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Formula 1 Turkish Grand Prix
Circuit: Istanbul Park
Undoubtedly the highlight of Istanbul Park is still the sweeping left-handed Turn 8 complex, which is taken close to flat out, producing approximately 5G on the neck.
Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel making the corner without lifting the throttle in 2010 should highlight just how much downforce the Red Bull RB6 had…. It would’ve finished 1-2 were it not for that infamous collision between Vettel and Webber approaching Turn 12.
Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 15: Lewis Hamilton and the Turkish Delight
After a 9 year absence, Formula 1 returned to Asia Minor and the once revered Istanbul Park, and with Mercedes wrapping up the Constructors title, all Lewis Hamilton needed to join Michael Schumacher as a 7-time World Champion was make sure Valtteri Bottas, 85 points behind, didn’t outscore him by at least 8 points during the race.
Since the race at Imola a fortnight ago, there was the major news that a street race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia would be added to the 2021 calendar, the penultimate race of a provisional 23 race calendar.
Now I’m no patron saint of human rights, but adding Saudi Arabia seems like another example of F1 further undermining the whole ‘We Race As One’ campaign against racism & discrimination, and further admitting that like 99.99% of major businesses, they’re in it for the money.
Come on, just be honest – It worked for Bernie.
There were a couple of major milestones on the grid; Lando Norris turned 21, it was 10 years since Sebastian Vettel won his first world title, Red Bull brought up their 300th Grand Prix, and Sauber-Alfa Romeo started their 500th Grand Prix, as the Swiss team ‘technically’ joined Ferrari, McLaren and Williams as the only Constructors to appear in 500 events, having been a fixture on the grid since 1993.
It’ll show in the record book that the actual Sauber team has 395 entries and last appeared in 2018, while BMW Sauber entered in 70 events (2006-09), and this was Alfa Romeo-Sauber’s 35th event since they were rebranded ahead of 2019.
One of the major problems for the weekend surfaced on Friday, and it quite literally was, the surface.
In a similar scenario to Portimao last month, the track asphalt had only been resurfaced 10 days prior, a ridiculously short amount of time before a Formula One Grand Prix, and it was clear the ‘newness’ of the surface, combined with the cool temperatures, had turned the track into something resembling an ice skating rink, as drivers struggled with a complete lack of grip, with the best time on Friday some 5 seconds down on Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 pole position time.
It was so dire on Friday that Lewis Hamilton described it as “Terrifying” and “Shit with a capital S.”
Just to make things even worse, all the rubber that had been laid down on Friday disappeared when the rain pelted down on Saturday morning for FP3 and into the afternoon, ensuring a wet Qualifying, but in the meantime, Max Verstappen adapted best and topped every practice session in his Red Bull.
Also, I’d be a fool to not show a photo of that stray dog that got on the track at Turn 8 in the lead-up to Qualifying.
WHOSE A GOOD BOY WHOSE A GOOD BOY
Starting the first wet Qualifying session since Styria, there was a mix of drivers taking the Intermediate and the full Wet tyre, although with the rain coming in, the drivers on Intermediates had an apparent advantage if they could even get a lap in, but barely 5 minutes into the session, the rain got even harder, especially down at Turn 8, with some drivers almost aquaplaning even as they barely touched the throttle.
Eventually, with conditions becoming too dire, even for the best drivers in the world, Race Control had to call a Red Flag on safety grounds with 6:56 to go.
After some 45 minutes, in which time the rain stopped and the street sweepers tried drying the track, it was deemed safe to restart the session at 3:55pm local, and Kimi Raikkonen proved how wet the track still was when he lit up the rear and spun at Turn 3 exiting the pits, luckily avoiding Verstappen and the wall in some classic Finnish car control.
Charles LeClerc went off at Turn 1 but got out alive, and before anyone could set a lap time, Romain Grosjean beached his Haas at Turn 1 and brought out another red flag with 3:30 remaining, putting LeClerc in serious risk of being eliminated down in 16th, and another worried driver was Verstappen, who was down in 15th.
3:30 meant drivers would get no more than one flying lap, and Verstappen proved the track had improved by firing in a 1.57.4, some 9 seconds faster than Esteban Ocon’s previous leading time, as Nicolas Latifi spun at Turn 8 and caused a double waved yellow flag (Meaning back right off) to end the session, which caused confusion as dozens of laps were set during the period, causing a mass post-session investigation from the stewards.
