The Istanbul Park Circuit became the venue for Round 14 of the 2020 F1 Season. Turkey, which had last hosted an F1 race in 2011, made an unlikely return to the sport in the pandemic-hit season. The Hermann Tilke designed circuit was another to run in an anti-clockwise direction and had gone through a re-surfacing procedure a fortnight before the F1 weekend. The new tarmac made it an added challenge for those who had never raced here before.
The season was nearing its end, and reliability becomes a concern for teams and drivers. Allocations get exceeded leading to penalties, and Russell was one such driver to incur a power-unit grid penalty.
The Williams team acting team principal Simon Roberts tested positive for COVID-19 and had to miss the race weekend.
Hamilton hoped to seal the Drivers’ Title for the 7th time after his team bagged the Constructors’ crown a fortnight earlier. The midfield battle was intense as ever while Alpha Tauri was closing in on Ferrari for 6th in the Constructors’ Standings.
Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 celebrated 500 races in F1 while it was the 300th race weekend for Red Bull Racing.
Time for a quick recap of the Turkish GP Weekend.
Low Temperatures with fresh tarmac that was wet from the rain overnight greeted drivers for the start of FP1 on Friday morning. The drivers found conditions to be extremely difficult, the hard compound tyres complicating matters further. The bollard at the pit entry got taken out by Leclerc which Red Flagged the session for a brief period. Turns 1 and 14 were the culprits for multiple lap times deletion as drivers tried to explore different racing lines and limits of their cars. It was a tricky and challenging Friday morning with many drivers suffering from spins and some reporting that it felt like “driving on ice”. Sainz had electrical issues on his McLaren and retired with more than an hour of running left in FP1.
The Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Albon topped the timesheets at the end of FP1 followed by Leclerc, Gasly and Vettel. Norris, who celebrated his 21st birthday, was P7 for McLaren followed by Giovinazzi, Bottas and Ocon. Latifi set the 11th fastest time in his Williams, the Canadian enjoying the slippery conditions. The Racing Point cars were 12th and 13th, followed by Grosjean and Hamilton, who was 5 seconds adrift of the fastest time of FP1. The Briton had opted to sit out the majority of FP1. It was 16th for Raikkonen, the race winner of the inaugural Turkish GP in 2005 while Magnussen was 17th in the other Haas car. Ricciardo could manage only the 18th fastest time followed by Sainz and Russell.
The drivers had persisted with the medium and hard compounds for the entirety of FP1, and it was time to test the soft tyres in FP2. Drivers hoped to find more grip with higher ambient temperatures and ( some ) track evolution ( due to the running earlier ). However, the trend of spins due to lack of grip continued in FP2. Drivers also complained about the tyre-life of soft tyres, most complaining about graining after clocking up a few miles. Nevertheless, Leclerc and Kvyat managed to do 45 and 43 rounds of the track respectively.
Verstappen was fastest again in FP2, having gone 7 seconds faster than his best time in FP1. Leclerc was P2 in his Ferrari followed by Bottas and Hamilton. Albon was 5th in the other Red Bull, and Kvyat and Gasly made it 4 Honda-powered cars in the top 7. Vettel was 8th in the other Ferrari with Stroll making it into the top 10 with the 9th fastest time followed by Norris in the McLaren. Less than a second covered P11 from P16 with Perez leading the second half of the field from Ocon and Giovinazzi. Sainz, Ricciardo and Raikkonen were 14th, 15th and 16th with Russell and Latifi split by the Haas cars at the back of the field.
Friday had been a “baptism by fire” for almost all drivers. The fastest time on Friday was 4 seconds slower than the lap record set in 2005 by Juan Pablo Montoya. The track was slippery, and the lack of support races meant that it wasn’t getting “rubbered in”. The organisers deployed some road cars to lay extra rubber overnight, but the plan failed when the rain hit the circuit again.
Saturday promised to be equally challenging with teams having to get their setups right in FP3 and Qualifying.
