Wow. What a race that was. 2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year with F1, and the Turkish Grand Prix continued the trend of unexpected twists and turns. Formula One returned to Istanbul for the first time in nine years, and the race certainly didn’t disappoint. Sit back and relax, because this review is going to be a fun one.
Before we talk about the craziness that we just witnessed, let’s rewind to yesterday to summarise the equally bizarre qualifying session.
Qualifying for the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix was the definition of a ‘nightmare’ for the Formula One drivers as the Istanbul Park had essentially become an ice rink following the resurfacing of the track in preparation for this weekend’s race. Friday and Saturday morning’s free practice sessions saw a lot of drivers make mistakes during the damp, slippery conditions and many wondered about whether it would be safe to race on Sunday. However, the field pressed on, and qualifying was just as dramatic as you would expect.
The first qualifying session had barely started when Max Verstappen would bring a yellow flag out after running wide and half-spinning across the track on what would be one of many spins that we saw throughout the race weekend. A lot of the drivers were unsure whether they should be on the full wet tyres, or the intermediate tyres for the session – but most opted for the former. A lot of drivers, including both Mercedes struggled with their tyres, and the conditions had become a free-for-all. A red flag was brought out with 6 minutes remaining in the session as the conditions were reducing visibility.
Green flag running would only continue for three minutes before Romain Grosjean would bring out another red flag, due to braking too heavily into Turn 1 and spinning his car into the gravel traps. Thankfully, three minutes is plenty of time for the drivers to complete another flying lap, and the Red Bulls would top the session with ease. Kimi Raikkonen would finish the session in third, with both Ferraris behind him. It was a very close for Lewis Hamilton, who was two positions away from the drop-zone in 14th place. The drivers eliminated were in the following order – Magnussen, Kvyat, Russell, Romain Grosjean (who spun out) and Latifi (who also spun out).
Moving on to Q2, and it was the Red Bulls that continued to set the pace. Verstappen would top the session, with teammate Alex Albon in second. Hamilton was able to get to grips (not literally) with the conditions and slot into third place, while Bottas crossed the line in seventh. It was a disappointing session for McLaren, with Norris and Sainz missing out on Q3 by starting 11th and 12th respectively, followed by an equally disappointed Vettel and Leclerc in 13th and 14th – who really expected more after having good pace in the conditions during practice. Pierre Gasly would be the final driver to be eliminated.
Finally, let’s talk about Q3, with a result that nobody expected. Max Verstappen set the pace with the Wet tyres, and the rest of the field followed; but about halfway through the session, Perez and Stroll switched to the Intermediate tyres. These tyres ended up being the faster of the two compounds, and Perez would set the provisional pole time. Verstappen made the switch over to the Intermediate tyres too, but wasn’t able to get enough heat into the tyres to make them work. In the end, Verstappen would remain in second place, pushing Perez down to third, but Lance Stroll sets the fastest laptime out of nowhere to claim his first ever pole position – it was thoroughly deserved! Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton would start as low as sixth place, while Valtteri Bottas only set a time fast enough for ninth. The final qualifying order for the top 10 would be – Lance Stroll in pole, ahead of Max Verstappen in second and teammate Sergio Perez in third. The second Red Bull of Alex Albon would qualify in fourth, alongside Daniel Ricciardo in fifth and Lewis Hamilton in sixth. Esteban Ocon and Kimi Raikkonen would line up in seventh and eighth respectively, while Bottas qualified in ninth, and Antonio Giovinazzi in tenth for an impressive double-Q3 for Alfa Romeo.
What an unexpected qualifying that was! Now let’s skip forward a day to talk about the race.
As the five lights went out to begin a soaking wet Turkish Grand Prix, it was Max Verstappen that had the worst start of the entire field. The Dutchman had a lot of wheelspin off the line and was overtaken by a lot of cars on the run down to Turn 1. Lance Stroll was able to hold position, and Sergio Perez followed in second place. Lewis Hamilton was able to pass Verstappen off the line and draw alongside both Renaults, as well as his teammate on the far outside (who had a great start). This four-wide moment is where the luck would end, as Ricciardo would be squeezed by Hamilton and Ocon, causing the Australian to hit Ocon and spin him around. Bottas braked hard to avoid Esteban, but spun his W11 around himself, dropping him right to the back of the field – not ideal when you need to finish ahead of your teammate to keep your championship hopes alive.