Still, summing up how many mixed messages we get from the FIA about driver safety, THEY STARTED Q2 WITH THE TRACTOR STILL REMOVING THE STRICKEN WILLIAMS.
Yeah, probably should’ve just waited about 2 minutes.
During Q2, Verstappen and Red Bull easily looked the benchmark again, with Albon sitting in 2nd as Max routinely setting times at least 2 seconds faster than the Mercedes and Racing Points, dropping down to a 1.50.293, as times kept dropping with the drying track forming a racing line.
Daniel Ricciardo snuck in 10th fastest, as both McLarens missed Q3 after a failed gamble on Inters, both Ferraris missed Q3, but the big surprise was how well the Alfa Romeos were going in the wet, as both Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi made it into the Top 10, joining the Noah’s Ark of 2 Red Bulls, 2 Mercedes, 2 Racing Points, and 2 Renaults.
With sundown at 5:45pm, Q3 got underway at 4:38pm, as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez took the gamble on Inters, and Sergio Perez made that strategic gamble count when he beat Verstappen’s initial time, which signalled to the other teams that a tyre change was possible.
Renault kept Ricciardo out on a Wet tyre with 4 minutes to go, while Verstappen wasn’t able to make his set of Inters work after getting caught behind Raikkonen, which meant he couldn’t build heat into the tyres, and after all of Red Bull’s domination, it was looking like Racing Point were going to be on Pole for the first time!
Building on this stunning bit of television, Perez went even faster, then Lance Stroll moved on to the front row to make it a Racing Point 1-2, but Verstappen finally got clear air and moved to 2nd, THEN STROLL WENT EVEN FASTER AND PUT HIMSELF ON POLE!
Perez spun at Turn 7 on his final lap, so Verstappen was the only driver who could beat the provisional fastest time, but the Dutchman lost time in Sector 2 and would have to make do with 2nd on the grid, having been fastest in every session except the one that mattered most.
Stroll was the first driver not driving a Mercedes/Ferrari/Red Bull to start on pole since Felipe Massa for Williams at Austria 2014, and he’s the first Canadian not named ‘Villeneuve’ to claim a Formula One pole position.
In fact, the last pole position for a Canadian (Or any driver from North America) was when Jacques Villeneuve got it on a memorable countback at Jerez in 1997, after himself, Michael Schumacher and Heinz Harald-Frentzen all set the same time to one-thousandth of a second (1.21.072), with Villeneuve setting his time first.
Capping off an amazing Saturday for Racing Point, Sergio Perez would start in the Top 3 for the first time in his F1 career (He did qualify 2nd at Azerbaijan in 2016 but had a penalty), Albon claimed 4th on the grid on his last lap, which meant Duncraig Dan would start 5th alongside Lewis Hamilton, Esteban Ocon looked very comfortable in the low grip conditions, Raikkonen got 8th, Valtteri Bottas was a ‘lowly’ 9th, and Giovinazzi was only 9 seconds slower than the polesitter in 10th.
For the first time all season, champion team Mercedes didn’t claim Pole Position, and the wet conditions ensured they didn’t have a car starting in the Top 5 for the first time since Italy 2013.
As previously mentioned, there were the investigations and penalties;
George Russell, who was already starting from last with power unit penalties, was given another penalty for ignoring yellow flags, Carlos Sainz was docked 3 places for impeding Perez in Q2, and of all the drivers who were investigated for not lifting under the double-waved yellows to end Q1, Lando Norris was the only one nabbed, dropping down to 16th, which briefly left both McLarens on the 8th row of the grid, but lucky last, Pierre Gasly and Alpha Tauri were nabbed for breaching Parc Ferme rules and was sent to the rear of the grid.
So in all, the grid looked like this:
If Sky Racing’s stats man was correct, the last time a Grand Prix didn’t feature any one of Ferrari, McLaren or Williams starting in the Top 10 was the 1967 South African Grand Prix, when Ferrari and McLaren both missed the weekend, and Williams were a decade away from entering the sport.
An unpredictable Qualifying session, with a very unpredictable race ahead.
Race (58 Laps)
A huge black cloud dumped a whole heap of rain on Istanbul Park at 11:30, ensuring a wet, treacherous start to the race, and on the soaked track, Giovinazzi spun off at Turn 2 on his out lap and wound up in the gravel facing the wall (He did make the grid), Russell also broke his front wing going into the pit lane, as both Williams started from the pit lane after some late setup changes.
