Our Event Operations Manager Sam gives us his take on the Istanbul Grand Prix race that took place in November 2020.
Wow! When people say that Formula 1 is boring, surely this race will set the records straight. I had no idea that F1 could be so dramatic. Right from the practice on the Friday, and things got really interesting in the lead up to qualifying.
The track had fresh tarmac – a late call which many deemed unnecessary. It’s not the stuff you see on the road either, its rolling resistance or should I say lack thereof, means it was already slippery. Combined with a complete downpour meant that it was the most exciting qualifying I have ever seen.
Within the first out lap the perimeters of the circuit had already claimed numerous victims. Pierre Gasly referred to it as a “Rally Cross Stage”.
The fastest lap time should have been in the 1 minute 20 seconds, but ended up around 30 seconds slower, and that was if you could even manage to get around without kissing a barrier or spinning out altogether. Within 12 minutes of Q1 there was a red flag as conditions were so treacherous. Half an hour passed until the second outing and a red flag came minutes later with Romain Grojean again meeting his fate in a sand trap. Once cleared it was just a game of who could put a tidy lap together to secure a position into Q2 which was topped by both Red Bulls in both sessions. However, no-one could foresee the two Alfa Romeos making it into Q3 having been towards the back of the grid for most of the season.
The final shootout for pole was insane, the last lap creating multiple provisional pole sitters. Lance Stroll finally, exultantly claimed his first pole position in his F1 career. Both Racing Points, which are effectively Mercedes, out qualified the Silver Arrow team being split only by Verstappen. Hamilton having to start from 6th made it all the more exciting as he still needed 6 points to beat Bottas and claim the championship title.
With quali over, sights were set on the race with twitter being flooded with spectator predictions. It was the most talked about race not only because it would be the deciding moment for Hamilton to become a 7-time World Champion and match Schumacher’s phenomenal record, but also conditions made his success very unpredictable.
Rain was still forecast. Lance Stroll; the most inexperienced driver on the front row for the entire season. It was amazing to witness the race, the outcome of which no-one could guess. Finally, the moment we were all waiting for!
“Lights out and away we go” led to the slowest start with most drivers opting for second gear to get away. Stroll controlled the pace beautifully whilst Verstappen just couldn’t lay the power down, lighting up his rear tyres in frustration. In the meantime, Vettel who started from 12th made the best lunge of all managing to get to 4th within just 2 corners, then achieving 3rd in the first lap after Hamilton went too deep into turn 9 having to weave around the cones to avoid picking up a penalty. The Ferrari which looked like it was to have the worst season in history was ahead of rivals Mercedes. The Red Bulls nipping at the heels of Vettel, the race was off to an extraordinary start. It was a true “blink, and you’ll miss it” type of race.
It wasn’t just a drivers’ race though as team strategies would prove vital in determining the right time to change to intermediates as the track started to dry. For Leclerc it paid off to make the change early as he was setting the pace with fastest lap times. This started a flurry of pit crews running around as cars piled into the pits one after another.
The intermediate tyre was quicker, but the degradation was proving too much for Lance Stroll who came in for a second set. Exiting the pits into traffic it was time to switch the tyres on to gain grip, which just seemed beyond him. Having started on pole and holding the lead for the first half of the race it was all falling to pieces. Other drivers were cleverly weaving to cool their tyres in the few wet sections of the track.
By the end Bottas was nowhere to be seen, a race that he will probably want to forget and it looked certain that Hamilton was on his way to victory and a 7th world title. He is just so composed when times get tough, however that didn’t stop his emotions getting the better of him on the lap. Race intensity continued as the battle for positions were still going right up to the final corner when Leclerc who had managed to get up to 2nd made a mistake. It cost him a podium.
For me the personal highlight was that Vettel and Perez were also able to celebrate 2nd and 3rd places. These two had a point to prove as Perez finds himself without a seat next year and both drive as the second car within their respective teams. Vettel and Hamilton have had their differences but that didn’t stop the German driver being among the first to congratulate the Brit. “I told him it’s very special for us because we can witness history being made today”. The two have such great respect for each other which goes to show that the quality, maturity and spirit of modern-day drivers hasn’t changed from the days of Sir Stirling Moss and Sir Jackie Stewart.
As I said, wow, what a race.