In the weekend just gone, we head to Istanbul, for a much more mellow weekend than most.
We start, as we always do, in Q1, which saw some slight rain at the beginning of the session, seeing championship contender Max Verstappen spin in his Japanese styled Red Bull. Those to drop out of the session was Nikita Mazepin in P20, behind the Alpha Romero duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi in P19 and P18 respectively. Nicolas Latifi was P17 and the surprise knockout was McLaren’s last race winner, Daniel Ricciardo.
Into Q2, was the shock attendance of Haas’ Mick Schumacher, placing his car in P14, following Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who had opted to take on a new engine and start from the back, did not set a representative lap time, only coming onto the track in an attempt to aid teammate, Charles Leclerc into Q3. The track was still in a delicate stage, as Sergio Perez spun at Turn 1. George Russell managed to place his WIlliams in P13, with Alpine’s Estaban Ocon and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel in P12 and P11 respectively.
Moving into Q3, we have our 10 drivers ready to fight for Pole Position. Lewis Hamilton was most keen to take P1, due to taking a 10 place grid penalty by replacing his ICE unit (Internal Combustion Engine). On the eve of what should’ve been the Japanese Grand Prix, Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri took P10, after making Q3 for just the 4th time this season, less than a tenth of a second behind Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll in P9. P8 was filled by our Pole sitter in Russia, Lando Norris. The final Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly took an impressive P5, the 12th time in 16 races this season, with Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in P6, and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in P7. Leclerc, following very impressive practice sessions, took P4, with Verstappen claiming P3, right behind the Mercedes pair of Bottas in P2, and Hamilton taking P1, meaning he would start in P11.
Following his poor qualifying, Daniel Ricciardo decided to take on a new engine, meaning he would start from the back of the grid with Sainz. With Hamilton’s grid penalty, that meant Fernando Alonso would start from P5, his first top 5 start of the season. However, rain throughout the Sunday morning was all that was needed to set up an interesting race, with all 20 drivers using the Intermediate tyres.
As the 5 lights go out and the race begins, Bottas, who has been notoriously poor this season in the wet conditions, had a strong start, keeping the lead heading into Turn 1, closely followed by Verstappen and Leclerc. Gasly, starting from P4 following Hamilton’s penalty, had a poorer start than most, getting caught by Perez and Alonso, all going side by side through the first corner, with the Frenchman being sandwiched between the Red Bull and Alpine cars. This would be to the detriment of the 2 time world champion Alonso, as the Alpha Tauri driver made contact with his rear left tyre, sending him into a spin, and tumbling down towards the back of the grid. Perez, following his dive down the inside of Gasly was able to make the move stick and take P4, with Hamilton only gaining a place due to Alonso’s spin. Further back, Lafiti spins later in the lap.
By Lap 2, Hamilton eases his way past Vettel for P9 while Alonso makes an audacious dive bomb on Schumacher going into Turn 4, tagging the Haas and sending it into a spin, and void Mick’s strong qualifying. By Lap 6, Sainz had been making quick work of the slower cars ahead, making a move around the outside of George Russell at Turn 13 for P14, while Ricciardo isn’t too far behind in P16. It takes Hamilton until Turn 3 of Lap 8 to pass Tsunoda around the outside for P8, who had been putting up a strong defence, on what should have been his debut home race in Japan. By the start of Lap 9, Sainz is able to pick off both the Alpha Romero’s for P12. Up ahead, Hamilton went around the outside on Lance Stroll at Turn 3, that Gasly would be given a 5 second time penalty for spinning Alonso. One in which, for me, was very harsh considering how little space he had to move in. This was swiftly followed by Alonso receiving the same penalty for his shunt on Schumacher.
It takes until Lap 12 for Hamilton to catch and pass Lando at Turn 12 for P6. On Lap 14, Sainz was able to pick off Ocon for P11, whereas Ricciardo was unable to pass Russell, remaining stuck all the way back in P16. On the same lap, Sainz is able to scrap his way past Vettel after making a late lunge into Turn 12, making some slight contact on the exit. On Lap 15, Lewis is able to ease his way past Gasly at the very same corner, taking P5, with just Perez and Leclerc in between him and his championship rival. By Lap 18, Sainz had caught and passed Tsunoda. There is little to note until Lap 23, when Ricciardo makes the first pit stop of the race, dropping him to P18, just ahead of the Haas’. Along with this, Tsunoda spun, dropping him from P10 to P13.