FP3 got underway with the risk of rain at 90%, and the drivers opted for intermediate tyres. However, the grip levels were low, and Perez suffered a spin while Leclerc had a coming together with Ocon at turn 12. The rain intensified, and more drivers suffered from spins. The decision to switch to full Wet tyres didn’t improve matters, and the drivers decided to return to their garages as the session timer ran down. The weather forecast for Qualifying was no different, and the teams had to make the tough call of sending their drivers out ( once the conditions improved ) or stay put to avoid incidents and possible repairs. It was a close call for Giovinazzi who brushed the barriers but escaped only with endplate damage on his front wing.
Verstappen was once again fastest at the end of FP3 with Leclerc splitting the Red Bulls in 2nd. Ocon, Norris and Vettel completed the top 6, more than 5 seconds adrift of Verstappen’s time. Vettel managed to do 14 laps, the most by any driver in the session. It was a surprise to see Magnussen in 9th, the Dane splitting the Racing Point cars with his Haas. The only driver to have set his best lap on wet tyres was Ricciardo in 11th followed by Sainz and Giovinazzi. Grosjean was 15th in the other Haas with Raikkonen and Kvyat 16th and 17th respectively. The Williams duo and Hamilton did installation laps but failed to set a representative lap time.
There was a drizzle in the air, and the risk of a deluge threatened overhead. The teams sent their drivers fueled for multiple laps at the start of Q1. The majority of the field opted for the wet tyres while the Red Bulls, McLarens, Ferraris, Perez and Grosjean chose the intermediates for their first runs. Albon and Grosjean wasted no time in switching to the wet tyres at the end of their out-lap. Verstappen, on the intermediate tyres, suffered a big scare down the straight as he lost the rear of his car. Ocon, Bottas, Stroll, Hamilton, Perez and Norris were the top 6 while Raikkonen got his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 1. Leclerc, Grosjean, Gasly, Russell, Latifi were in the drop zone as the rain intensified. Verstappen was on the cusp of elimination and ditched his intermediate tyres for full wets. However, the track conditions were getting tougher with each passing minute, and many drivers suffered spins. Eventually, the stewards decided to red flag Q1 until the conditions improved. Drivers also complained about visibility and condensation issues on their visors.
The downpour stopped, and the FIA deployed track sweepers to remove standing water from the track. Bernd Maylander, the Safety Car driver, did a couple of laps to recheck track conditions and the session resumed after a stoppage of 45 minutes. The two Red Bulls, Ferraris and Raikkonen were the first ones out as soon as the pitlane light went green. Raikkonen, who was second in this queue of cars, suffered a spin on the out-lap and lost track position to the Ferrari of Leclerc. Everyone was out of the pits with 5 minutes left on the clock. Leclerc ran wide at turn one on his flying lap while Grosjean got beached in the gravel at the same turn a few seconds later. The session got Red Flagged again!
There was a scramble in the garages with only three and a half minutes left when the light went green again. Kvyat was the next driver to suffer a spin but managed to carry on. Verstappen produced a stellar lap to set the fastest time at the end of Q1. Albon, Raikkonen, Vettel, Leclerc and Gasly completed the top 6. Hamilton set only the 14th quickest time but made it into Q2. Latifi went off at turn eight and got stuck in the gravel which brought out the double yellow flags. Those behind him came under investigation for ignoring the flags.
Magnussen, Kyvat, Russell, Grosjean and Latifi got eliminated at the end of Q1.
Sainz had allegedly impeded Perez during Q1, and the stewards decided to investigate the incident.
The stewards decided to investigate all drivers who had set their fastest laps under yellow flag conditions post the end of Qualifying.
Q2 got underway, and the McLaren drivers made a bold decision to put on intermediates while the rest of the field persisted with the wet tyres. Norris had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits at turn six, but lap times kept improving as more rubber got laid on the track. Stroll, Albon, Bottas, Verstappen, Raikkonen and Perez were the top 6 halfway through the session with Perez suffering from a lap time deletion for exceeding track limits at turn 6. Vettel, Giovinazzi, Gasly, Leclerc and Sainz were in the drop zone.
