“I love this circuit” Ernesto Viso raved, back in the Istanbul paddock fresh from running a number of laps around the brand new track. “It goes up and down, up and down, around the blind corners and into the wide straights. I can't wait to get to the race.” On track he had been clowned around, running on two wheels on his quad bike for a laugh, but into the corners he would look around intently, feeling its shape and direction.
The heat that everyone was expecting didn’t arrive at full strength, with the clouds out on the horizon a hint at what was the come, holding out on the margins as though watching and waiting for their moment.
Free practice came and went in a blur of motion, with Scott Speed dominating a session that saw a part of the field spinning harmlessly as they pushed their tyres to the edge of adhesion. With so much run off no damage was done, and with half an hour on such a new track, with no rubber in place on the track, it was always going to run that way.
This was rectified by qualifying, and the Formula One cars had laid down a good base of rubber which saw the times tumble. Nico Rosberg added to his growing collection of poles, running two seconds faster than in the morning, and when a light dusting of rain came Speed had to make do with second place.
A few of the drivers got to see how much the new race meant to the local fans when they went to an autograph signing session on the far side of the circuit. Local favourite Can Artam was the star attraction, turning into an autograph signing machine as he churned out cards for his fans, while Juan Cruz Alvarez concentrated on the grid girls behind them on stage, much to the amusement of Neel Jani.
Afterwards the event organisers herded everyone back to the bikes, and sure that Artam was onboard they tore off through the throng. Unfortunately for the others they were dropped almost immediately, with Alvarez driving a quad bike bearing his cousin, Jani and two journalists. It took just a minute to become completely lost as they fought to find any stretch of road not covered in pedestrians.
With the race looming there was nothing else for it – Alvarez saw a gap in the fence and went for it, finding a road outside the circuit and driving like a man possessed back to the main entrance, he tore through the standing traffic, barely slowing as a guard jumped out of the way, and then flooring it all the way back to the paddock and relative sanity.
At the start of the race Rosberg was able to pull away from Speed to develop a useful lead, but when Jani was pushed into the pit entrance wall the safety car was out and almost everyone was in for a stop next time around. Rosberg and Speed didn’t come in, and they traded fastest laps after the restart to establish a gap to the rest of the field.
The battle was fierce, but contact from Speed was enough to mortally wound the German’s car. Speed had a good lead over Lopez, and when Gimmi Bruni collected Nicolas Lapierre on the front straight another safety car period was inevitable. The lead pair came in to make their stops, but the gamble didn’t work and they re-emerged in seventh and eighth.
Alex Premat and Giorgio Pantano were the new leaders, and they set a blistering pace from the restart, setting fastest lap after fastest lap with no reply from Nelson Piquet behind them. The competition was intense between the pair, and the only other man on their pace was Borja Garcia, who fought his way through the field to muscle his way onto his first podium of the year to the delight of his team.
“It was an amazing race!” Pantano gushed afterwards. “I was there to win this race, and even on the last lap I was trying to overtake him at the first turn but I got a bit loose for a few seconds, and I didn’t have a chance at the last corners. I was quick, the car was working very well, and I think that everyone enjoyed this race.”
Kovalainen hadn’t been a factor in race one, but he planned to make amends the next day as the clouds blanketed the sky above the circuit in grey. Rain seemed only a matter of time, and the clouds burst just before the start, necessitating a fifteen minute delay as the grid changed their set ups from dry to wet.
Hiroki Yoshimoto and Adam Carroll shared the front row after both drivers suffered from bad luck in the first race, which was compounded for Ulsterman when he stalled on the warm up lap, relegating him to the back of the grid. The Japanese driver suffered too when a slow start let Speed take the lead, but Yoshimoto was soon all over his rear and it seemed only a matter of time before he was back in front as the rain eased.
The conditions were showing the differences in the drivers as some fell off the track with others overtaking at will – Ernesto Viso was soon up to third place with Carroll up to a remarkable seventh from the back of the field.
The decisive moment of the race was soon to come – after Pantano changed onto slicks, Arden pulled Kovalainen in on the right lap after seeing a dry line emerging, and his next few laps showed dry tyres were the ones to have. Speed was shortly in, but BCN missed their window of opportunity and their drivers, leading the race but the only drivers on wets, were sitting ducks.
Kovalainen was taking eight seconds a lap out of the pair and on lap eighteen he caught and passed them as though they were the backmarkers he originally thought they were. The pair were dropping like stones to finish tenth and twelfth, while Kovalainen led an astonishingly fast Carroll and Rosberg, who had been quiet in the race but was at the right place at the right time to claim a podium finish.
The points difference in the championship was unchanged after Istanbul, and the pressure was now on both drivers to outperform each other in Monza in two weeks time.