King Canute holds a unique place in British folklore for apparently trying to command the tide to stop its natural progression. Of course, it didn’t work and the King was left rather wet.
Valtteri Bottas may well express an affinity with the old King as Lewis Hamilton claimed an inevitable 7th World Championship with a master class drive in Istanbul. For Bottas it was a bit of a Turkey shoot; nudged into a spin at turn 1, followed by more gyrations than a bad Elvis impersonator as the race unfolded, Bottas was forced to concede to Hamilton once more. While the rain brought disaster to some, like a drought breaker it brought much needed relief to others. Aston Martin bound Sebastian Vettel enjoyed his best result in a long time, while the uncertainty surrounding Sergio Perez’s future was temporarily forgotten as he stepped onto the podium.
The weather had seemingly abated somewhat come race morning, though another shower had drivers on the wet weather tyres. Track conditions remained treacherous as Antonio Giovinazzi and George Russell found out when both drivers spun on their way to the grid. Their crews then forced to make last minute repairs on the grid.
There were some concerns as those on the front rows of the grid waited for the tail end cars to straggle into position, the wait meant that precious heat had escaped from the tyres which would compromise grip into the already teacher our turn 1. As the light eventually went out the cars barely moved for a moment, the power units of the modern F1 car proved to be far superior to the capacity of the tyres to find grip on the newly laid surface. Lance Stroll managed to get away better than most, while Max Verstappen was swallowed up by Perez and Hamilton, who had made the best start of anyone and moved into 3rd as he hugged the pit wall. Ricciardo responded and moved around the outside of the #44 Merceds on the approach to turn 1. Teammate Esteban Ocon had also found grip and tried to cut across Ricciardo and Hamilton. The three simply ran out of room and the two Renaults touched at the corner as Ricciardo tried to give room to both Ocon and Hamilton. Ocon spun into the path of Bottas, who had looked to capitalise on the three car jam by running wider through the corner. As the Renault pirouetted across his bow, Bottas also spun to avoid contact. The pair eventually returned to the track at the back of the field.
“Made a great start today, but I was squashed in between Lewis [Hamilton] and Esteban into Turn 1, so I had nowhere to go and I clipped my team-mate which is the last thing you want to do,” Ricciardo explained later to Renault Sport media.
It was a dream start for Racing Point as Stroll and Perez enjoyed the luxury of clear track between them and the rest of the field, which meant that they were able to focus on the conditions without the distractions of traffic and mist. Hamilton held a similar gap to Vettel, with the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Albon ahead of Ricciardo and Magnussen. Grip levels fluctuated on the wet surface as Hamilton found out with a brake lock and off a turn 9. The excursion, combined with a loss of tyre temperature, saw Hamilton overtaken by Vettel, Verstappen and Albon in quick succession. Hamilton was not alone with the timing monitors lit up in alternating shades of yellow and green once as drivers left the track with alarming regularity.
By lap 2 it was Stroll in front from Perez, Vettel, Verstappen, Albon, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Sainz and Magnussen. Racing Point controlled the opening portion of the race with Stroll 6 seconds clear of Perez, who held an 8 second gap to Vettel in 3rd. Stroll told his engineer that the circuit was ‘drying up’ by lap 4, which suggested that the intermediate tyre or even a switch to slicks would be the preferred option during the middle portion of the race.
Charles Leclerc became the test mule for the field when he became the first to stop on lap 7 and switched to the intermediate tyres. A series of fastest purple sector times for Leclerc soon after saw Bottas also stop for intermediates.
“It is inters, but the tyres are still going, so it’s pointless for me right now,” Hamilton told his engineer on lap 8, having just set the fastest lap of the race to that point.
Vettel stopped on lap 8, which finally gave Verstappen clean air and the opportunity to reduce the gap to Perez and Stroll. Hamilton, despite his comments, was also into the pitlane on lap 9 for the lesser of the two wet weather tyres.
