Massa the man to beat in Turkish GP

May, 26, 2010
05/26/10
1:15
PM ET

The high speeds return to Formula One this week as all eyes turn to Istanbul Park in Turkey.

A newer track on the schedule, the circuit provides some firsts this season. For starters, the eighth turn is like nothing else on the schedule, providing a high-speed multiple apex that keeps drivers on their toes at all times. Secondly, Turkey runs counter-clockwise, the first such track this season and one of just five on the schedule (along with Interlagos, Korea, Singapore and Abu Dhabi).

It has generally provided fairly clean racing but is not without a notable crash or two, including Giancarlo Fisichella catapulting over Kaz Nakajima in the first turn in 2008.

No one has excelled here like Brazilian Felipe Massa, who has won this event three of the five times it has been run, each time from the pole. Massa's three victories here are his most of any track, and he will no doubt be on the radar again this weekend.

Ferrari has benefited overall, as well; from 2006 to 2008, the Italian brand saw both of its cars on the podium in each race, thanks to additionally strong performances from Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen. If that sort of performance can be replicated Sunday, it would be a big boost for Ferrari, which sits 20 points behind Red Bull in the Constructors Championship.

Massa, meanwhile, has been impressive this season. The fact that he is able to compete this year is by itself remarkable, considering the severe head injury he suffered last summer.

In 2010, Massa is one of only two drivers (along with points leader Mark Webber) to score points in every event, and he has had to battle through some tough situations. In Malaysia, a track that Massa has historically struggled at, he started 21st after a disastrous qualifying session, yet fought back and finished seventh. And while Massa hasn't qualified noticeably well this season, he has held or improved his initial grid position in five of six Grand Prix events.

Besides, the second half of the season typically has been more favorable for the Ferrari driver. In his last three full seasons with Ferrari (2006 to '08), not including last year's partial season, Massa has posted 16 podium finishes in the second frame of the season, compared to 11 in the first.

Massa's first-half and second-half performance numbers in full seasons with Ferrari (2006-08):

Category -- First half -- Second half
• Wins -- Five -- Six
• Podiums -- 11 -- 16
• Retirements -- Three -- Two
• Points earned -- 127 -- 144

Meanwhile, Formula One announced Tuesday that it will return to the United States for the 2012 season. A purpose-built facility in Austin, Texas, is scheduled to host the event for at least 10 years, which is surely an exciting prospect.

The series' black eye at the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix was a considerable reason why the country has not hosted an event since 2007, but the market is simply too large to ignore, and rumors of a race returning to U.S. soil had been ongoing for several months. With so many great U.S. circuits already in existence, it is rather surprising that one will be constructed for the U.S. event, but if F1 had truly been honing in on the Texas area, it makes sense, as great road courses are very sparse in that area.

Austin would add another chapter to a long history of Formula One competition in the United States, which began when the Indianapolis 500 was part of the schedule during the 1950s. The race was taken off the schedule following 1960, and Watkins Glen became a host for the next 20 years, while Sebring saw an F1 race in 1959. The streets of Long Beach, Dallas, Phoenix and Detroit all hosted events in the 1980s, as did Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas for a brief stint. Indianapolis then ushered Formula One back to the United States in 2000 with the addition of a road course within its spacious confines.

From a pure racing standpoint, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., would have been an ideal venue among existing tracks, though it is very unlikely a part of F1's future. Laguna Seca's sharp elevation changes and unique corkscrew make the track a dream F1 destination, and the circuit's unofficial record was even briefly held by a Toyota F1 car, set by Ricardo Zonta during a 2006 exhibition session.

Road America (Elkhart Lake, Wis.) and Road Atlanta (Braselton, Ga.) also are two classic U.S. road courses that would be fantastic venues for F1 from a fan's perspective. One can only dream that someday these circuits will see a Formula One weekend.

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