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ANALYSIS: ASSESSING THE FIELD – 2020 TURKISH GRAND PRIX

10 Mins read
Photo credit: Daimler AG/ LAT Images

What a welcome back that was for Intercity Istanbul Park? Rain showers hampered proceedings for the whole weekend; Lewis Hamilton matched Michael Schumacher’s record of Seven World Drivers’ Championship titles, with three races to go; Lance Stroll set the fastest time in qualifying to claim his first Formula 1 pole position and Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was on the podium for the first time since the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix. Yes this is 100% the truth!

Fans were ecstatic at the news Istanbul Park was returning to the calendar. It meant seeing the return of the infamous Turn Eight – and this time it would be a treat to see the new hybrid-era machines tackle the corner flat out. But the rain was not something that was anticipated. The lack of flat out Turn Eight was certainly made up for with the treacherous conditions formed by the heavy rain and the newly-resurfaced track. 

So with the scene set, here’s our analysis:

TOP OF THE CLASS

Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes Petronas Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: – 0.698s | Race margin to team-mate: Bottas +1 lap

SEVEN TIMES WORLD CHAMPION! 

Now with that out of the system, let’s talk about Lewis’ weekend. The weekend did not get off to a brilliant start for Hamilton or his team-mate, however the Brit came through from very difficult stints in the practice sessions to qualify in sixth – his worst qualifying since the 2018 German Grand Prix where he started fourteenth on the grid. 

Off the line, Hamilton fared much better than his rivals up ahead, taking third place in the run up to the first corner. Vettel was running behind, and fans were treated to an old school battle between the pair, but an off-track excursion allowed Vettel and the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing duo, Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon to slide through, sending Hamilton back to where he started in sixth place. By lap 37, Hamilton had taken the lead from Perez. 

In the wet weather, tyres became the crucial factor in who was going to succeed in their plight for track position and who was going to fall down the order. While most danced in and out of the pitlane, Hamilton, like Perez, decided to pit once and nurse the badly-worn intermediate tyres for over 40 laps – he even ignored a call from the pit wall, for a “safety stop” in the final laps, staying out as to not lose ground on Perez who was sitting in second place. 

With Perez falling back into the clutches of Vettel and Charles Leclerc, Hamilton sailed across the line claiming his record-equalling seventh world championship title – it was an emotionally charged moment for the Brit, having equalled Schumacher’s record. 

Sergio Pèrez – BWT Racing Point Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: + 1.556s | Race margin to team-mate: -40.72s

Going to ask the question again: “Why is Perez without a seat in 2021?” 

Perez had a strong weekend at Istanbul Park, starting the race in third place, on the second row behind team-mate Lance Stroll. 

Racing Point Formula One Team driver, Perez, proved his talent once more with his brilliant start at lights out following team-mate Stroll as they headed up the grid. Perez held his own and spent much of the race defending second place from the likes of Hamilton, Vettel and the Red Bulls during some parts of the race. As mentioned, Perez also opted to pit once, like Hamilton, and nurse the tyres to the line after over 40 laps of wear. In the latter stages of the race, Charles Leclerc, having jumped his team-mate, looked like he would steal second place from Perez when it was clear his intermediate tyres were on their last threads, but a mistake from the Scuderia Ferrari racer, meant Perez held second, as the Ferrari racers switched positions behind him. 

The race proved difficult for most of the grid but as the race progressed, Perez, along with Vettel, showed that they are truly masters in the rain. It really is a shame that Perez, who has consistently scored points all season, is without a drive next year. Surely, his performance at the Turkish Grand Prix is the one thing that will sway a contract signing? 

Sebastian Vettel – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: – 1.527s | Race margin to team-mate: +1.898s

Sebastian celebrated his first podium since Mexico in 2019, after a season of disappointing results. It has been hard watching the 2020 Formula 1 season as a Vettel fan. Everyone knows he is such a talented and meticulous racer – those four world championships seem like such a lifetime ago – but the result from qualifying for the German, insinuated that it was going to be business as usual 2020-style. How wrong? 