By lap 11 all of the front runners bar Red Bull had stopped and changed to the much faster intermediate tyres. Stroll had closed to within 6 seconds of Albon in 2nd and looked set to take a commanding lead once Verstappen and Albon stopped. Perez had fallen back from his teammate when after a slow stop that placed him within reach of Vettel. Hamilton’s progress had stalled when he found himself stuck behind Vettel in the battle for 5th place, having lapped some 4 seconds faster than the German. Daniel Ricciardo matched the pace of the leaders during the opening laps but appeared to struggle on the intermediates and slowly dropped out of contact in 7th.
Verstappen stopped on lap 12 and exited the pitlane as Perez, Vettel and Hamilton approached turn 1, he emerged just behind Perez and ahead of Vettel, who dropped back from the Racing Point on the approach to the corner. The stop gave the lead to Alex Albon and a piece of racing history as the first Thai driver to lead a Formula One Grand Prix. It was a fleeting moment of glory as the Red Bull team chose to pit Albon at the end of the lap.
Passing was at a premium around the circuit. While there was adequate grip on the racing line that had become just damp enough to maintain the life of the intermediate tyre, off line was still covered by a dense layer of water, with deeper puddles lying in wait for the unsuspecting driver. A brake lock up for Vettel on lap 13 allowed Hamilton to move alongside and, significantly, offline. The Mercedes was slow to accelerate away as the tyres struggled for grip and Vettel maintained his 4th place.
A mechanical issue for Antonio Giovinazzi saw the Alfa Romeo driver park his car near a service road and bring out a Virtual Safety Car on lap 14. The location of the car meant that the halt to racing was a brief one. The break was an unwelcome one for drivers as tyre temperatures dropped during the period, which meant another uncomfortable period when racing resumed one lap later,
Both Vettel and Hamilton struggled with cool tyres during that lap, exacerbated somewhat as they took turns to fall over each other during that first lap back under green conditions. Alex Albon on the other hand had clear track and quickly closed in on the pair. Another locked brake at turn 12 forced Hamilton wide as he avoided the Ferrari ahead and dropped to 6th as Albon pounced.
“Brakes aren’t working man,” Hamilton told his engineer a moment later.
Verstappen continued to hound Perez, but like Hamilton, was unable to move off the racing line to pass the Racing Point. He questioned to his team as to why Race Control had not enabled DRS even though the track had begun to dry and tyre spray had subsided. A mistake by Perez at turn 9 presented a small window of opportunity for Verstappen to attack with the Red Bull planted beneath the rear wing of the pink Racing Point. A small wobble under acceleration at the exit of turn 11 saw Verstappen run onto the slippery painted run-off area.
The Red Bull snapped left and spun four times at close to 260kmh down the short straight. He dropped to 6th behind Hamilton for the remainder of the lap then stopped again for fresh tyres after flat splotting his current set.
As the race progressed and conditions gradually improved, the Racing Point cars came back to the field. Ferrari and Racing Point had been the big winners during the early stages of the race. The Ferrari was widely known to have an aggressive set up that overworked the tyres and it appeared to be a strategy that had been adopted by Racing Point in Turkey. The set up enabled both teams to build up heat in their tyres better than everyone else, though. The changing conditions had a double effect of overworking their rubber while enabling the rest of the field to gain more heat in their tyres.
By lap 23, Stroll’s lead had dropped to under 5 seconds from Perez and Albon was less than a second further back. Verstappen’s push encountered further issues with his second set of intermediates going off by lap 28. He was told to continue until a window for slicks appeared, given the forecast of no further rain.
A second stop for a fresh set of intermediates on lap 34 turned into a minor disaster for Vettel, his 5 second stop almost twice as long as the leaders. That, coupled with a spin for Albon at turn 4 finally opened the door for Lewis Hamilton to move into 3rd place, 7.5 seconds from the race leader.
