Contrasting fortunes at a tricky Turkish Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton’s 94th grand prix win that secured him his seventh Formula 1 World Championship, pulling him level with Michael Schumacher’s record, deserves to be included among his best.
It was one of those special days when he won the race, rather than his Mercedes W11. But there was a great deal more to the returning Turkish GP than a virtuoso drive from the man who is now statistically the greatest in history…
Embarrassment for Bottas
Hamilton negotiated a troubled opening first third of the race at Istanbul Park, during which he dropped more than one clanger, then pulled it all together to deliver a masterclass in wet-weather motor racing. In contrast, his team-mate suffered perhaps his most humiliating day in a racing car. And sadly, there have been a few too many for Valtteri Bottas in the time he has been unlucky enough to be teamed with and against Hamilton at Mercedes.
When he was told on the radio that there were four laps to the finish, a downcast Bottas replied: “I wish it was less.” You’d be forgiven for thinking all Finnish racing drivers must be pretty handy on ice-like track surfaces, but poor Bottas couldn’t get anything right during a race in which he spun at least five times and was lapped by his team-mate on his way to 14th position. He has great days when he appears to have it in him to provide a proper test for Hamilton – but they just don’t come often enough. And on this day, he was plain embarrassed, not by the newly crowned seven-time champion – but by himself.
Stroll stars, Perez delivers
It would take a flinty heart not to feel at least a little sorry for son-of-a-billionaire Lance Stroll in the wake of the Turkish GP. His maiden F1 pole position on Saturday, in which he lapped nearly five seconds – five seconds – faster than Hamilton might have been coloured by a touch of opportunistic luck, but there’s no denying he drove brilliantly in the race to lead convincingly in his pink Racing Point.
Had the race been called early on lap 35, one before Stroll came in for fresh intermediate Pirellis, we’d have hailed a victory scored on pure merit. He kept his head when other around him supposedly far superior lost theirs and outpaced his team-mate Sergio Perez. How sad then, that it all unravelled for him and he dropped to a disappointing ninth.
The pace of others on fresh rubber more than justified his team’s call to bring him in on lap 36 – even if he had vociferously voiced his doubts – but it must be said it cost him the spark to his startling performance. The new rubber quickly grained and he seemed powerless when rivals closed in for the kill.
In contrast, steady Perez drove an almost spotless race, and once again made his point with quiet composure that he’s not yet ready to become an ex-F1 driver. Indeed, he even held off the man who will replace him in 2021, as Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari loomed. Sure, the Mexican was 31.633 seconds down on Hamilton at the flag, so victory was never really in his sights – but this was a fine second place, and ensured Racing Point remains five points clear of McLaren in their battle for third in the constructors’ standings. With big dollars at stake for every championship position won or lost, Lawrence Stroll should be feeling mighty grateful this week to the driver he has chosen to sack.
Verstappen and Albon miss their chance
At different times during this grand prix, it appeared either of the Red Bulls could have won this race, Max Verstappen in particular looking particularly well placed early on when Hamilton was floundering behind him. But the Dutchman made a bit of a mess of the Turkish GP, spinning wildly out of Turn 11 after getting way too close to Perez. Yes, he was challenging for second place, but he was way too impetuous and put himself on the backfoot there and then for the rest of the afternoon. Sixth place was a poor return for a driver of his ability and standing.
In the wake of his error, team-mate Alexander Albon picked up the Red Bull baton and he too closed up on Perez. Briefly, the thought occurred that if the Thai could pass the second Racing Point, perhaps he could also do something about the first one – and secure his drive for 2021 with a hard-earned victory. Instead, he spun on his own at Turn 4. Albon recovered from that moment and when Verstappen caught him, it was Max who spun (again) – before the team leader quickly gathered it up and passed Alexander’s car just two laps later. Seventh place, then. When one of the drivers who is being linked to your drive finishes second, it’s not really enough, on a day when accomplished driving made all the difference.
The sun comes out for Vettel
Sebastian Vettel looked much more like his old self in Istanbul. Not quite the same driver who won so convincingly here back in the halcyon days of 2011, when no one in F1 could touch him, but still – it was good to see some signs of the driver he used to be.
Vettel’s first lap was just terrific. He rose from 11th on the grid (one place up on his team-mate Charles Leclerc) to third by the end of the first tour. And although team-mate Leclerc was far more impressive in terms of pure pace, it was Vettel who would end up on the podium. Yes, only because Leclerc made a mess of challenging the unruffled Perez on the last lap and ended up dropping behind Vettel out of Turn 12 – but you’ve got to be in the right place to make the most of other’s mistakes, and this time Vettel was exactly where he should have been. It was heartening to see him back on the podium.
And it was good too to see F1 back in Turkey, at a fine circuit that inspired plenty of action – even if it’s new track surface was, as Ron Dennis might say, less than optimal. What a shame this comeback might well be a one-off.