In an abnormal season where we venture to Turkey for the first time since 2011, it’s been an abnormal start to the weekend for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team as for the first time in 2020, they have not made it onto the top spot of either Friday practice session.
The Brackley-based team finished in ninth and fifteenth after tricky track conditions plagued the first session, and their luck continued to falter as neither driver could top the tables in the second session of the day.
Although this isn’t entirely representative of their pace due to the slippery surface, it undoubtedly denotes the lack of confidence their drivers and cars have on the Intercity Istanbul Park surface. Even the six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said the track was ‘terrifying – the whole way round’.
“It was very difficult day today,” said Hamilton.
“This track is such a fantastic circuit, but the new surface made it very tricky. None of the tyres were really working for us and it felt like driving on an ice rink out there. So, you don’t really get the enjoyment of the lap that you would normally get around here in Istanbul.“
“When you’re way below the temperature window, the tyres just don’t work. You can go from one lap to another and find a second just because the tyres work a little bit better in one of the corners. We’ve got a lot of work to do to try and figure out what we can change overnight to put us in a better position for tomorrow. There are some fundamental things that you can’t change on the car, but we’ll just have to do the best we can.“
He went on to conclude: “I think it will be a real fight for us this weekend, but that makes it very exciting!”
Bottas: Tricky surface ‘felt more like rallying’
After spinning and sliding all over the track in practice, it was evidently clear that Valtteri Bottas was struggling immensely on the slippy circuit.
The Finn, who has hefty rallying experience, compared the tricky conditions to an off-road track and said that he found it rather difficult to build up temperatures in the tyres and find the scarce grip available.
“When I first went out on track this morning it felt more like rallying, it was quite far away from the normal driving standards that we’re used to in Formula 1.
“But I had fun playing around on track, experimenting with the car, it was actually quite enjoyable. The tarmac is new and very smooth, making it particularly difficult to heat up the tyre. It’s crucial in these conditions to build up the temperatures to give you the upper hand. We’ve experienced this in winter testing before, but never quite to this extreme. We’ve also seen a lot of track ramp today, bringing the lap times down, which will continue over the weekend. The Soft tyre felt best overall, providing the best grip, even though we had a bit of graining on the front.
“Lots to learn from today, tricky to make the right decisions, not just in terms of set-up but also for the strategy of the race. We have some work to do in terms of the competitive picture too.“