Drivers can't stop talking about turn 8
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Turn 8 at the new Istanbul Park track has become an instant classic.
After the opening day of practice for the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix and the first chance to sample the 14-turn, 3.317-mile track, the drivers have been praising the circuit and some of its challenging bends.
Turn 8 specifically is getting plenty of tributes. It has a narrow entry and then spirals downhill in a swooping, four-part, 180-degree bend that has a wide exit.
"It has four apexes," Jacques Villeneuve said. "It is banked. It has got bumps. It is really a tough corner. It is tough to drive. It is tough physically. It is great. I think it is the hardest corner we have in F1 now."
Eau Rouge has been tamed at Spa in Belgium, but still ranks as one of the most challenging corners in the world, as are Pouhon and Blanchimont at the same track. Suzuka Circuit's 130R in Japan, and the Maggots/Becketts complex at Silverstone in England are also highly rated by the drivers. So is the fast left kink near the end of the lap in Sepang in Malaysia and the last corner in Barcelona.
The drivers have added Turkey's turn 8 to the list to the top or very near the top of the list.
"It's a really unusual, difficult corner," Fernando Alonso said, "and it is different to any other track."
Red Bull's Tonio Liuzzi raved about it.
"Turn 8, the high-speed corner, is really fantastic to drive," he said. "It's such a great corner -- you know you'll get into it OK, but you don't always know if you're going to get out so well on the other side!"
The drivers sustain fourth gear for a long period of time through the sweeping bend.
"The section is so long that you really start feeling the G force, which squishes you a bit in the car," Liuzzi said. "As a driver, that's an awesome feeling."
It's not just turn 8 that the drivers like about this new track.
"I think the impression I formed of this track after riding around it on a scooter Thursday was misleading," Michael Schumacher said. "I thought it did not seem that difficult, but now in the car, with a much lower seating position, it looks very different. It is not particularly difficult to learn which way it goes, however it has its own unique character. Some corners, such as turn 1, have a blind exit, which makes it very interesting. Turn 8 is another challenging corner as it has several possible lines."
The only flat part of the track is the pit straight. Then road plunges and rises constantly for the rest of the lap. The TV camera angles don't do justice to the elevation changes. I walked the track on Thursday and it is much steeper than it appears on TV.
"The undulations are things that the driver always enjoys because it gives us a greater sensation of the speed of the car," Mark Webber said. "It is a good challenge. There are a lot of tracks around the world that are just flat, like Silverstone, which has some very good corners, but the character is lower than somewhere like here."
Unlike the stop-go nature of some circuits that have been blighted by chicanes, Istanbul Park has a good flow to it.
"It is a great layout," Villeneuve said. "It has a very good rhythm. The corners are fun to drive. It goes up and down. The lines you take are not only dependent on how tight the corner is, but also when it goes up or down, and you position yourself based on that. The only not-so-fun place is the last three corners that are a little bit tight, but for modern F1 they are normal speed and the rest is great."
The final three turns are pretty Mickey Mouse -- more like a go-kart track -- but the rest of the lap makes up for them.
"My first impression is that the track is a really good challenge," Giancarlo Fisichella said. "It is quite hard to find the right line through the corners. The only thing I might change would be the last three corners, which are too slow."
Along with Interlagos in Brazil and Imola in Italy, this is one of three F1 tracks that run counterclockwise.
Germany's Hermann Tilke, who also designed the new tracks in Malaysia, Bahrain and China as well as the updated Hockenheim in Germany, created the entire Istanbul complex.
The track is not perfect. It remains to be seen if there are any really good passing places, and the drivers aren't too optimistic about that.
There are other problems not directly related to the circuit as well. The traffic is appalling, and it can take two to three hours to crawl from the circuit back into Istanbul. There have been the usual last-minute problems and confusion one sees popping up at the opening of any new facility, but they have been minor.
Overall, however, the drivers love this new circuit.
"It's a fantastic place," Felipe Massa said. "Lots of different corners, and a real challenge. I love driving here."
Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
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