The McLaren drivers switched to the wets as well while Verstappen moved to the top of the pile followed by the Mercedes duo and Albon. The track was evolving at a rapid rate, and the drivers had fuel till the end of the session. The Chequered Flag was out to signal the end of Q2, but a lot of drivers were still improving on their final runs.
Verstappen, Albon, Hamilton, Stroll, Giovinazzi, Ocon, Bottas, Raikkonen, Perez and Ricciardo made it into Q3 while both the Ferraris, the McLarens and Gasly got eliminated from Qualifying.
It was time for the top-10 shootout and Perez and Ocon chose the intermediate tyres. Verstappen was on the charge again, going 4 seconds clear of Bottas, Albon and Hamilton. However, his place at the top got usurped by Perez, the Mexican spinning on his second flying lap though. Verstappen was quick to respond and set the overall fastest times in sectors 1 and 2. However, Red Bull made a debatable call of calling him into the pits to switch to the intermediate tyres. Stroll, Giovinazzi and the Mercedes duo were the next to switch to intermediates for the final minutes of the session. Verstappen exited the pits but got stuck behind Raikkonen who was continuing his run on the wet tyres.
Bottas and Giovinazzi were the next to suffer from spins as the lap times kept improving. Raikkonen made a mistake on his final attempt while Perez was leading a Racing Point 1-2. Perez too made an error and couldn’t improve further. Meanwhile, his team-mate found grip and bagged Pole Position! Only Verstappen remained the real challenger but failed to dethrone Stroll falling short by less than three-tenths of a second!
It was a Racing Point 1-3 with Verstappen splitting Stroll and Perez. Albon was 4th in the other Red Bull while Ricciardo was 5th for Renault. P6 was the best that Hamilton could manage. Ocon and Raikkonen took up row 4 with Bottas and Giovinazzi completing the top 10.
Sainz incurred a three-place grid penalty for impeding Perez in Q1. The Stewards concluded that Norris hadn’t slowed enough under double yellow flag conditions ( due to Latifi’s incident ) and handed him a five-place grid drop. The McLaren duo would start 15th and 16th.
It was the first-ever pole position for Stroll and best-ever starting position for Perez. The team had last celebrated a pole position at the Belgium Grand Prix in 2009 ( when they were called Force India ). It was the first time that a driver, other than Hamilton and Bottas, was on pole in 2020! In a tightly contested midfield, this was Racing Point’s chance to bring home a big haul of points.
A disgruntled Verstappen sat disconsolately in the pits wondering what could have been. He didn’t complete his faster attempt and got stuck behind Raikkonen for two laps in the final minutes of Qualifying ( after his pit stop ). Red Bull is still the best team ( in race trim ) in changeable weather conditions, and he could turn it around come Sunday. The team was also pleased with Albon’s effort who did a commendable job to qualify in 4th.
Renault had both its cars in the top 10 and hoped to outscore Racing Point and McLaren. The Alfa Romeo Racing cars made it into Q3 for the first time this year, and another dual-points finish beckoned. It had been a challenging qualifying for the Mercedes duo, and they hoped for an incident-free race start come Sunday. Ferrari and Alpha Tauri struggled to find the right balance and were hoping for better track conditions on race day. It had been a torrid qualifying session for McLaren with both drivers copping penalties. They would need a miracle to make it into the points. The chances of a decent finish seemed bleak for the Haas and Williams drivers.
The grid got finalised only 90 minutes before the race start. Russell also incurred a five-place grid penalty for ignoring double waved yellow flags in Q1 along with three penalty points on his license. Williams had decided to start both its cars from the pitlane, and the penalty became irrelevant. Gasly got relegated to the back of the field after Alpha Tauri requested a full PU change on Saturday night and the stewards weren’t pleased with the justification provided.
