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Istanbul set for rain-soaked F1 weekend

07 May 2011 [12:18] - TODAY.AZ
Istanbul Park is welcoming the pace and the thrill of Formula One race for the seventh time, but doubts of this weekend’s event would be the last time in Turkey are still in the air.

Doubts were raised that Turkey may not host a race next year, after the head of Istanbul's Chamber of Commerce Murat Yalçıntaş - citing an increase in the fee to stage it - last month expressed reservations it could continue.

Turkey joined the F1 calendar in 2005 but the race has attracted poor attendances due to high ticket prices and difficulty of access to the venue on Istanbul's Asian side.

However, there is a party in Formula One world that wants to have Istanbul on the calendar: It’s the drivers.

Istanbul's six-year contract to host the race is due to expire this year, drivers want to keep coming back.

"I would miss it, definitely, as it is a place that you have some better results than you expected. It is a good place, but we will see how it is going to be," Ferrari's Brazilian driver Felipe Massa said, the Associated Press reported. "It is a track you always like to come (to). You always have a good result, good feeling and we will miss it if we are not coming here next year."

Massa has a particular fondness for it, as he won three straight Grand Prix races at Istanbul Park from 2006-08, all from pole position.

"It is a very special place for me. I won three times, especially the first time it was a big fight with Fernando (Alonso) and Michael (Schumacher)," Massa said. "In 2008 I had a big fight with Lewis (Hamilton)."

Hamilton won at Istanbul last year and the Briton is hoping another success this Sunday can close the gap on championship leader Sebastian Vettel. The German F1 champion leads Hamilton by 21 points after three races.

"It's got some great high speed corners and quite a nice mixture of corners," Hamilton said of Istanbul's track. "Of course it would be a shame to not have the Grand Prix on the calendar."

Istanbul's Turn Eight is the longest of the season at 640 meters and is particularly thrilling for drivers to test themselves against.

"We love to race at circuits that are challenging and exciting for us, so fingers crossed it will be here (next year)," Hamilton said.

Yalçıntaş, who represents the backers of the race, said on his Twitter account last month that Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone doubled the asking fee from $13 million to $26 million, and that Turkey's Ministry of Finance considered the amount too high.

He was also quoted in the Turkish media that final talks with Ecclestone would be hold over the Turkish GP weekend.

Meanwhile, Jenson Button made the most of improved weather conditions to post the fastest time in the second practice on Friday, and his McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton was third quickest.

The two British drivers made the most of improving conditions after morning rain made the Istanbul Park circuit dangerous and slippery.

Temperatures improved slightly and the track dried out for the afternoon session, when Germany's Nico Rosberg matched his impressive morning with the second quickest time.

Button, the 2009 F1 champion, set a best lap of 1 minute, 26.456 seconds.

Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber completed the top five.

Fernando Alonso posted the fastest time Friday in a rainy first practice.

Alonso has been struggling this season, failing to finish on the podium in all three races so far. But his strong performance in cool, slippery conditions was a welcome confidence boost for Ferrari.

The two-time F1 champion from Spain completed 13 laps and set a fastest lap of 1 minute, 38.67 seconds - 1.402 seconds faster than Nico Rosberg and 1.462 quicker than seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.

The wet conditions at the Istanbul Park track caused problems throughout, with new drivers Paul Di Resta and Pastor Maldonado struggling to keep control.

It was also bad morning for Hamilton, the 2008 champion from Britain, whose clutch stuck as he prepared to join the session late. He failed to even post a time.

Jenson Button, Hamilton's McLaren teammate, managed only four laps and was nearly 22 seconds slower than Alonso.

Renault pair Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov were fourth and fifth fastest, respectively, but limited themselves to only nine and 10 laps each.

Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi completed the most laps, managing 22 in his Toro Rosso and finishing ninth quickest.

/Hurriyet Daily News/

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