The big issue

What a difference a day makes.Lewis Hamilton

The Lewis Hamilton sitting before the media at the end of the Turkish Grand Prix was a totally different character to the Hamilton we had seen in the same place 24 hours before.

What we did not know after qualifying was that McLaren and Bridgestone were having, to use the popular parlance, ‘issues’.

The Japanese company had advised McLaren – but none of the other nine teams – that their tyres, particularly the softer of the two compounds, were subject to possible internal delamination if used over a long run in the race.

It meant an extra pit stop for Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen. At most places, that would seriously compromise a driver’s race.

Fortunately, it turned out there was little to choose between a two-stop and a three-stop strategy at Istanbul Park. That meant we had a dramatic race which allowed Hamilton to, not literally, drive the wheels off his car.

No coincidence that Hamilton had suffered a failure of his right-front tyre in this race last year. That was because of the punishment dealt out at Istanbul’s notorious Turn 8, a left-hander with four apexes that runs seemingly forever.

The right-front undergoes its highest loading of the year as it takes seven seconds to get through the 145-mph corner. Thanks to the ride-height and set-up on the McLaren, their tyres are more marginal at Turn 8 than experienced by any other team.

Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone’s director of motorsport tyre development, said there were ‘safety concerns’. The ultimate decision lay with the team but McLaren and Hamilton had no hesitation on erring on the side of caution.

All of which added to a dramatic race as Hamilton actually overtook the eventual winner, Felipe Massa, and led from lap 24 to lap 32. In the end, Hamilton narrowly failed to pull off a surprise win but you could tell he was delighted to have finished second on a day when fifth would have been considered a decent result.

Hamilton had not been best pleased when Kovalainen was quicker during qualifying, a result which had Hamilton playing out all sorts of scenarios in his head before the start.

Several possibilities were wiped out almost immediately as Kovalainen and Kimi Raikkonen touched and damaged the McLaren’s left-rear badly enough to prompt an immediate pit stop.

That left Hamilton with a clear run to Massa and these two engaged in a fascinating struggle, the Ferrari working well on the soft tyre, Hamilton finding the opposite.

As Raikkonen untangled himself from sixth place, Massa and Hamilton were in a league of their own, exchanging fastest laps, Hamilton being quicker on the first sector of each lap, Massa stealing the time back on the third and final sector.

Could Hamilton have won without that third stop? Ron Dennis said he could; but then the McLaren boss would say that, wouldn’t he?

It was too close to call. And, in any case, Hamilton did not seem that bothered at the end of what he described as ‘the best race ever for me.’

By that he meant that he and the team had extracted 100 per cent from a tricky situation.

Now they’re ready for Monaco in two week’s time. Keep smiling Lewis. It’s game on.

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