If Mark Webber leaves Lewis Hamilton the slightest opening on the first lap this afternoon, he had better watch out. The 2008 world champion was in a confident mood yesterday after qualifying second in Turkey and splitting the pole-sitting Australian from his Red Bull team-mate, Sebastian Vettel.
The winner of the Spanish and Monaco grands prix carried on where he left off by taking his third consecutive pole position and making it seven out of seven for the Milton Keynes-based team. But Hamilton came here believing that McLaren have the chance to take the fight to Red Bull and after his best qualifying performance at Istanbul Park he did not see any reason to change that view.
"It's going to be hard to follow these guys through turn eight and then challenge on the exit," Hamilton said, nodding at Webber and Vettel and pointing out that thanks to sheer downforce, their cars had opened an advantage of four-tenths of a second over his McLaren in that corner alone. "But we'll do our best to make it hard for Mark. I don't like the word 'confident' but we are working hard to do what needs to be done.
"Mark and Seb have shown some incredible pace in the last few races but whoever gets into the first corner first here usually finishes ahead. It's not impossible to win from P2 on the grid and that's the best position [in which] I've ever started this race, so if I can get close enough to Mark, undoubtedly I'll be taking the opportunity."
The poleman has won four of the last five races here. Webber said he did not feel any pressure. "I've seen worse," he smiled. "In Barcelona it was nine out of nine."
Coming off back-to-back wins, Webber's confidence is sky high, even though Vettel seemed to have everyone covered in his new chassis until it developed a brake problem in the final qualifying session.
"Q1 and Q2 were very smooth, and I was happy with the car," the German said of the first 30 minutes of qualifying. "In Q3 my first lap was brilliant up to turn 12, where I locked the inside front wheel. That was no issue, but a little weird, then it kept locking and the car kept going straight on. I lost a lot of time and my second lap gave me the confirmation that I had a problem when I went straight on in turn one. No question, in Q1 and Q2 we were top of the game, in Q3 not any more. That's frustrating. When it counted today it didn't all come together. But the story's been written now, we can't change it."
The race might be a different story, of course, but thanks to the ban on refuelling overtaking has become harder still and it doesn't help Vettel that Hamilton lies between him and Webber, with whom he shares the lead in the world championship fight.
A major factor will be how well each car and driver combination treats its soft and hard compound Bridgestone tyres through the notorious turn eight, a triple-apex left-hander that is entered at 270kpm. In 2007 Hamilton asked so much of his right front that it wilted under the strain imposed by his implacable will to win. In 2008 McLaren relied on a three-stop strategy to alleviate the problem. Yesterday morning the corner bit Hamilton, when he spun halfway through, got himself temporarily beached in the gravel, then limped his car home with its flat-spotted tyres shredded to the canvas. Later he went back out and set the fastest lap.
"These things happen when you're pushing the car," he said, matter-of-factly. "It's the first time it's happened in the four years I've been coming here. It was good experience, but I won't do it again."
Indicating just how much of a challenge the corner represents, even the great Michael Schumacher ended his final qualifying run in the gravel after losing control of his Mercedes, which he will line up fourth on the grid, behind Jenson Button's McLaren and ahead of his team-mate, Nico Rosberg. To emphasise just how tricky this track can be, the three-time Turkish GP winner Felipe Massa had to be content with the eighth-fastest time for Ferrari – his venerated team-mate, Fernando Alonso, will line up in 12th after a mistake that cost him dearly.
The truth is, nobody has had it easy. Webber blew an engine on Friday and had a few niggling technical problems after that. "It's not been the smoothest of weekends and mine was a little disrupted, but not massively," he said. "Getting ready for 'quallie' things started getting better, but I was on my back foot. It was a matter of keeping going and getting something out of it. I'm starting in the right place but it'll be a tough fight. We have potentially one of the more interesting races here."