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Formula One set for Turkey showdown

[17 August 2005]

World championship challengers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen will renew their head-to-head battle for the world title here this weekend when Turkey hosts its inaugural Grand Prix.
After years of planning the new Istanbul Park circuit is ready to welcome the Formula One circus back from it's summer break and Raikkonen is hoping to continue where he left off having won in Hungary three weeks ago.

"I hope we can put on a good race for the Turkish fans," said Raikkonen. "There are six races left and a maximum of 60 points for a driver so there is all to play for."

This year's title battle has been a roller-coaster ride for Raikkonen, who counted himself out before the last race but declared himself back in it after taking ten points from Alonso in Budapest at the start of August.

McLaren have the fastest car on the grid but Raikkonen is still 26 points behind and Spaniard Alonso is confident racing on a new circuit will improve his chances of beating the Finn.

"I am looking at the races one by one and it is nice to arrive in Turkey in this position," said Alonso, who drove his Renault on a demonstration run in Istanbul city centre before visiting the circuit earlier this year. "We are strong and we have a good chance of being successful in the first ever race there. The temperatures will be very hot, so managing the tyres and the brakes will be important and it will tough for the drivers in the cockpit. We need to be in top physical form as well as getting the car to perform to its best level but I am refreshed after the break and I am ready to attack the final races of the year."

The undulating 5.34km circuit, which has been finished just in time for Turkey's arrival on the Formula One map, will provide a challenge to drivers and teams as it is one of the few that run anti- clockwise.

The layout has drawn praise from most of the drivers who have visited the venue so far and Briton Jenson Button, who is also expected to be in the fight for victory with BAR, is confident it will provide plenty of excitement.

"The design is very interesting and I was really impressed," said Button. "I think it's going to make for some very good racing and the undulations that are part of the circuit make it very exciting from the driver's point of view. "It will be especially good when it comes to overtaking and in qualifying when you are pushing to the limit trying to find braking points for the corners when you can hardly see the corners."

The teams are well prepared and Renault technical director Pat Symonds said: "We relish the challenge presented by a new circuit and our engineering preparations began many months before the race with lap simulations."

While the top teams will have been preparing their cars using complex mathematical equations many of the drivers have enjoyed a more entertaining way of familiarising themselves with the new circuit.

Sauber's Felipe Massa said: "I already won there for Sauber because I did the race on my PlayStation - and I did it on the difficult level against all the other championship runners! Usually these computer games are very accurate in the way they depict the circuits and there are some quick corners, elevation changes and long straights, a bit like the Nurburgring in Germany."

World champion Michael Schumacher, who has won on all the other tracks except China, is hoping to add Turkey to his list following a strong showing at the last race in Hungary. His Ferrari team's tyre manufacturers Bridgestone appear to have come up with a solution to their combined early season problems and Schumacher is ready to step up even further and secure his second win of the year.

"I'm trusting in the fact that I usually adapt well to new circuits," said the seven-time world champion, who spent the break relaxing with friends. "The race in Istanbul is going to be very interesting for all of us. I am really eager to start driving again after a break. Many of the others may have needed this short break but if it had been up to me, I could have done without it. I'm happy to continue now."

The break may have given the drivers some time off but there has been plenty going on behind the scenes since the Hungarian race with several crucial driver moves secured for 2006.

Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello returns knowing he will be a BAR- Honda driver next year while Massa will appear for the first time as Ferrari's new hope having signed to join them in 2006. Williams, too, have made some significant changes for next year that could affect their performances this season after announcing a split with BMW and a deal with Cosworth for next season.

But the focus will be back on Alonso and Raikkonen this weekend and the closely matched duo are ready to recommence battle in what should be a fascinating first foray into Turkey for Formula One.


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