Thankfully, it was a traditional standing start rather than a Safety Car, and on lights out, Stroll and Perez flew away, Verstappen bogged down after trying to start in 1st Gear, Ocon flew down the outside to briefly hold 3rd, but a Renault disaster occurred when the Frenchman was spun by a squeezed Ricciardo, after 3 into 2 on the ice rink just didn’t work, while Bottas spun on his own at Turn 1 in sympathy, and Vettel was into the Top 5 from 12th!
Moving up to 3rd, Hamilton went off at Turn 9 and lost spots to Vettel and both Red Bulls, but further behind, Nicolas Latifi went off twice (Turn 9 and Turn 12), and Bottas and Ocon went around again, also at Turn 9, giving the Renault a puncture, and sending Bottas into his second spin.
I imagine Valtteri had a certain 1980s one hit wonder ringing through his ears all afternoon:
By Lap 4, Stroll was 6 seconds clear of Perez, and 14 seconds clear of Vettel in 3rd, Verstappen was unable to pass the German’s Ferrari, and by Lap 7, the race leader was a pit stop clear of Hamilton in 6th place.
Ferrari were the first to make the Intermediate gamble on Lap 7 for LeClerc, with Mercedes taking the gamble for Bottas next lap to get him out of the train, and LeClerc immediately went faster than the leaders by several seconds.
That reference point made Ferrari and Mercedes bring in Vettel and Hamilton (Mercedes put on a used set of Inters), and Racing Point called in Stroll on Lap 10, Perez was in on Lap 11, but a slow right front change cost him time.
Red Bull kept both cars out longer, by which time they had lost huge ground to a flying Hamilton, but when Verstappen pitted on Lap 12, the Dutchman was just behind Perez and ahead of Vettel and Hamilton, but Albon lost out and fell to 6th.
Off note – In that time, Albon made history as the first Thai driver to lead a lap in Formula One, which means drivers from 26 countries have now led a race of the World Championship.
On Lap 13, Giovinazzi was the first retirement of the race after pulling off just before Turn 9, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car to allow the marshals to push the car behind the barrier.
The VSC ended on Lap 15, and Hamilton had a crack at Vettel, but went way too deep into Turn 12 on cold brakes, and actually lost a place to Albon, while further down, Bottas had a third spin at Turn 2 and dropped from 11th to 15th.
Red Bull started firing up, as Verstappen closed up to the back of Perez, and Albon passed Vettel at Turn 7 on Lap 16, and the Thai driver was one of the fastest drivers on the track, along with LeClerc.
On Lap 18, Verstappen got a run on Perez out of Turn 10, but the ever impatient Dutchman got lost in the spray at Turn 11, went off the track and had a 1080 degree spin, falling to 6th, and with massive flat spots he had to stop again, and dropped back to 8th behind Ricciardo and Sainz.
That promoted Albon up to 3rd to attack Perez, and with the weight of expectation from the Red Bull pit wall, Alex actually stood up and took seconds out of the gap.
Bottas spun for the fourth time on Lap 21, as Verstappen was investigated for crossing the white line on the pit exit during his last pit stop, but oddly enough, the Stewards decided to investigate it after the race, and it appears he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
There was now a dry line forming on the track, but with the pesky new surface, it was nowhere near dry enough for slick tyres, especially in Sector 3.
Interestingly, while Albon had caught Perez, the pair of them were catching Stroll, who was struggling with understeer, while behind them, Vettel had actually dropped Hamilton, who was seemingly having a down day, but with Bottas spinning like a vinyl at every corner, P5 was going to be more than enough to seal the Seventh title.
So at half race distance, it was still a Racing Point 1-2, but the Top 5 were all within just over 10 seconds of each other, as the front tyres on every car were so worn they just about resembled slicks, ironically as drivers were trying to stay out long enough to pit for slicks.
It turned out that toughing it out and wearing down the Intermediates wasn’t a half-bad idea, provided you had the car to try it – The obvious key was keeping heat in them on the smooth surface.
As for a Duncraig Dan update, he was running up in 6th, but it seemed apparent that our protagonist just wasn’t comfortable in the low grip conditions, and neither was the Renault (Who I can’t recall ever being strong in wet races since they returned), with the Enstone team looking at an utter wipeout in the fight for 3rd in the Constructors with how well Racing Point were going.