There was more drama before the start of the race when Giovinazzi spun at turn two and hit the barriers. He got stuck in the gravel and got craned out of his predicament. Meanwhile, Russell hit the wall at the pit entry and limped back to the pits. Both incidents happened on the sighting laps, but fortunately, the drivers were able to start the race after some quick repair work by their mechanics.
Pirelli had chosen the C1, C2 and C3 compounds for the race, but the track was wet at the race start, and the need for slick tyres seemed improbable. Barring the Williams drivers, everyone else chose the wet tyres.
The five red lights went out, and it was one of the slowest starts off the line as everyone battled for grip. Verstappen got bogged down, and it was a Racing Point 1-2 with Stroll leading into turn 1. Hamilton, Ricciardo and Ocon were side-by-side into turn one, and Ricciardo’s tried to take avoiding action from Hamilton on the inside which resulted in him tagging his team-mate and sending him into a spin. Bottas, a couple of car lengths behind too suffered a spin and dropped down the field. The Finn suffered another spin on the opening lap ( at turn 16 ), eventually ending up in 18th. Hamilton was P3, and Vettel made up seven places at the start to go P4! Hamilton was pushing hard and missed his braking point at turn 6. The Briton had to go around the bollard, and Vettel got promoted to 3rd on the opening lap! Hamilton lost two more positions to the Red Bulls ending up in 6th at the end of the opening lap.
Ocon had flat-spotted his tyres and pitted on lap 2 for another set, rejoining in 20th. Stroll was the fastest driver on track on lap 3 with Stroll, Perez, Vettel, Verstappen, Albon, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Sainz and Magnussen completing the top 10.
Stroll continued to bang in fastest laps as he extended his lead to 6 seconds. Meanwhile, Sainz got past Raikkonen for P8 on lap 6. Perez, who was 2nd, finally got his tyres up to working temperatures and began eating into his team-mate’s lead at the front. Stroll had notified the team that the track was drying and Leclerc was the first one to switch to intermediates on lap 7, rejoining in 19th. Bottas followed suit while Hamilton became the fastest man on track on lap 8. The switch to intermediates proved right as Leclerc went about setting purple sectors. There was a slew of pit stops which followed, with Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Kvyat, Giovinazzi and Grosjean switching to the intermediate tyres a lap later.
Stroll pitted from the lead on lap 10 for a set of intermediate tyres, rejoining in 4th while Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race. Leclerc got past Russell for P12 while Norris pitted for intermediates, rejoining in 16th. The pit lane remained a hive of activity with Perez, Sainz, Ricciardo, Gasly and Ocon switching to the intermediates on lap 11. On the track, Leclerc got past Raikkonen for P10 and Grosjean overtook Ocon for P18.
Verstappen expressed his desire to prolong his stint on wet tyres since he felt comfortable with the grip levels they had on offer. However, the team notified him of the lap times set by the majority of the field, instructing him to pit on lap 12. The Dutchman obeyed and rejoined in 3rd, jumping Vettel after his stop. Albon, the only driver on wet tyres, followed suit a lap later, rejoining in 6th. He lost a position to Hamilton in the process.
Raikkonen lost two more places to Russell and Bottas after a mistake on lap 13 while Kvyat went past Giovinazzi for P16. Giovinazzi stopped at turn nine a few seconds later with what seemed to be a mechanical issue. The stewards deployed the Virtual Safety Car for the extrication of the stricken Alfa Romeo. VSC lasted for a couple of laps, and when the racing resumed, Hamilton tried to make a move on Vettel only to run wide and lose 5th to Albon ( lap 16 ). Albon then got past Vettel for 4th a few corners later. Further down the field, Bottas got past Russell for P11 only to spin and get relegated to 14th. The damp conditions seemed tricky for the Finn who was trying his best to salvage a result and prolong his challenge for the title.
