Returning to Istanbul Park for the first time since 2011, I was looking forward to seeing the high downforce 2020 cars taking on the notorious turn 8 flat out. Track resurfacing completed only 10 days before the cars took to the circuit meant the stunning circuit was slippery meaning grip was difficult to find as cars spun. It was described as like an ice rink and that was even before the rain hit Qualifying and the race.
In fairness, could we see races like that more often, please? So, much happened lap to lap with spins and the drivers really having to battle their cars in the conditions that really reward experience as well as separating the best from the rest. There was a surprise pole-sitter in lance Stroll; the first Canadian to take pole position since Jacques Villeneuve. The race seemed to be going his way but in the second half of the race, with no rain falling and the track not dry enough for Intermediates, managing the tyres and its temperatures became crucial. Instead, despite being 25s adrift in the early stages, Lewis Hamilton [Pictured celebrating above; image from Autoweek] finished 30s clear as he took the chequered flag to take his record-equalling 7th Drivers Championship title in some style!
With an 85 point advantage heading into Turkey, the pressure wasn’t really on Lewis Hamilton to produce as he had the advantage but he managed to find more than Bottas in Qualifying as Mercedes struggled for grip; qualifying 6th. Starting on the new set of full Wets, Hamilton had a great start climbing to 3rd but let that slip after going wide at turn 9. He was 25s adrift of Stroll after 10 laps bit after the switch to Inters, the race came back to him. While he struggled with brakes throughout he couldn’t get close enough to Vettel in front so staying out on the same Inters until the end was an impressive effort. It was a Champions drive as he passed Perez on lap 38 and in the remaining 20 laps built an impressive 30s lead as he took the chequered flag for the 94th time.
The second half of the race was one of Hamilton’s finest race drives. Silverstone 2008 when he romped home in the wet conditions is considered one of his greatest drives but Istanbul Park 2020 will be right up there. He had no right to get those Intermediates, almost down to slicks at the end to win. He didn’t need this win for the Championship and could easily have held position well ahead of his teammate to take the championship but that is not the way he wants to win it. That is the sign of a great driver and his winning mentality being able to win when their machinery may not be performing at their best and it was a drive fitting of a 7-time world champion.
Seven times, wow! Seeing Michael Schumacher’s seven titles equalled like his previous win record is something I never expected to see being equalled. It is a remarkable achievement and one that in his wildest dreams ‘felt so far fetched’. Like Schumacher, Hamilton will serve as an inspiration for the next generation of drivers and he’s been anxious about that more this year as he looks to leave a legacy beyond racing in his campaigning for racial equality as he alluded to in post-race comments…
‘And I’d love to stay, I feel like we’ve got a lot of work to do here. I am working to push to hold ourselves accountable as a sport, to realise we’ve got to face and not ignore the human rights issues that are around in the countries that we go to, and how can we engage with those countries, and how can we empower them to really change, not 10 or 20 years from now, but now. And I want to help Formula One, I want to help Mercedes in that journey to become more sustainable. I hope to be a part of that, at least the initial phase, for a little bit longer’
It is special what we are seeing Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton achieve; the consistency of it has to be admired. The question is just where could he leave the benchmarks? He hasn’t yet signed a deal for 2021 but that should surely be a formality. Could he leave it at 8? 9?
On a weekend he needed to outscore his teammate by 8 points just to keep the championship alive, it couldn’t have gone worse for Valtteri Bottas. Mercedes never looked like getting grip into the tyres but Bottas found himself even further on the back foot when he qualified 9th; his worst of 2020 and behind Hamilton. His job was an even taller order after an initial start was undone by spinning at turn 1 trying to avoid Ocon and then making contact with him later on that lap. After that, ‘the car wasn’t the same anymore’ as he struggled to keep the car on the road. The Finn was never in the points-paying positions and spun a total six times in quite easily one of his worst drives at Mercedes. He found himself lapped by his teammate and finished a measly 14th. Championship over.