As we reach Lap 32/58, Alonso pits, taking his 5 second penalty before his crew can change his tyres, coming out behind Ricciardo into P18. It takes until Lap 34 for Hamilton to catch and attempt a pass on Perez for P4 heading into Turn 12. Perez is able to hold off Lewis’ initial attempt to pass, and is able to remain alongside the Mercedes through the tight corners of Turn 13 and 14. It looks as though Hamilton will be able to breeze past the Mexican out of the exit of Turn 14, and onto the main straight, however, Sergio is able to keep the inside line and take a small dive down into Turn 1 and remain ahead.
On Lap 37, Norris and Verstappen come into the pits, along with Tsunoda, Sainz and Russell. All have good stops, apart from Sainz, who is held in his pit box in order for Mazepin to get past and into his pit box, costing the Spaniard around 6 extra seconds. On Lap 38, Vettel decides to pit onto the dry, Medium tyres, however the gamble doesn’t pay off and he finds himself going off track at nearly every corner. Vettel accepts his error and pits the very next lap. On the same lap, Bottas pits, meaning Leclerc takes the lead in Turkey, with the Finn returning on track, ahead of Verstappen. Perez also pits, opening the door for Hamilton to begin his charge towards the Dutchman. It takes until Lap 40 for Pierre to pit and serve his 5 second penalty, returning to the track in P6.
By Lap 41, Leclerc is asking his team if he would be able to take his set of tyres the whole 58 laps. This is because in the wet conditions, drivers are not forced to pit and are allowed to try and go the entire race on a single set. He isn’t the only man looking to do this, so is Hamilton, and Ocon. Hamilton is asked by his team to pit on Lap 42, but stays out, certain that he can make it to the end and hold his position. Another lap goes by, another call to pit, and again he stays out. Little does Lewis know, he is lapping around a second a lap slower than Verstappen, meaning he likely would be caught and passed. Furthermore, Leclerc is holding a 5 second lead ahead of Valterri. Lap 43 goes by, and again, Lewis stays out.
On Lap 46, Sainz is able to pass Ocon for P8, and on the next lap, his teammate Leclerc is passed by Bottas, who retakes the lead at Turn 1. Following this, Leclerc pits, and rejoins in P4, just ahead of Perez. as we reach Lap 50/58, the top 5 goes as follows; Bottas, Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, Perez. It takes until Lap 51 for Hamilton to pit, coming out between Perez and Gasly, meaning that the step on the podium to be fought over between a Ferrari and a Red Bull, with Hamilton 5 seconds behind. Perez is able to pass Leclerc heading into Turn 12, all while Hamilton is busy complaining over his team’s decision for him to finally pit.
As we enter the final few laps, Perez has put a gap between himself and Leclerc, who has also dropped Hamilton, who sees Gasly and Norris close behind. As we cross the ‘Finnish’ line Valterri Bottas takes his first win since Russian in 2020 in dominant fashion, whereas Ricciardo tumbles down the order on his incredibly worn tyres, slipping behind both the Alpha Romero’s. The podium is filled out with both Red Bulls (Verstappen in P2 and Perez in P3), their first double podium of the season. Both Ferrari’s were in the points, with Leclerc holding off Hamilton for P4 and Sainz climbing into P8 from the back of the grid. Hamilton remained P5, closely followed by Gasly (P6) and Norris (P7), with Stroll putting in a good performance to place his Aston Martin in P9, and the only man not to pit, Esteban Ocon, ending the day P10.
Overall, a quiet race, especially when compared to most of the races we have been treated to this season. For me, Bottas takes my Driver of the Day with a strong and trouble-free day, especially when we look at his previous performance in Istanbul, where he spun a total of 5 times and ended P14. An honourable mention must go to Carlos Sainz, coming from the back of the grid up to P8, and it could have been higher without the slow stop. Perez takes his first podium in 9 races and Max retakes the lead in the Driver’s Championship, now leading by 6 points. The winner of the weekend has to be Bottas, taking possibly his last win for the Silver Arrows before his move to Alpha Romero for the 2022 season, whereas the loser’s of the weekend has to be Alonso and Vettel. Despite having 6 World Championship’s between them, both had sloppy races, making big mistakes which cost them chances of taking good points for their respective teams.
Featured Image Credit: Eurosport