Albon was the quickest driver on track on lap 17 while Norris got past Raikkonen for P12. Verstappen had closed in on Perez and was challenging him for 2nd but ran wide and did a pirouette at high speed. He lost three positions and had to pit for a new set of intermediates after flat-spotting his tyres, rejoining in 8th after his stop. The Dutchman attracted the attention of the stewards after he seemed to have crossed the white line at pit exit. However, he escaped a penalty following an investigation post-race. Albon and Leclerc were the fastest drivers on the circuit and exchanging fastest laps ( lap 19 to 21 ).
Stroll, Perez, Albon, Vettel, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Sainz, Verstappen, Leclerc and Magnussen were the top 10 at the end of lap 21.
Meanwhile, Bottas suffered yet another spin in sector one and was languishing in 17th. Hamilton was unable to overtake Vettel and started falling backwards while Norris relegated Russell to P12 ( lap 26 ). Norris then got past Magnussen and was into the points. Numerous drivers were complaining about the wear on intermediate tyres, and some moved away from the racing line to cool their tyres. The teams wanted to prolong the stint since the track wasn’t ready for slick tyres yet. The exact moment of transitioning from the intermediates to the slicks could prove pivotal in this race.
The Race Director enabled DRS on lap 29, and Gasly got past Raikkonen for P13. While the drivers and teams debated about the correct choice of tyres on this damp, slippery yet drying track, Leclerc decided to pit for a new set of intermediates on lap 31 rejoining in 9th. Raikkonen followed suit a lap later, but a slow stop cost him three positions, and he was down to 17th, the Finn going backwards after having started in the top 10. A mistake by Ricciardo allowed Sainz to move up to 6th, but the Australian immediately dived into the pits for a fresh set of intermediates.
The battle at the front was hotting up with Perez reducing the deficit to Stroll to two seconds while Albon who was dropping back suffered a spin after losing traction into turn 4. Vettel and Sainz pitted for new intermediates on lap 34, but it was a slow stop for Vettel. The duo rejoined in 6th and 8th respectively. Gasly did likewise, rejoining in 16th after his pit stop. Red Bull decided to pit Albon on lap 35, the Thai driver rejoining in 6th while Magnussen retired from the race after a loose wheel ( after his stop ) brought him to a halt at the end of the pit lane.
Hamilton asked his team not to pit him as he tried to extend his stint on the old intermediates ( lap 35 ). Perez was now within DRS range of his team-mate when he got the call to pit on lap 36. Stroll rejoined in 4th, behind Verstappen who had pitted a few laps earlier due to his spin. Meanwhile, Hamilton got past Perez to take the lead of the race! Stroll started complaining about his tyres graining while Hamilton began to build a gap at the front. Further down the field, Gasly got past Russell for P14 on lap 37.
Hamilton now had a 5 seconds lead at the front, and Norris set the fastest lap of the race on lap 39. Stroll, the driver who had led the race for more than half the race distance fell back into the clutches of the Ferrari drivers on lap 40. Vettel got past him for P4, but the Canadian tried to fight back, running wide in the process and losing 5th to Leclerc on the same lap! Raikkonen got past Russell for 15th as drivers started to hear on their radios that there could be more rain on the way!
Bottas suffered another spin at turn two while Grosjean had an off-track moment at turn 10. The Ferrari team-mate tussle on track led to Leclerc getting the better of Vettel on lap 41. There was further misery for Stroll when Albon relegated him to 7th and then Sainz to 8th in the space of two laps. Leclerc moved into the final podium position after Verstappen pitted for a new set of intermediates on lap 44 and rejoined in 7th ahead of Stroll. Albon lost 5th to Sainz who went on to set the fastest lap of the race on lap 45.
Hamilton had started lapping the backmarkers, and it was his team-mate and title contender who fell a lap down on lap 46. Gasly then got past Bottas for P13 who pitted for another set of intermediate tyres on lap 48 and rejoined in 15th. The track was drying, but there were a lot of wet patches, but Hamilton and Perez soldiered on with their old intermediate tyres. Ricciardo and Norris went head to head, and Norris got past the Australian for P9. Ricciardo tried to fight back but ended up spinning ( lap 49 ). Verstappen had closed up on Albon in the battle for P6, and they were about to lap Raikkonen on lap 50 when the latter and Verstappen ended up spinning at turn 4. Albon was able to take avoiding action and got some respite from his sparring team-mate. Raikkonen made a third stop and stayed 15th while Grosjean retired from the race having suffered from spins and a coming together with Latifi.
