April 18, 2007

Baran Asena

A glance at the Istanbul track

Thomas Kieller

The two Ferraris are on the first line during the Turkish Grand Prix.

Formula One fascinates the public by its sophisticated nature and its jet set side. The racing cars with their high tech engineering and the athletes trained to endure the stress of extreme car racing give people a feeling of wonder. The fans of such frenzied races can be jubilant during 17 Grand Prix which compose now the drivers’ championship. The last one to be added to the F1 world is the Turkish one. This destination was added in 2005 to the drivers’ agenda. So that a new track stands before them. Besides during the conception of this track, the German architect Hermann Tilke took care of the modern preoccupations in order that the race may be the most enjoyable. The results are sharp turns which permit drivers to pass and straight lines which allow the racing cars to reach breathtaking speed. Without a doubt, in Istanbul, the drivers challenge themselves! At this game, the spectators are delighted.

The interview took place on August 12, 2006 at 14:00 in the office of Baran Asena at the Istanbul Park in the surroundings of Istanbul, Turkey. It was done in English.

Prelude – Mr. Asena, general manager of the Istanbul Park, welcomed me in his office, which has a great panoramic view of the circuit, on a day which was quite sunny and warm.

An F1 track seen by the Istanbul Park general manager

Thomas Kieller: What are the biggest difficulties of the Istanbul track for the F1 driver?

Baran Asena: Let me say what I have been told by the teams and the drivers themselves. If we look at the plan of the track, we can see long straight lines. For example, the maximum speed reached by the drivers can go up to 324 km/h. So, it’s something.

Just at the beginning of the track, there is a very nice sharp curve! However, it’s one of the safest of all the circuits of the F1 championship because of the nice run-offs. Not many accidents happened in 2005 because of that space.

Many curves are very interesting because they are not at the same level. There is a difference in the elevation on the track which is 43 meters from the highest point to the lowest. There are descending and ascending curves. These curves are full of surprises. Of course, it’s not such a big surprise for an F1 driver because they do many rehearsals. They know the circuit!

Turn 8 is very interesting. On the plan, it looks like a single curve, but it’s not. There are actually four curves within it. What I heard from the team managers is that no driver up to that time found and ideal line to take the curve. Kimi Räikkönen was really successful in this curve in 2005. However, Michael Schumacher did not like the curve because he did not find the way to take it. Ha ha ha! He did not like the track maybe because he was unlucky in 2005. So, it’s an interesting part of the circuit.

Also, the track is quite long and very compact. It’s 5,333 km. It’s one of the longest of the Formula One championship. Fifty-eight laps are enough for a race.

Thomas: What section of the track are you most proud off?

Baran: Actually, before the first race in 2005, we did not have any idea which is the most interesting section. Everybody is now telling us that turn 8 is very interesting because it’s a very challenging curve. I think you can have high speed there when you look at it. Some other curves are very sharp. So, maybe turn 8 is forcing the drivers in a different manner.

Thomas: For the spectators, what are the main attractions of the track?

Baran: It’s always interesting to be in the main grandstand because you see the pit lane and you can watch the start and the finish of the race.

Also, the people like the finishing part where you can see the last three curves, two to the left and one to the right. It’s easy for any driver to lose there the control of his Formula One. The spectators can see this part also from tribune 8.

On the other side of the main grandstand or in tribune 1, you can see, obviously, the start of the race. It’s an electrifying time of the race.

Thomas: With 14 curves (six to the right and eight to the left) and a maximum speed of 324 km/h, is it more a technical or a physical track?

Baran: What I have been told is that it is a more technical track. You should ask a driver. Ha ha ha! They told me it’s more a technical track.

Thomas: Like the Brazilian Grand Prix, the Turkish venue is run counterclockwise, is it an aspect to consider?

Baran: Of course. In the other 15 tracks, they are driving clockwise. So, I don’t know how much this does to a pilot but it increases a little bit to the challenge.

Thomas: Could the Turkish weather be a factor for the drivers, because the temperature can reach up to 40o Celsius?

Baran: The first year we had an F1 race in Istanbul in 2005, we were afraid of the rain and we had rain… Morever, I was in Europe for some of the Grand Prix in Hockenheim (Baden-Württemberg, Germany) and in Hungaroring (Budapest, Hungary) where the track temperature was higher than in Istanbul. So, it seems that this is not a very much of an affecting factor. Yes, Istanbul is very warm in August, but because of the elevation of the circuit, the track temperature is always four or five degrees less than the ambient temperature in Istanbul itself. For all these reasons, I don’t think that the temperature is a factor for the drivers.

Thomas: After the 2005 experience, do you think that this track can procure challenges between the drivers and where do you expect a driver will try to pass another one on the track?

Baran: At the end of the track, we have sharp curves. You asked me about which are the most interesting parts for the spectators and I told you about the curves because it’s the best chance for the drivers to pass. More or less, if you consider the best drivers and the best cars, they cannot pass each other easily in the straight lines. They need some curves to show their skills. At the start you can differentiate the better drivers from the rest. You can see the difference. It was very clear in Hungaroring in 2006 when Alonso came from the back and all of a sudden he makes many moves and he jumps to the front. It’s in the sharp curves that you will see the best moves.

The Turkish Grand Prix, a different flavour for the Formula One

Thomas: Like Bahrain, China and Malaysia, does Turkey bring a new flavour to the Formula One?

Baran: In my opinion, Formula One should make some changes. Adding some other general flavours will be welcomed. I think there is, a little bit, a drop of interest by the public. However, everybody knows that Formula One is the climax of motor sports. To continue to present an excellent show, it needs something new. Istanbul brings a flavour because it’s a different city in a different country.

Thomas: If you had to do a résumé of the Turkish Grand Prix, what will it be the strong points?

Baran: All the other cities are great, but if you consider Istanbul, it’s one of the oldest. There is no other city which has been the capital of three empires. This city is that. So, it’s full of interesting places from Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires (to the Turkish times). Also, Istanbul is a big metropolitan city. Approximately 18 millions people live here. It’s a good opportunity for Formula One to attract new spectators.

Thomas: Why should a visitor go to the Turkish Grand Prix rather than any other one?

Baran: Number one, it’s new (since 2005). Number two, it’s a very challenging track. There are some descending and ascending curves which will test the drivers. Number three, it’s taking place in a very interesting city.

Thomas: Yes… It’s a new track in a city which inherits many things from many civilizations. Thank you Mr. Asena.