Vettel is known for being able to charge through the pack when he starts down the bottom end of the grid, and knowledge combined with talent, ensured that he was able to make the jump from eleventh on the grid, up to fourth on the start-finish straight once the lights went out. Many laps went by, a battle for position with Hamilton, and a slower than usual pit stop – a 2020 Ferrari specialty – made it look like that was the best result we were going to get from Sebastian, but he surprised us with the Sebastian we grew to love in the Red Bull Racing days. Vettel held fourth, having lost position to teammate Leclerc during the last few laps and on the last couple of corners of the race, Leclerc delved too hard and Vettel and Perez reclaimed second and third place. 

A poignant celebration ensued with Hamiton winning the championship, and Vettel sharing his 56th podium with the Brit. Somehow I think the wet weather played a huge role in this, and we won’t see another podium from Vettel this season as we move to Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. 

Charles Leclerc – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +1.527s | Race margin to team-mate: +1.898s

Charles, like his Scuderia Ferrari team-mate, Vettel, had suffered from a troubled weekend come qualifying. A wet track greeted the drivers for the session and Charles ended the session in fourteenth, with a promotion to twelfth place following penalties awarded to his rivals at McLaren F1 Team. Leclerc did not make up as much ground as his team-mate in the opening laps, but a steady pick through of the pack saw the Monegasque racer be in earshot of the podium come the closing stages of the race. Closing in on his team-mate, Leclerc made a move and cleanly made it by and pounced on Perez. His move against Perez failed to materialise and Perez took second place back, but not only this, Vettel capitalised on the error of judgement and snatched the final podium place with just corners to go to the flag. 

Leclerc has shown all season that he is of World Champion material and it was the first time this season that he was battling for a podium against his team-mate. We heard over the team radio that he was really disappointed in himself over the last lap lunge, however these things happen and I hope Charles learns to stop being so hard on himself. 

This is how Leclerc lost the podium:

Lance Stroll – BWT Racing Point Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: –1.556s | Race margin to team-mate: +40.72s

Lance Stroll has had a particularly hard and difficult career in Formula 1, no thanks to fans of the sport and critics alike. Every move the Canadian makes is scrutinised by the masses as if people forget that he is also a human, and he is not a reflection of his father’s wealth. 

Lance’s pole position did come as a shock, but this was merely because seasoned racers were struggling in the treacherous conditions and those with similar experience to Stroll, in the sport, were struggling to get the grip needed to put in competitive laps during qualifying. It was clear that the RP20 was suited to these conditions and Stroll was able to make it work slightly better for him, than Perez did. Not to take this away from Stroll in that sense, it was incredible to see him take to a wet and recently resurfaced Istanbul Park like a duck to water. 

The Canadian made an amazing start and pulled out an astonishing lead, and soon found himself lapping the backmarkers at the half-way stage. The one damp squib of his race came when he pitted to change to fresh intermediates and they began to grain almost immediately – something Lance was quick to call out – while everyone else who had recently pitted were closing the gaps to their rivals in front and setting purple sectors and fastest laps. Stroll then slipped back to eighth following his pit stop. 

It was disheartening to learn that following the race the team found that damage inflicted to a strake on the underside of the front wing was causing a reduction in downforce which contributed to the fast deterioration of Stroll’s tyres, after such a brilliant performance for the most-part of the grand prix.

Carlos Sainz Jr. – McLaren F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate:-0.465s | Race margin to team-mate: -26.896s

Commentators did say that the race conditions would favour anyone on the grid with rallying experience – hinting at Raikkonen and Bottas – but Carlos Sainz Jr., has said that he enjoys outings in rally cars with his father, double WRC Champion Carlos Sainz Sr., is it a wonder that these honed skills of his came through when he was slapped with grid penalties in qualifying? We didn’t get to see much of Carlos on the live broadcast [insert silent assassin joke here], but the Spaniard fought through the order from fifthteenth place to fifth at the chequered flag. The 25-year-old is such a talented racer, he’s proved it with the results time and time again, but it would be great to be able to witness this during the races. Sainz finished the race less than a second behind fourth-placed Leclerc and if only there was another lap or two, could Sainz have made it within spitting distance of a podium place, the third of his F1 career? 