It was going to get worse as the McLarens got into the race.
With the track apparently dry enough, DRS was enabled on Lap 30, as Albon was struggling with cooling his tyres and had to drop 3 seconds behind Perez, with Hamilton noted to engineer Pete Bonnington that there might not be a transition from slicks with how poorly the track was drying, and further to that, LeClerc pitted for new intermediates.
Ricciardo was still ahead of Sainz and Verstappen until Lap 32, when the Aussie made a mistake at Turn 9 and let Sainz by, which was the sign for Renault to make another tyre change, and Ricciardo lost a spot to LeClerc, then came back a mile behind Sainz after the Spaniard pitted, and was probably on for 9th place at best.
In some more classic Ferrari pit stop theatrics, Vettel had a repeat of Imola as he suffered a botched tyre change on the right rear, which ensured Hamilton would comfortably pass him, assuming Lewis had to pit again.
On Lap 35, Magnussen looked in major trouble after Haas didn’t secure the right front properly in the pits, but after stopping the car right at the pit exit, the mechanics were apparently able to bring the Dane back secure the wheel, and he continued, albeit 2 laps down.
As Vettel suffered his shoddy service, Albon spun at Turn 4 and undid all his good work, which cost him 3rd on the road to Hamilton, and up front, Perez was closing up to Stroll, who was losing so much time that Racing Point just had to pit the Canadian, dropping him behind Verstappen, and it only got worse from there for ‘Saturday’ Stroll as his new intermediates went off , and I imagine poor old Lawrence Stroll developed a sudden case of the shits.
After staying out on the oldest set of tyres in the field, Hamilton, pioneering the new Pirelli ‘Slicktermediate’, had taken chunks out of Perez’ lead, and with the DRS on Lap 37, Hamilton breezed past into Turn 12, and led the race for the first time!
Within 2 laps, Hamilton was 5 seconds clear of the Mexican, and the Brit wasn’t just going to win the Championship, he was going to win it with two legs in the air.
On Lap 39, Vettel passed the struggling Stroll to take 4th place, but the Canadian tried fighting back at Turn 12, but with an utter lack of grip, Stroll went too deep and lost spots to both Ferraris.
Stroll’s race was unravelling fast – Albon passed him, then Sainz went by and dumped him to 8th, having led the race not even 10 laps earlier.
Around this time, Bottas spun again at Turn 1, which must have been the sixth time the Finn went around, and Romain Grosjean and Latifi made hard contact at Turn 9, which led to Latifi’s retirement.
Grosjean actually spun again after rejoining the road about 10 seconds later.
Back to the lead, and in a performance that said more about the performance of the driver than the car, Hamilton, on 35 lap old tyres that had gone balder than Homer Simpson, had put 15 seconds on Perez by Lap 43, as LeClerc passed Verstappen on Lap 43, which forced Red Bull to bring the Dutchman in, and Sainz picked off Albon for 5th place in a fairly simple pass at Turn 12, the best position Sainz had been all day, in another fantastic display of driving in tough conditions.
He was the flying Carlito in Istanbul.
In a symbolic moment for the title fight, Bottas was shown the blue flag to let Hamilton through on Lap 46, and the Finn, who didn’t have any hope to begin with, saw any hope he could’ve had depart his body on live television.
I’m pretty sure Bottas went wide at Turn 4 that same lap, and if you could apply a piece of wrestling commentary to that lap, it’d be this:
Further back, there was another Ricciardo sighting when future teammate Lando Norris finally reeled in the Renault, and on Lap 47 the Brit got a run with the DRS and pulled ahead down the back straight, but similar to the Stroll-Vettel incident, Ricciardo tried defending the position into Turn 12, but totally lost the rear and went flying off, which sort of summed up Renault’s afternoon.
Thankfully Ricciardo completed that spin pointing in the right direction and carried on, clinging to a lonely point.
On Lap 51, Raikkonen and Verstappen both had spins at Turn 4, but Max recovered and got by Albon later that lap with the DRS, if you can believe that.
So with the race win pretty well settled, the only positions still to be decided were LeClerc in 3rd catching Perez for 2nd, Vettel with Vettel and Sainz not far behind, and Norris was setting fastest laps and catching Stroll in 8th, which inevitably went the way of young Lando when Stroll went wide with 3 laps remaining.
With Hamilton leading by well over a pit stop (Roughly 24 seconds), Mercedes weighed up bringing the race leader in and play it safe on tyre life, but Lewis wasn’t having a bar of it, and rightfully so, because he was comfortably faster than Perez, and there was probably that thought about Shanghai in 2007, where he beached his McLaren in the pit entry gravel trap after staying out too long on Inters, costing him the World Championship as a rookie.
So on 50-lap old, bald slicktermediate tyres, with 2nd place a good half-minute behind, Lewis Hamilton crossed the line and took his 94th victory, and joined Michael Schumacher as a 7-TIME WORLD CHAMPION!
It wasn’t just winning the title with 3 races to go, winning the race by a lazy 30 seconds, but lapping his only title rival as well… emphatic.
And another title win doesn’t come without the celebratory radio messages – Lewis with his tearful message of inspiration, and Toto making a joke about being on slick tyres.
As the champion celebrated, the last lap fight for 2nd was crazy.
Perez went wide at Turn 9, allowing LeClerc through for 2nd, but Perez got the tow down the back straight, LeClerc locked up trying to defend the position and went wide, allowing Perez back into 2nd….
AND FROM NOWHERE SEBASTIAN VETTEL WAS ON THE PODIUM FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2020!
Another lap and Seb may very well have finished 2nd – In fact, I think the Turkish podium officials gave Seb a bit too much credit for that finish….
Fair to say the Post Race radio was just about the happiest we’ve heard the German all year.
The only 3 drivers who took part in the last Turkish Grand Prix in 2011 all finished on the podium.
Hamilton’s 73rd win for Mercedes also surpassed another old Schumacher record – Most race wins for the same Constructor, moving ahead of Schumacher’s 72 wins for Ferrari.
Despite somehow not having a seat for 2021, Perez pretty much spent the entire race in the Top 2 and equalled his best career result, Vettel had his first podium since Mexico 2019, LeClerc “****ed it up” in the final 3 corners, Sainz made up 9 places, Verstappen and Albon made too many errors, Norris actually got the Fastest Lap bonus point on the last lap, there was no Sunday Stroll this time, and Dan The Man could only scrape a point thanks to Ocon getting lapped, as he fell to 6th in the Championship.
On Monday, Racing Point reported the major reason for Stroll’s drop off was due to damage to the underside of his front wing, which was a “Significant contributor” to the tyre graining he reported during the second half of the race, which most likely solves that mystery.
You’ll also notice that there wasn’t a full Safety Car at any point, the first time that’s occurred in a completely wet race since the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix.
So it turned out the key to succeeding in some of lowest of low grip conditions ever seen was staying out on Intermediates and wearing down the tread so thoroughly that the tyres became a ‘Slicktermediate’, which is something Michelin actually designed in the World Endurance Championship.
Only 3 drivers actually managed it – Hamilton spent 50 laps on his set, Perez managed 48, and the other was Daniil Kvyat, who managed 49, but was never a factor in the points.
Now, as for my intrepid countryman and Renault, Sunday was an example of what Kevin Bloody Wilson would describe as an “Absolute **** of a day”.
It started when Ricciardo got caught in the squeeze and sent Ocon around at Turn 1 after they both started “Too well”, then Ocon got sent around again by Bottas and had a puncture, and it just kept going from average to really poor for the Enstone team, who had to make do with Dan’s measly point.
With McLaren getting 5th and 8th (Plus a fastest lap) and Racing Point finishing 2nd + 9th, it means the fight for 3rd has swung back the way of the Pink Panthers, and in fact, Ferrari aren’t exactly out of the fight for 5th with Renault, either…
The fight for 4th in the Drivers Championship is proving just as competitive, with a mere 4 points between Perez, LeClerc and Ricciardo!
While Ferrari were able to hide their engine deficit with the slower conditions in Turkey, I can’t exactly see them cleaning up Renault in a straight line at a dry Bahrain..
Lastly, to several local news outlets who suggested Lewis Hamilton had only just confirmed himself as an all-time legend of F1 by equalling Schumacher’s title record…
You don’t think a driver who had won a record number of Grand Prix, set a record number of pole positions, and won 6 other World Championships wasn’t already a legend?
Next Up: Bahrain in a fortnight