2020 Turkish Grand Prix Qualifying
Q1: 1st Max Verstappen 1:57.485……………15th Sergio Perez 2:07.614; 16th Kevin Magnussen +0.393, 17th Daniil Kvyat +1.456, 18th George Russell +2.403, 19th Romain Grosjean +5.295, 20th Nicholas Latifi +13.997
Q2: 1st Max Verstappen 1:50.293………10th Daniel Ricciardo 1:54.278; 11th Lando Norris +0.667, 12th Sebastian Vettel +0.891, 13th Carlos Sainz +1.132, 14th Charles Leclerc +2.418, 15th Pierre Gasly +4.278
Q3: 1st Lance Stroll 1:47.765, 2nd Max Verstappen +0.260, 3rd Sergio Perez +1.556, 4th Alex Albon +2.683, 5th Daniel Ricciardo +3.830, 6th Lewis Hamilton +4.795, 7th Esteban Ocon +4.875, 8th Kimi Raikkonen +4.980, 9th Valtteri Bottas +5.493, 10th Antonio Giovinazzi +9.461
With Mercedes seemingly struggling, the overwhelming favourite appeared to be Max Verstappen in the Red Bull and Alex Albon was close behind in the timesheets. Red Bull were also marking their 300th Grand Prix in Turkey and it looked like they could be in for a strong result. However, they didn’t get the pole position they pace suggested they were set for and they didn’t win the race. Instead, they picked up 14 points which Christian Horner ultimately described as ‘disappointing positions to end our 300th race at a weekend that held so much promise’.
Max Verstappen topped all three practice sessions and Qualifying up until it mattered in Q3 after failing to get the Inters to work properly. Qualifying 2nd was ‘a hard one to take’ but the race turned into a nightmare. A painfully slow getaway meant he lost ground to Perez, Vettel and briefly Hamilton. As the race came to him and having superbly overcut Vettel in the change period to Inters, the flying Dutchman had the pace to attack the Racing Points but perhaps got a bit eager to pass Perez ‘through the kink but washed out massively’. He spun behind the Racing Point at turn 10 and unlike Brazil 2016, he couldn’t recover it effectively and had to pit due to flat spots. On a weekend he easily had the pace for pole position and the win, Verstappen found himself spinning once more and battling his teammate for 6th.
After Verstappen spun, it presented a very good opportunity for Alex Albon That incident put him up to 3rd and he demonstrated the Red Bull had the pace but he too couldn’t pass Perez and sun under pressure. It must be said, up to that point Albon was nowhere near Verstappen’s pace at Istanbul park and qualified almost 2s slower in 4th. He also got bogged down at the start but was back up to behind his teammate on lap 17. With a podium and even a win possible, it could’ve been a career-defining drive for the under-pressure Albon that secured him his red Bull seat for 2021 but having failed to take the opportunity, being passed by Sainz and finishing behind Verstappen. ‘finishing seventh is definitely confusing’ he said and the opportunity for a big result was there but he didn’t take it.
Racing Point impressed in Turkey. Wet conditions had been a weak point for them earlier in the season evidenced by their poor Styrian Grand Prix Qualifying. At Instanbul Park, they were able to heat the tyres up well and were rewarded with their first pole position since Belgium 2009 but their first as Racing Point. The race had the promise of a 1-2 finish but it slipped away. They’re not used to being at the front and the race management is something that comes with experience. They will be thinking of what could’ve been but in terms of the fight for 3rd in the Constructors Championship, it was still an excellent result as stressed by Otmar Szafnaeur, ‘today’s result is a memorable one that has lifted the team back into P3 in the Constructors’ Championship, which is a real boost going into the final few races of the season.’
Lance Stroll a pole sitter, where did that come from? It was a surprise result that changeable weather often produces but undoubtedly, ‘one of the best moments of my Formula 1 career’ as he became the first non-Villeaneave Canadian to take pole. It hadn’t looked remotely likely until the switch to Inters in Q3 but he excellently put it together. Stroll had a great launch off the grid and after 17 laps it all seemed to be going so well for him. Racing Points call to pit a second time for fresh inters backfired as he struggled with ‘significant graining on my second set’ and fell back through the field. At one stage, he had been 25s ahead of Hamilton. He finished 72s adrift in 9th. It was a disappointing outcome on a day that promised so much but it was still his first points since Monza.
