A wild weekend at Istanbul Park – 2020 Turkish Grand Prix

In its first Formula One race weekend since 2011, Istanbul Park did not waste its opportunity to make an impact in the minds of fans new and old. 

Grip issues in Free Practice telegraphed a dominant weekend for Red Bull, Max Verstappen leading all three practice sessions, and an unusually difficult weekend for the 2020 Constructors Champions, Mercedes. The newly resurfaced track made the Friday running interesting, to say the least, with cars slipping ad sliding all over the circuit, predicting quali the next day proved difficult.  

In an attempt to put some rubber on the circuit before Saturday running, road cars were seen lapping the track as seen in a tweet by Mclaren garage tech Lee Mathurin. But in the end, the laps were for nothing as rain fell on the circuit during FP3, saturating the track before qualifying.  Q1 started on time but with seven minutes left in the session, the red flag flew due to the conditions. 

When the sessions started back up the rain was the main focus and the drivers struggled to get temperature and grip from the full wets, casing a lot of offs and spins, including Grosjean being beached in the gravel leading to a second red flag in Q1. This time the session was resumed quickly so the drives could get the last flying laps in. When the chequered flag dropped it was the Hasses, the Williams, and Kyvat done for the day. 

At the end of Q1 Latifi in the Williams pulled into the gravel leading to double waved yellows and the crane being pulled out to retrieve the car between the sessions. When Q2 began the crane was still on the circuit retrieving the beached Williams, calling into question Race Directors Michael Masi’s decision to start the session despite marshalls being on the track. It is important to point out that this is the second week in a row marshalls have been on track while running commenced. Last week being the Lance Stroll incident where he tried to un lap under the Safety Car while marshalls were near meters from Stroll on track. Q2 ended with the Mclarens, Ferraris and Gastly left behind.

The 10 car shootout of Q3 was looking in the favor of the Racing Points with Perez on provisional pole with a few minutes left but in the end, it was his teammate, Lance Stroll who took Pole followed by Verstappen with Checo in third.

After an exciting qualifying, the race on Sunday was bound to be exciting. The major storylines were Lewis Hamilton starting from 6th with a very good shot at finishing up his historic seventh World Championship title and Stroll starting from pole for the very first time.

On the way to the grid on Sunday, Giovanazzi and Russel had shunts leaving their pit crews with some work to do on the grid and an overnight rebuild of Gastlys Alpha Tauri sent him to the back of the pack to start the race.

On the opening lap, Stroll used his position well and retained the lead and leaves behind the chaos of a wet first lap. Behind the Canadian, the Renaults make some light contact causing Ocon to spin and Bottas to follow in reaction, while Verstappen stalls the lights out and drops back a few places and Vettel shoots from P11 to P4.  After a spin midway through the opening lap, Hamilton drops to sixth while Vettel and the Red Bulls fill in the gaps ahead.

Due to the conditions, almost the whole grid started on the full wets except the Williams, who also started from the pitlane, but by lap 6 the green intermediates seemed tempting, LeClerc and Bottas being the first to switch causing the rest of the grid to follow suit. 

In a commanding lead Stoll drove 10 sec ahead of his teammate in P2, Checo was in his own fight with a quick Verstappen on his tail. After a slow exit off turn 10 by Checo, Verstappen got a little too close and went into a dramatic spin, requiring a pit stop for new tires putting him back out on track at P8.

At a half distance, it was the Racing Points with Strolls lead slowly dwindling to his teammate in P2, followed by Albon in the Red Bull with Hamilton and Vettel in tow. After a rough start, Bottas was running in P17 after a third spin.

At this point in the Grand Prix, the track was at an awkward spot where it was a little too dry for the Intermediate tires but still too wet for the slicks.

After a stop for a new set of Inters, Stroll gave away the lead to his teammate, who then lost it to Hamilton a few turns later as Stoll came back out in P8. Leclerc took P3 from Verstappen a few laps later as he dipped into the pits for new inters. Vettel follows in P4 with Albon, Sainz and Verstappen followed behind.

Nearing the end of the race, Hamiton and Checo were content on their almost 50 lap old Intermediate tires, Hamilton even going against the team’s order to pit for a new pair with 4 laps left and a chance of rain on the last lap. After the race, a picture of Hamilton’s tires released by Mercades shows how he wore down the tread of the inters effectively making himself a set of slick tires as the track dried up. 

On lap 58/58 Hamilton crossed the line a Seven-time Formula One World Champion, tying the record set by Michael Schumacher. While he crossed the line the battle for P2 raged on a few turns from the end when Checo took the place and LeClerc locked up at turn 12, giving Vettel the right of way to claim P3 and a well deserved top-three finish for the German. Giving us a final Podium of Hamilton, Perez, and winner of the last Turkish Grand Prix Sebastian Vettel. 

Overall this year’s Turkish Grand Prix is one for the history books, a mixture of interesting strategy, high stakes, and changing conditions all come together to put on one hell of a show for fans around the world and will go down as another highlight in an already fantastic 2020 season.

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