Hamilton had run down his intermediate tyres, and they had turned into slicks, but there was still the threat of rain. Perez was in a similar boat as Hamilton, and Racing Point didn’t want to give up track position. Meanwhile, Verstappen got past Albon for 6th, and Norris was setting blistering lap times in 9th. The McLaren driver caught up with Stroll and bagged P8 on lap 56. Mercedes decided to pit Hamilton on lap 56 for a “safety stop”. The Briton was 25 seconds clear of Perez and would stay in the lead. However, he overruled the team’s decision, opting to stay out!
The decision would prove to be a masterstroke as the rain stayed away and Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Turkish GP! The battle for P2 saw drama on the final lap. Perez ran wide, and Leclerc got past him only for the Mexican to challenge him at the end of the DRS straight. Leclerc missed his braking point and ran wide which allowed Perez to retake 2nd and Vettel to jump up into 3rd! The four-time world champion bagged his first podium of 2020! Leclerc came home in 4th followed by Sainz who wasn’t too far behind. 6th was the best that Verstappen could achieve at the end of the day followed by his team-mate Albon and Norris, the man who had won the point for the fastest lap. Poleman Stroll was a distant 9th with Ricciardo coming home in 10th.
Ocon finished 11th in the other Renault followed by the Alpha Tauris of Kvyat and Gasly. Bottas, Raikkonen and Russell were the final classified finishers.
Hamilton had done a stint of 50 laps on the intermediate tyres while Perez had clocked 48 laps on his. The duo had run down their tyres to the level of slicks and driven a stellar race, worthy of top honours!
It was win number 94 for Hamilton, but more importantly, he had won the Drivers’ World Championship for a record-equalling 7th time! He was as successful as the legendary Michael Schumacher! Overcome by emotions on parc-ferme, the Mercedes driver took a couple of minutes to take it all in as the other podium finishers came over to congratulate him. Vettel, a driver for whom Hamilton has utmost respect, was gracious and classy as ever in his wishes.
He wasn’t the favourite for victory, yet Hamilton emerged victorious with a strategy that was championship-worthy. Such was his dominance on the worn tyres that he lapped his team-mate who was languishing in the lower half of the field having spun six times in the race. Perez put in a contract winning performance ( for 2021 ), and there is no doubt that he has the racecraft and experience to perform well if he lands a drive with a top team. His 2nd place helped Racing Point build a lead of 5 points to McLaren in the battle for 3rd in the Constructors. Vettel rolled back the years and once again proved what he is capable of despite the odds stacked up against him.
The hunger showed by Leclerc to push right till the end augurs well for Ferrari, and the Monegasque is a prized asset to have for the future. Ferrari, the hunted became the hunter and now lie 6 points shy of Renault in 5th! Sainz was consistent as ever, and Norris brought in a good haul of points for a team that looked down and out at the end of Qualifying on Saturday. Verstappen would be keen to understand what went wrong in conditions that he is known to excel in while Albon had a decent outing as he fights to keep his seat at Red Bull. Renault got only a point this weekend, but they should consider this as only a blip in form. Alpha Tauri had a tough weekend while Alfa Romeo needs to understand why they went backwards in the race. Haas had another disappointing Sunday while Williams remained stuck at the back of the pack.
The 2020 F1 Season has three races remaining, the last triple-header in the Middle-East, in a fortnight. The Championships are done and dusted, but there is still a lot at stake. Bottas conceded defeat this year but vowed to try and beat Hamilton in 2021. He must begin his charge from the remaining rounds of 2020 if he wishes to reach the summit; that is what a Rosberg did!
Bring on Bahrain!