The powerful combination of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel were on full display at Turkey, in more than one way. Vettel cruised to his third Formula One win of the season Sunday, but it was in part thanks to a tireless effort from his crew. The team worked wonders to provide him with a remarkably quick car the very next day after his Friday accident, the second straight race in which mechanics were the sole reason the eventual winner was even on the grid.
Red Bull was so dominant that the team parked with time left in the final round of qualifying to avoid excessive tire wear. No other competitor could top the times, and the team's front-row starting spots proved pivotal, as Istanbul Park now has been won from the front row in all seven events there.
For Vettel, his career is becoming increasingly similar to that of another champion on the grid.
From a statistical perspective, it's very difficult to assess who has had the better career. Both Lewis Hamilton and Vettel have a championship at a very young age, and in nine more races, Hamilton has a winning percentage that's less than half a percent better than the defending champion. The two are also separated by just a single career pole.
Mark Webber's second-place result was promising, but after being overtaken early by Nico Rosberg, he struggled to keep pace with his teammate and ultimately finished well behind. Nevertheless, he ran the fastest lap of the race for the third straight event, a feat that had not been done since Kimi Raikkonen in 2008.
Fernando Alonso had a very strong day with a third-place result, and it certainly gives Ferrari reason for optimism over the remainder of the season. In reality, the two-time F1 champion's season has not been that much worse than his start last year. True, he had a victory at this point in 2010, but he's just eight points behind last year's pace through four races. It's more a factor of what Vettel has accomplished, earning a staggering 93 of the possible 100 points so far. Last year, leader Jenson Button had 60 at this point.
While there was not much of a contest for the lead in Turkey, the middle of the pack provided endless excitement. The added elements of DRS and KERS this season have paid off in the form of very close racing between drivers and even teammates. Istanbul Park saw the duos at Renault and McLaren battle for position, as well as Michael Schumacher driving Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi toward the grass while the young driver attempted to overtake.
The power of the adjustable rear wing was incredible at times in Istanbul, with several drivers making up considerable ground to complete the overtake in the designated DRS zone. If this continues for the rest of 2011, fans are in for some thrilling races.
Red Bull received another sizeable momentum swing when its closest rival, McLaren, ran into significant trouble. Hamilton's poor start, coupled with a disastrous third pit stop, meant he was out of contention for the race win. It likely did not matter very much anyways, as Vettel's on-track speed was unmatched throughout the day in the RB7. He also posted the quickest total time on pit road among drivers who made four stops.
One man who has gotten off to a considerably better start this season through four races is Vitaly Petrov. In his rookie year, the Renault driver retired three straight times to start the season and amassed just 27 points last season. In 2011, Petrov already has 21 points and is ahead of names like Rosberg and Schumacher in the driver standings. He already has a podium under his belt, and equally important, he's keeping pace with veteran teammate Nick Heidfeld. A good barometer for the remainder of the year is whether he can remain ahead of last year's Autosport Rookie of the Year, Kobayashi. So far, so good.
Looking ahead to Catalunya, what can be expected? The 82 pit stops made in Turkey likely will not be equaled, but perhaps Webber can earn his first win of the season there this year, just like in 2010.