‘We’ve come close to a podium several times this year, so it’s great to enjoy the moment now with the team’. Sergio Perez was still fresh from the strategic call that cost him a podium at Imola disappointment but he bounced back well. He had provisional pole before the final Q3 laps and spinning but, he still qualified 3rd; his best in F1. Like his teammate, he had a good launch and was 2nd before turn 1 and though he struggled to stay with Stroll in the opening laps the race came back to him closing the gap to Stroll before he pitted a second time. The Mexican led briefly took the lead by staying out before Hamilton came by and though he didn’t have the same speed as Hamilton, his excellent tyre management skills got him a podium finish after fighting back excellently in the final few turns to take 2nd.
I find it really incredible that he may not be on the grid next year. Perez is in the form of his life at the moment and is the only driver bar Lewis Hamilton to have scored points at every race they have taken part in this year. He obviously missed the two raced at Silverstone due to COVD. The remaining teams with seats seem to be Haas (who state they’re looking for a more youthful line-up) and Red Bull. They are yet to make a decision seeking to give Alex Albon as much opportunity to ‘claim’ the seat for next year. Based on form, he really should be on the grid and I would like to see what Perez could do in a Red Bull. It would be a first though as they haven’t recruited from out of their own stable since 2006.
2020 Turkish Grand Prix Race Result
1st Lewis Hamilton 1:42:19.313, 2nd Sergio Perez +31.633, 3rd Sebastian Vettel +31.960, 4th Charles Leclerc +33.858, 5th Carlos Sainz +34.363, 6th Max Verstappen +44.873, 7th Alex Albon +46.484, 8th Lando Norris +61.259, 9th Lance Stroll +72.353, 10th Daniel Ricciardo +95.460, 11th Esteban Ocon +1 Lap, 12th Daniil Kvyat +1 Lap, 13th Pierre Gasly +1 Lap, 14th Valtteri Bottas +1 Lap, 15th Kimi Raikkonen +1 Lap, 16th George Russell +1 Lap, Kevin Magnussen DNF, Romain Grosjean DNF, Nicholas Latifi DNF, Antonio Giovinazzi DNF
Fastest Lap: Lando Norris 1:36.806
The podium scrap came down to the final few turns and it was Sebastian Vettel who took the final spot for the first time in 2020. The four-time champion has had a difficult year and consistently out-performed by Leclerc so it was great to see him on the podium. Vettel out-qualified Leclerc for the first time since Hungary but that was only good enough for 12th. The German has an ‘incredible’ opening lap climbing from 11th to 3rd, putting him in a great position. Vettel likes racing in Turkey and that showed as he drove excellently to keep Hamilton behind for 32 laps. A slow pit stop didn’t help him and while he looked set to finish behind Leclerc not braking too late into the final few turns allowed him to capitalise and pass Leclerc for a well deserved and much-needed podium.
Charles Leclerc is his own harshest critic as he lamented the final few turns on team radio as ‘worse than Baku’. The Monegasque finished 4th, a result he would surely have taken if offered it before the race. Beaten by Vettel in Qualifying, he started 12th and lost a couple of positions on the opening lap but the change to Inters helped his race greatly as after swapping on lap 7 he was soon up to 8th. Pitting earlier for a second set actually benefited Leclerc as it helped him pass Albon, Stroll and his teammate in the space of a couple of laps as a podium looked likely. It seemed 2nd beckoned after Perez ran wide on the final lap at turn 9 but he ‘messed it up in the last corner’. Going too deep into turn 12 agonisingly cost him 2nd and 3rd to Perez and Vettel.
His winning mentality needs to be applauded. He wants to win, improve, learn from his mistakes and I am sure he will do that. Leclerc is still young and is in my mind a potential future champion with the right car behind him. He will come back stronger from it. Ferrari though were fairly strong at Istanbul park. The Prancing Horse had a strong pace in the dry practice sessions and only the wet conditions denied them a top 6 start. That said, they did still collect 27 points from the race, the most of any Constructor. Who would’ve expected that? It was an achievement not lost on Team Principal Mattia Binotto, ‘it’s great to end up as the team that scored the most points on Sunday. We knew that, in these conditions the race would come to those who made the fewest mistakes.’
