RED Bull put last season’s Istanbul nightmare behind them by sealing a dominant one-two finish at the Turkish Grand Prix on Sunday.
Sebastian Vettel extended his Formula 1 World Championship lead by taking his third victory of the season and Mark Webber came home in second as the Milton Keynes-based team earned their first maximum score of the 2011 campaign.
On the surface, it may have looked like a flag-to-flag finish for the Bulls. However, proceedings didn’t go immediately to plan when in heavy rain in the first free practice session, Vettel lost control of his RB7 in the tricky turn 8 and crashed into the wall, ruling him out of any further running on Friday.
But the world champion immediately bounced back on Saturday, posting the fastest time in the final session and then setting a frightening time in qualifying, 0.4s ahead of his team-mate in second.
At the lights, Vettel led from the start but drama ensued behind him as a fast-starting Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes dived up the inside of Webber, who approached the first corner too cautiously.
Rosberg’s move hampered Webber’s exit and left him open to an attack from the fast approaching Lewis Hamilton. But the Brit’s attempt at turn 3 was rushed and he understeered wide, dropping him to sixth - an error he later claimed cost him his place in the battle for the podium.
As Vettel scampered off into a five second lead, Webber struggled to see off Rosberg, with Fernando Alonso right on his heels too.
It didn’t take long for the Australian to dispatch the Mercedes though as he passed on lap five, with Alonso following him through a lap later. The pair then slugged it out on track, exchanging fast lap-times before both pitted for new tyres. Vettel meanwhile, kept extending his lead, staying well out of the way of the battles behind.
After Bulls’ first round of pit-stops, Webber appeared to be struggling on his new Pirelli tyres and Alonso pounced on lap 29 under breaking for turn 12, taking second place and setting about chasing down Vettel.
Webber held on to the Ferrari’s coat tails, never letting the gap extend to more than a few seconds, although Vettel continued to press on relentlessly, never looking in trouble as he raced towards the flag.
After the final round of pit-stops, Webber closed on Alonso and in a carbon copy of the move performed on him, drove around the outside of the Spaniard at turn 12 to take second place with seven laps remaining and building a small gap to the Ferrari as the race drew to a close.
But the afternoon belonged to Vettel as he crossed the line a calm 8.8s ahead of his team-mate for the Tilbrook squad’s first one-two finish of the year.
Crucially though, Bulls’ title rivals McLaren were languishing behind, with Hamilton in fourth and Jenson Button finishing in sixth, more than half a minute off the ultimate race pace.
After the race, Webber said he was pleased to have improved on his third place in China and to see off Alonso’s improving Ferrari in spectacular fashion towards the end of the race.
He said: “It was good to get second place - and a relief to finish there and not third. In the end it was a good fight with Fernando, you lose a bit of time when you’re into each other like that, but it turned out okay and I got him back in the end.
“For the first stop, the team pitted me earlier than expected as they were worried about the undercuts coming into play.
“Ferrari saw the same thing and it was really a race between us two from then onwards. At that point, you make your bet that you will be having a few stops during the day.
“It was a good victory for Sebastian and Fernando drove well too - it was a great result for the team with a one-two.
“The grip wasn’t great at the start, but I’ll leave Istanbul happy, it was my best result of the year so far.”
Race winner Vettel was delighted to take his third victory of the season and extend his lead at the top of the championship after his crash on Friday morning.
He said: “It was a great result - especially after I gave the team so much work on Friday. I hope giving a victory back goes some way to help them forget it.
“Saturday morning was crucial. When I walked into the garage everyone gave me the impression that nothing was wrong and there was nothing to worry about.
“The whole team was working so hard to get the car back together and times like these are important.
“The team are close to me and if they are not happy or unmotivated it reflects on me and the other way round, so after being a bit down on Friday, it picked me back up. In the race we had a very good first stint and got a gap and you can always benefit from that cushion.
“At the end I did two short stints, which was the right thing to do - it was seamless today. We don’t know what happens next, so we have to take it race by race. There will be days when we are beaten for definite, but we need to minimise the loss - but it was a great result for the team.”
Vettel’s lead now stands at a massive 34 points over Hamilton, who finished in fourth place in Turkey. Webber moves up to third in the standings, leap-frogging Button. But it’s Vettel who already looks on course to retain his championship title.
Red Bull’s lead in the constructors’ championship also opened out to 43 points over McLaren, with Ferrari a further 40 points back as the paddock moves to Barcelona in Spain for the next round in two weeks.