istanbul Park being located on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, looks destined to provide Formula One with its first wet race of the season.

The dismally dark grey clouds that hung in the air over the circuit yesterday provided irregular rain and prominent puddles in the paddock.

"I have never been here when it has been wet - I didn't even know it rained here," said Hamilton, wrapped up in his McLaren-Mercedes waterproofs.

The Englishman could have been forgiven for arriving this weekend buoyed by his performance in Shanghai, where his team outsmarted Sebastian Vettel's dominant Red Bull Racing.

Had this weekend's race arrived sooner, perhaps he would have been.

Instead, with three weeks having passed since his golden moment and every team making modifications in the race to improve, the 26-year-old, who won here last year, is refusing to promise a repeat performance.

"Last year was my first win here, so that is great feeling, but coming back is going to be very tough, especially with the conditions," he said.

"Of course you can come from the last race and be very excited and be confident, but I don't have particularly high hopes. I generally don't like to expect too much because if it doesn't work out, you don't have a big come down. I prefer to arrive cautious."

McLaren have made "a number of small modifications" to their set-up ahead of the season's fourth race, but Hamilton is only too aware that the competition have done likewise in the past three weeks of no race activity. And some more than others.

"You have to assume that everybody has moved forward. We had half a second we needed to jump to catch the Red Bulls, but even if we have found that half second, you would imagine they will have found the same or similar," he said. "I hope we can close the gap, but you never know who has improved their car more. You have to be cautious and to look out for Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes - they have also made a step and may have moved closer or past us. Fingers crossed our upgrade is a step forward, but whether it is a big step or a small step, we will need to wait and see."

Fortunately for drivers and spectators alike, Hamilton's performance in China proved that having the quickest car is no longer the sole factor in the quest for success.

Tactics are now more crucial than ever. Vettel had led for the majority of the race in Shanghai, but when he found himself struggling on older tyres with five laps remaining, Hamilton, having pitted for fresh rubber, was able to comfortably pass him to secure his first win in more than eight months.

Vitaly Petrov, the Renault driver, revealed his team have gone from dedicating 20 minutes for discussing strategy last year to spending more than 50 minutes deliberating race plans this season, and teams such as McLaren are likely to dedicate even more.

"At the last race, we didn't win because we had the fastest car, but because we outdid them with strategy," said Hamilton, who pinpointed the eminent Turn Eight as being key to this weekend's set-up.

At 640 metres, the acclaimed eighth corner is the longest bend on the calendar and is regularly cited as a favourite of the drivers.

It combines high speeds - around 270 kph - with sustained gravitational force that means it is also the most demanding corner on both driver and tyre.

"It's great," Hamilton said. "None of the drivers really struggle with it, but you have to compromise your overall set-up of the car just to deal with that one corner. It will be interesting for sure, especially if it stays wet."

The weather forecast ahead of today's free practice is light rain.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae