The last throwback circuit of the 2020 F1 calendar saw the teams set up at the Istanbul Park circuit in Turkey. Ending the 9-year hiatus from the track, three of the current grid of drivers have experience racing here. However, their experience may not count for much as the track had been freshly resurfaced and a wet weekend made for a very slippery experience.
Even though Friday was a dry session, we saw plenty of drivers have a spin while others struggled to put in quick times. Saturday, on the other hand, saw a drenched track. With rain pouring down during practice, teams had to decide between getting good data for the wet qualifying ahead and avoiding damage to the cars and drivers in dangerous conditions. The Quali session got underway with some drivers daring to try the Intermediates before the Full-Wets but unable to set a spin-free lap. With just under 7 minutes left in Q1, the officials red-flagged the session till they could make the track a bit safe again. After a few laps from the Intercity sweeper truck to try and soak up the standing water on the racing line and a few from the Safety Car to assess the track conditions, qualifying resumed after the intermission. It was still quite slippery out on track but drivers could at least complete their pace laps without sliding off. There was a second stoppage but a shorter one to retrieve Romain Grosjean’s beached Haas from the gravel pit near Turn 1.
Max Verstappen had been the quickest man on the slippery track all weekend and was giving us another masterclass in wet-weather F1 on the blue striped wet tyres. However, as the racing line began to dry up even more by Q3 and teams had to make the risky decision to switch from Wets to the green-striped Intermediates. Racing Point was the only team to send their drivers out on those tyres while everyone else was still on the full-wets. Verstappen’s pace continued to top the timing charts as he got his set up to temperature but when Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez set the fastest times, Red Bull had to make the call to switch their drivers to the Inters as well. Unfortunately, Max wasn’t able to find the kind of grip he needed from the Inters as compared to the Wet tyres and was struggling on the slippery tarmac.
In the end, it was Stroll on Pole with Verstappen behind by just under three-tenths. Perez qualified third quickest (his best yet) just ahead of Alex Albon. Max was visibly annoyed about missing out on an easy Pole position on a weekend when both Mercedes drivers were struggling for pace in the wet conditions. His mannerisms in the post-qualifier interview gave me a bad premonition of a reckless performance on Sunday to make up for the qualifying result. Behind the top 4, it was a blend of three other teams – Mercedes, Renault and Alfa Romeo. There were a lot of firsts in this session with the Canadian at the top of the charts. Lance’s worthiness of an F1 seat will always remain a topic of debate but his brilliant performance that wet afternoon adds some weighty positives.
Both Ferrari drivers struggled in these conditions too as they both got knocked out in Q2 with Vettel 12th fastest and ahead of Leclerc who was only 14th fastest on the day. However, due to grid penalties picked up by the McLaren drivers, they were starting 11th and 12th on the grid.
When the cars lined up for the start for the wet race with their full-wets, I knew some were going to struggle to get off the line and someone will spin at the first corner. What I didn’t expect was that Max Verstappen would have the WORST possible start as he got completely bogged down with what seems like a gear-shift error while trying to put the power down. By the first corner, the Dutchman had dropped down to P8 and ended up trapping his teammate who started just behind him. The Renault and Mercedes drivers made the most of Red Bull’s horror as they went around them but were four wide as they tried to get around Turn 1. Lewis was down and Daniel found himself sandwiched between the Brit and his teammate Esteban while Valtteri was trying the widest line around the outside.
While trying to avoid hitting both Hamilton and Ocon, Daniel’s front bumped into his teammates rear tyre who was turning inwards causing the No. 31 Renault to spin around and in the path of Bottas who also spun around trying to avoid the Renault in front of him. This put both drivers firmly at the back of the grid. Both Racing Point cars had a great start with Lance pulling ahead and Perez a bit further behind. Hamilton was up in P3 after staring 6th on the grid but he too went wide on the first lap which ended up costing him a few spots and put him back in P6.
However, there was one man who got the best possible start in the circumstances: Sebastian Vettel. By the end of the first lap, he was in P3 and you can see his brilliant start in this onboard clip here:
It wasn’t long until the Red Bulls were able to find their pace again and both Verstappen and Albon got past Vettel. Hamilton wasn’t able to do the same and was struggling to get past the Ferrari, especially with no DRS in wet conditions. But the damage had been done as Stroll enjoying a lead of more than 10 seconds. Max had his work cut out for him and was charging after the pink cars with amazing speed given the conditions. After the worst 10 laps or so, everyone had switched from the Wets to the Inters with hopes that they could use slicks towards the end of the race. Hamilton had pitted after just 8 laps while the front runners stayed out for a couple of laps more.
By Lap 18, Max was right on the gearbox of Perez, both drivers cutting into Stroll’s lead at the front. A slight mistake from the Mexican out of Turn 10 allowed the Dutchman to get right on his tail ahead of the quick section towards the Turn 11 kink before the long straight. However, being in the full spray behind the Racing Point and then going on to the kerbs was too much slip for the Inters to handle and that put Max into a speedy spin. While he wasn’t able to recover immediately from his nearly 720-degree rotation, Verstappen kept the car out of harms away and avoided any damage to the bodywork. By the time he was back on track, he was already down to P6 and had to pit to replace his flat-spotted Inters. As I’d feared, Saturday’s frustration coming through to race day and building up even more after his poor start saw Max make a poor judgement call in his attempt to pass Perez which ended up sealing the fate of his Turkish GP.
Perez then fended off the assault from the second Red Bull of Albon while also gaining on his teammate who was still leading the race. Vettel was now in P4 with Hamilton still behind and Verstappen down in P9. It became a game of patience and concentration for a while as the opportunities were dependent on people making the smallest mistakes such as going off track or a small spin or simply locking up and flat-spotting their tyres. For the second half of the race with conditions starting to dry up but with cars still on the Inters, DRS had been reinstated which did allow for the usually dull overtakes to resume. By Lap 30, Charles Leclerc pitted for a fresh set of green-striped tyres and was setting quicker times which triggered other teams to follow suit. However, this didn’t quite work for everyone while Hamilton and Perez opted to stay out for a longer stint. With Vettel pitting and Albon spinning on Lap 34, Lewis was finally free to run in open air ahead to try and catch the Racing Point duo, 9 seconds behind the race leader.
Lance was pitted after 36 Laps as he was beginning to suffer from graining on his tyres and he rejoined the track in P4, just behind Max. By this point, the Dutchman’s tyres were fairly old as well. Thanks to DRS, Hamilton was able to get past Perez with ease on Lap 37. With newfound confidence of claiming his seventh world title with a win, Hamilton kicked things up a notch and in just a few laps, he was over 5 seconds clear of Perez. Meanwhile, Stroll was struggling to switch on his fresh set of Intermediates on the relatively dry racing line. As a result, he was simply sliding down the order as he got caught by the rest of the middle order that had pitted a few laps sooner. Leclerc had managed to climb up the order too by Lap 41 with another resilient drive and then overtook his teammate for P4.
With the option of running slick tyres getting more and more unlikely, Red Bull decided to call in Verstappen for a fresh set of Inters. He had also just been passed by Leclerc for P3 who was on the fresher set of tyres. Hamilton had built a significant lead over Perez and neither driver had pitted. Even with a 20-second gap to the car behind and only 15 laps to go, Lewis opted to cover the risk of struggling on new tyres by staying out till the finish line. Perez did not have a similarly large lead and had no choice but to stay out on track if he wanted to hold onto a podium result. The Racing Point was being caught up by both the Ferrari drivers who were on fresher tyres. Meanwhile, Verstappen had suffered another spin and was still down in P6, just ahead of teammate Albon. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz had put in a stellar drive to be consistent with his lap times and look after his tyres to find himself comfortable in P5 with only a couple of laps left.
Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag with a 31-second gap to P2, having done 50 laps on his set of Intermediate tyres. A legendary performance as expected of the man who just claimed his 7th World Title, equalling the record set by Michael Schumacher. The battle for the final podium spots came alive in the last lap as Perez and Leclerc swapped places with only 3 corners to go. Leclerc had his wing open in the DRS zone as they headed towards Turn 12 and tried to late brake his way past Perez for P2. However, the youngster locked up and went wide which allowed Perez to recover and also ended up getting passed by Vettel. It was a drag race to the finish line but Sergio was able to hang onto P2, 0.3s ahead of his future replacement in the team. Vettel’s surprise podium also earned him the ‘Driver of the Day’ at the Turkish GP.
You can watch the last lap scrap for podium places in this replay here:
Check out Perez’s onboard view of the same below:
Leclerc was understandable upset with himself for throwing away his podium result like that but still happy for his departing teammate. Overall, the best race result for Ferrari all season and definitely a mood-lifter in what can only be described as a rough year for the two drivers. McLaren also got a better race result than their qualifying suggested as Sainz finished P5 and Lando Norris finished P8 with an extra point for the fastest lap.
Red Bull’s 300th Grand Prix weekend ended on a sour note as Verstappen and Albon finished P6 & P7 respectively. With a potential win on the table, to have a result far from a podium is understandably disappointing. It was a mixture of mistakes and poor luck, but it is what it is. Red Bull’s constructor standing is a safe P2 while Max is still 27 points behind Bottas who scored no points at the Turkish GP.
Despite his strong start from 5th on the grid, Ricciardo only managed a P10 finish while Pole-sitter Stroll finished P9. After the incident on the opening lap, Ocon was unable to recover well enough and could only secure P11 despite starting 7th on the grid. It was Alfa Romeo’s 500th Grand Prix and despite a good result in qualifying, they were caught out by the conditions and didn’t get any points on Sunday. Kimi Raikkonen finished P15 while Antonio Giovinazzi was the first DNF of the race after just 11 laps.
Given the tricky conditions, there were no incidents serious enough to deploy the Safety Car. Other non-finishers of the Turkish GP were Nicholas Latifi, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. It was a nightmare weekend for Bottas who spun many times throughout the race and struggled for pace through the weekend. The Finn only finished P14 and perhaps would have preferred to be put out of his soaked misery with a mechanical failure somewhere around the mid-way point.
There’s a week’s gap before the final triple-header to finish off the season. The two races at Bahrain include a new outer-track loop for the penultimate race before heading to Abu Dhabi as usual to close the chapter on F1 2020. The titles may have been decided but there are still important battle lower down the order: Max vs Valtteri for P2 in the driver’s championship; Sergio vs Charles vs Ricciardo for P4 in the driver’s standings; and Racing Point vs McLaren vs Renault for third in the constructor’s championship.
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Final race standings
- L. Hamilton Mercedes — 1:42:19.313
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +31.633
- S. Vettel Ferrari +31.960
- C. Leclerc Ferrari +33.858
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +34.363
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +44.873
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +46.484
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +61.859
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +72.353
- D. Ricciardo Renault +95.460
- E. Ocon Renault +1 lap
- D. Kvyat AlphaTauri Honda +1 lap
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +1 lap
- V. Bottas Mercedes +1 lap
- K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 lap
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +1 lap
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari DNF
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari DNF
- N. Latifi Williams Racing Mercedes DNF
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari DNF