With Racing Point doing well, McLaren needed a good result to keep pace. Finish 5th, they had Carlos Sainz to thank for helping them keeping them close in the Constructors standings. The Spaniard didn’t have the cleanest of weekends struggling with tyre temperatures throughout before Qualifying 13th. A penalty meant he started 15th A brilliant start saw Sainz climb to 9th and was 8th before pitting for Inters. His pace on those tyres was strong and he pulled off a few good overtakes on the likes of Ricciardo on lap 31 and Albon on lap 44, making no mistakes in the difficult conditions and thoroughly deserved his 5th place finish after ‘one of the hardest I’ve done in F1 so far’. Even sweeter for Sainz was this result put him ahead of teammate Norris in the Championship standings.
Lando Norris had a stronger showing in the dry practice sessions and held his advantage over Sainz in Qualifying, beating him for the second successive race but only qualified 11th having not extracted enough out of the car. Where his fortunes differed greatly to Sainz was the start. Having been penalised for a yellow flag infringement, he didn’t have a great start but ‘everything after that was good’. He questionably barged past Russell to climb into the points but demonstrated excellent pace in the conditions by setting the fastest lap as well as taking advantage of mistakes from Ricciardo and Stroll helped him to an 8th place finish and helping McLaren in their constructors battle. Norris will be ruing that start.
In terms of the Constructors battle for 3rd, it was disastrous for Renault. While Racing Point and McLaren scored well and despite qualifying better than McLaren, the Enstone team only managed a single point. That came from Daniel Ricciardo who described Qualifying as ‘by far the slipperiest conditions we’ve ever experienced in Formula One’ but he did do well to qualify 5th. The Honeybadger lost a couple of positions on the opening lap after being squeezed between Hamilton and his teammate into turn 1; tagging the latter. His pace was relatively string and was ahead of both McLaren’s in 6th before pitting for a second set of Inters as he ‘just couldn’t make the last’. Ricciardo struggled more on the second set spinning and was eventually overtaken by Norris on lap 48. He finished 10th.
His teammate Esteban Ocon finished outside the points in 11th but after the race, he had you just have to feel sorry for him. Like his teammate, he’d shown consistent pace and would’ve loved Qualifying not to have restarted when it was red-flagged; he was top of the timesheet. He still qualified in the top 10 but behind his teammate. The race was horrible and none of it was his fault. After ‘probably my best (start) of the year‘, he was tagged into a spin by his Ricciardo at turn 1 and then caught in turn 9 by Bottas coming from nowhere. A rear right puncture meant he was at the back of the field after the opening lap and needing an early pit stop. Still, despite the extra pit stop and where he was at the end of lap 1, finishing 11th was still a decent drive.
2020 Turkish Grand Prix Points
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 25, Sergio Perez 18, Sebastian Vettel 15, Charles Leclerc 12, Carlos Sainz 10, Max Verstappen 8, Alex Albon 6, Lando Norris 5, Lance Stroll 2, Daniel Ricciardo 1
Constructors: Ferrari 27, Mercedes 25, Racing Point 20, McLaren 15, Red Bull 14, Renault 1
Outside the points for the first time in 10 races were Alpha Tauri. Both Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat showed very strong pace in the dry but the wet conditions of Qualifying and the race didn’t help them. Gasly described it as ‘a bit embarrassing‘. The Frenchman got into Q2 but found himself starting at the back after his team worked on the car under parc ferme conditions. Struggling to turn the tyres n and two stints on the Inters meant he finished 13th. Kvyat finished as the lead Alpha tauri in 12th. Having spun in Q1 and qualifying 17th and despite one spin in the race, he had a solid enough drive as only Hamilton managed more than the Russians 50 laps on one set of Inters. For a driver of his reputation and recovering from Qualifying, ‘a very uneventful day’ was an otherwise solid enough drive.
While title named Alfa Romeo; Sauber marked their 500th Grand Prix in Turkey, the 5th team in F1 history to do so. It looked like they could have an incredible result with both cars getting into Q3 for the first time but the race ‘was anything but fun’. Those were the words of Kimi Raikkonen. The 2007 Champion impressively qualified 8th but spun several times during a difficult race which required three stints on the Intermediates as he finished a disappointing 15th in conditions that ‘definetly didn’t work in our favour’. As for Antonio Giovinazzi, having qualified 10th he was fortunate to even start the race after losing it on the lap to the grid. The marshalls and mechanics deserve all praise for getting that car to the start but his race was short-lived with a gearbox issue forcing him to retire on lap 13.