HOMEWORK TO DO

Max Verstappen – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -2.393s | Race margin to team-mate: -1.611s

From the start of the race, it was clear that Max was a little agitated at the minor mistakes he thought he’d made from the way he was driving and communicating with the team over the radio. Off the line, Max’s car notably went backwards from second, as he struggled to grip the track surface. He wasn’t the only driver to suffer this fate at the line, and the dutchman was one of only a few who made inroads through the first twenty or so laps of the race to meander back through the field to fifth, with Albon following. Verstappen was in a good position to fight for the podium, he succeeded by jumping Vettel in the first round of pit stops and was soon on the tail of Perez for second place. 

A determined Verstappen was eager to take second place from Perez. His earlier agitation coupled with the sedulousness to make up for the appalling start off the line, he made a deep lunge on the Mexican and found himself spinning out at Turn 11. With his tyres flat-spotting from this incident, he made a second pit stop which dropped him back down to eighth place. 

Later in the race Verstappen managed to recover, and found himself back in a podium position – third- at one point, but another pit stop from third, saw him drop back to eighth and the march to recovery started again. Verstappen recovered to sixth place as he crossed the line. 

Make no mistake, Verstappen is a talented driver, you can see that just by the way he recovered and through his determination to do so, however it feels like he is far too invested in trying to get the job done quickly, taking unnecessary risks in the process. It would have been amazing to see Max pull off that move on Perez through Turn 11, but it wasn’t meant to be. 

Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes Petronas Formula One Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: + 0.698s | Race margin to team-mate: + 1 lap

If you had to call a soundtrack for Bottas’ race it would be Spinnin’ Around by Kylie Minogue and that’s where the jokes end. Like his teammate, Bottas had struggled all weekend to find grip in every session which led him to qualify in ninth place. Hamilton was also struggling with the wet and slippery surface and the W11.  Bottas’ race didn’t improve from there once the lights went out. 

Suspected contact on the first lap caused a noticeable issue with the front wing, with Valtteri contacting the pitwall to express his concerns about it. Bottas ended up finishing the race in fourteenth place, with his dreams of the 2020 drivers’ championship dashed after team-mate Hamilton clinched the title with his race win. 

After the race, it was confirmed that the Finn had suffered from damage through contact with Ocon, which hampered the steering, making it difficult to keep the car pointing forwards. 

Critics were quick to pass their comments on Bottas’ performance this weekend, but one insanely difficult weekend should not write a driver’s overall talent off. Valtteri and the team were quick to admit it was a poor weekend, just watch him flip a 180 and be back up front with Hamilton at Bahrain. 

Photo credit: Daimler AG / LAT Images

The rest of the field

The Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi impressed in the wet conditions of Saturday’s qualifying session, claiming eighth and tenth on the grid, however the race claimed Giovinazzi on lap 16 with a reliability issue and Raikkonen crossed the line in fifteenth. 

Alexander Albon, after sitting in second during the race, crossed the line in seventh place. He had endured a long stint on the intermediates but was called in to pit and lost track position from then on. His team-mate Verstappen finished just ahead in sixth, both pulling crucial points for the team in defending their second place in the Constructors’ Championship.

Renault DP World F1 Team had a promising start to the weekend with Daniel Ricciardo lining up alongside Hamilton on the third row of the grid however both Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon lost position on the first lap. Ricciardo spun, and Ocon had suspected contact with Bottas, which is said to have caused the damage to his front wing and steering. They finished the race in tenth and eleventh place. 

Sainz Jr.’s team-mate Lando Norris, clawed back positions through the 56 lap race after starting fourteenth on the grid following penalties awarded from the qualifying session. Norris impressed in the difficult and wet track conditions, finishing in eighth place. 

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