Hamilton sensed another victory and set off after the Racing Point duo. His intent apparent in the short, sharp message sent to his engineer, “Don’t box me!” Hamilton was now in ‘the zone’. Stroll, on the other hand, had been sending clear messages back to his team that he had no grip and wanted a new set of tyres, while the team had replied with the message to stay out on the circuit. It was a decision that may well have cost the Canadian a win, or at least another podium.
Stroll finally had his way and stopped on lap 36 only to resume behind Verstappen and the effective race lead in 4th. From there his hopes for a maiden GP victory quickly vanished. A dive on Vettel for 4th appeared to have worked, but he ran wide on the exit and dropped to 7th as Leclerc and then Albon drove by.
Hamilton drove past Perez for the lead shortly after and quickly pushed out to a 5 second lead by lap 39. On the other hand, title rival Valtteri Bottas was a spent force for the race and the 2020 championship. Three spins during the first half of the race saw the Finn down in 13th place and well over a minute off the lead.
Internal rivalries continued to brew at Ferrari with the outgoing Vettel ahead of Leclerc. The younger teammate exchanged places with his more illustrious senior partner with a simple move on lap 38. Hamilton also moved past his teammate on lap 46 but it wasn’t for position as Bottas went a lap behind the leader, inflicting insult upon injury for the Finn. When told by his engineer that there were four laps remaining, Bottas replied, “I wish it was less.”
Daniel Ricciardo had slowly slipped down towards the tail of the top 10 and came under pressure from 2021 teammate Lando Norris in the McLaren. In his attempt to thwart a challenge, Ricciardo lost the rear under brakes and conceded 9th place in the process.
Lewis Hamilton went on to take a dominant race win, 30 seconds clear of his nearest rival on well worn intermediate tyres. Charles Leclerc had caught Perez for second on the final lap only to drop off the podium when he locked the left front tyre, ran wide and fell back to fourth behind Perez and Vettel. Sainz, Verstappen, Albon, Norris, Stroll and Ricciardo completed the top 10.
The 2020 Formula One World Champion took time to climb out his Mercedes once back in parc Ferme. Hamilton admitted to more than the odd tear as he took a minute to reflect on his historic achievement with a record equalling 7th World Championship title.
“I’m definitely a bit lost for words,” a clearly emotional Hamilton told Martin Brundle. “Naturally, I normally have to start with saying a huge thank you to all the guys that are here and all the guys back in the factory fro enabling us to have this opportunity . I wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t join this team and the journey we have been on is monumental. I also want to say a big thank you for team LH for sticking with me all these years and to my family you know. We dreamed of this when I was young and we were watching the Grand Prix. This is way, way beyond our dreams. This is so important for those young kids out there to see and hopefully know that nobody can tell you that you can’t achieve something. Dream the impossible and speak it into existence. You’ve got to work for it, you’ve got to chase it, never give up and never doubt yourself.
Today, we knew coming here that it was already such a difficult weekend and we weren’t massively disappointed with our qualifying position. We knew we were on the back foot and kind of did the best we could, but we learnt a lot, which is what we do as a team, there’s no blame game and we hash it out. You don’t always get everything perfect but today we had that small moment at the beginning of the race with the new tyres and then I couldn’t get past Seb for a while. At that point I could see Albon pulling away and I thought that this race was falling through my fingers. But I kept believing that I would pick up pace of some sought at some stage and that’s what I did. When Seb started pulling away and I couldn’t figure out at the time what it was. So I was checking my temperatures, I didn’t know if it was because my tyres were overheating or too cold. I think I went through the real rough patch of the graining of the tyre and then the grip started to come back, the track was drying in areas and I was improving my driving lines the whole way through the race, so I started to pick up pace. The Seb pitted and I knew that wasn’t the right choice personally for me, so I decided to stay out and as my tyres became more slick that was exactly what you needed. Fortunately, that intermediate tyre holds temperature. If I had gone out on new slicks I wouldn’t have made it around. It was the best decision. I once lost a world championship in the pitlane, so I learnt my lesson from 2007 and I felt like I had it really under control. The grip was feeling good and I was going to deal with the rain if it dropped. Oh, wow”
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