Williams decided to start both drivers from the pit lane on Inters. It looked risky with George Russell crashing on his exit from the pits pre-race. He dd at least keep his 100% Qualifying record against teammates going. The tyre call effectively saved them a pit stop with Russell at one stage 11th and on the cusp of the points, While he felt he was barged off track by Norris, he didn’t have the pace to stay there and struggled with his second ‘set of Intermediates which didn’t work’. For Nicholas Latifi, ‘it was a weekend to forget’. He qualified slowest in Q1 and struggled even more in the race with the Inters he started on being lapped as early as lap 7 and contact with Grosjean when already two laps adrift eventually saw him retire. A poor weekend all round for Williams.
Romain Grosjean was also forced to eventually retire after the incident due to heavy floor damage. The Frenchman lit up team radio with some choice words for Latifi as he spun again but he was probably glad to call it a day after 49 laps. He struggled more than his teammate in both qualifying and the race as he stressed ‘it was always going to be a hard race’. Kevin Magnussen similarly struggled in Qualifying but a strong race start propelled him into the top 10. His pace on the Inters was strong and he was still in points contention until a slow pit stop where ‘I guess a tyre didn’t come on’ meant he had to be dragged back into the pit lane. Magnussen didn’t finish in the points as Gunther Steiner was blunt, ‘There’s nobody to blame but ourselves’.
2020 Turkish Grand Prix Ratings
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 9.5, Sergio Perez 9.5, Sebastian Vettel 9.5, Charles Leclerc 8, Carlos Sainz 9, Max Verstappen 6.5, Alex Albon 6, Lando Norris 7.5, Lance stroll 8, Daniel Ricciardo 6, Esteban Ocon 6.5, Daniil Kvyat 6, Pierre Gasly 6, Valtteri Bottas 3.5, Kimi Raikkonen 6, George Russell 6, Kevin Magnussen 7, Romain Grosjean 5.5, Nicholas Latifi 4.5, Antonio Giovinazzi 5.5
Constructors: Ferrari 8.5, Mercedes 6.5, Racing Point 8.5, McLaren 8, Red Bull 6, Renault 6, Alpha Tauri 6, Alfa Romeo 6, Williams 5.5, Haas 6
After all that in Turkey, Lewis Hamilton (307pts) is the Drivers World Champion. With a 110 point advantage over Valtteri Bottas (197pts), he can no longer be caught with three races remaining. Max Verstappen (170pts) remains 3rd. It is the battle for 4th that is really interesting. After his podium, Sergio Perez is into 4th and on 100 points. Charles Leclerc is only three points behind in 5th and Daniel Ricciardo a further point back as only four points separate 4th from 6th. Carlos Sainz (75pts) is now the lead McLaren in the standings in 7th but only by a point while the top 10 is closed out by Alex Albon (70pys) and Pierre Gasly (63pts). Sebastian Vettel (33pts) almost doubled his points tally with his first podium of 2020 and is now 13th in the standings. The standings from 13th down remain unchanged.
In the Constructors Championship, the top two was game over a long time ago (Mercedes 504pts to red Bull 240pts) and it is the battle for 3rd that took a big change in Turkey. Racing Point (154pts) with their 20 point haul have pulled out a bit of a gap in 3rd with McLaren (149pts) keeping a modest gap of five points. Renault (136pts) dropped to 18 points behind Racing Point and are 5th, they were one point ahead of both teams before the Turkish Grand Prix and now they have Ferrari (130pts) only 6 points behind them after their impressive 27 point haul. Alpha Tauri lose even more ground in the battle for 6th as the bottom four in the Constructors remains unchanged.
After the treacherous wet conditions at Instanbul Park, F1 takes a two-week break in track action before a gruelling triple header and then young drivers test in the Middle East to bring an end to this makeshift 2020 season. The first race two races are at the Bahrain International Circuit which will be the third and final circuit to host two races although the latter will be with a different layout before the season finale in Abu Dhabi. But first, it is the Bahrain Grand Prix!