Sebastian Vettel made a fantastic getaway to put himself into fourth place, behind Lewis Hamilton and ahead of Max Verstappen. At the end of the lap, Lewis Hamilton ran wide at Turn 9 and cut the chicane, causing him to lose a position to Vettel and Verstappen. Esteban Ocon pits at the end of the first lap after more contact with Bottas on the opening lap, fitting another set of Wet tyres.
On Lap 7, Charles Leclerc pitted to switch his Wet tyres for a set of Intermediates, which had many wondering if it was too early for the transition. However, the Monégasque started setting purple sectors, which saw Bottas pit a lap later, followed by Hamilton and Vettel on Lap 9 – all fitting the green-walled tyres. Max Verstappen opted to stay out, as he had been stuck behind Vettel since the start of the race, and started trying to close down the fifteen second gap to Perez in second place.
Lap 10 sees race leader – Lance Stroll – pit for a set of Intermediate tyres, while Perez stays out and leads the race. Stroll had built such a big lead that he emerged from the pits still in fourth place! Perez, Ricciardo and Sainz all pit on Lap 11, switching to the Intermediate tyres as the track starts to dry out. Verstappen opted to stay out and lead the race, ahead of teammate Alex Albon in second place, and he expressed his concerns of switching to the Intermediates too early, and didn’t make his stop until lap 12. His stop was a ‘slow’ four seconds, though he was still able to leave the pits and jump Vettel. The Red Bull driver was sliding around as he was trying to build temperature in his fresh tyres, while Vettel and Hamilton hunt him down behind, having a battle of their own in the process.
Verstappen starts to pull away from the squabbling champions as Albon makes his stop on Lap 13, which was poorly timed as Giovinazzi would pull over on the back-straight just moments later, prompting a Virtual Safety Car. On lap 18, Max Verstappen had caught up to Sergio Perez and was in the slipstream along the back-straight, getting ready to make a move. The Red Bull driver cut to the inside, but was covered off by Perez (who took the racing line) and Verstappen moved over into the spray from the back of the Racing Point. The brief moment that saw Verstappen blinded from the track caused him to run wide onto the slippery, green run-off kerb and spin at highspeed across the track. The 23-year old would lose positions to Albon, Vettel and Hamilton, then immediately pit due to heavy flat-spots on his tyres.
As the track started to dry, the overtakes started becoming more frequent, with Norris overtaking Kevin Magnussen for tenth place at Turn 12. Meanwhile, Lance Stroll was starting to get concerned about the wear on his Intermediate tyres, though all of the teams were waiting for the track to be ready for dry tyres. DRS is enabled on lap 30, while Sainz makes a move on Daniel Ricciardo at Turn 12.
Lewis Hamilton, who had been struggling with brake temperature throughout the race, said on the radio that the track was ‘nowhere near dry tyres’; and drivers started pitting for new sets of Intermediate tyres – with Daniel Ricciardo being on this list.
A handful of drivers have made the switch to Intermediate tyres at this point, and the newer set is clearly faster, despite many teams wishing they could stay out and wait for dry tyres. Alex Albon is the first of the front runners to pit for a second set of Intermediate tyres on lap 34 after losing a place to Hamilton from a Turn 4 spin. Stroll continues to lead the race, one second ahead of his teammate. Magnussen also retires at the end of the pitlane due to an error during a pitstop.
The most crucial moment of the race happens on Lap 36, when Lance Stroll pits for a new set of Intermediate tyres, but teammate Sergio Perez stays out. Stroll immediately starts struggling on the new tyres with temperature, and loses a lot of places. The Canadian had worked so hard to build up a lead, but he ended up finishing in a heart-breaking 9th place.
On Lap 37, Lewis Hamilton starts putting Perez under pressure, before passing him with DRS into Turn 9. Leclerc passes Vettel at Turn 9 after making use of DRS, while Bottas has his fourth spin of the race. Latifi and Grosjean also have a coming together at Turn 1, which caused damage to the Frenchman’s car.
On Lap 44, Leclerc passes a very slow Max Verstappen, who immediately dives into the pits to make another pitstop onto Intermediate tyres. The race had gone from bad to worse for Max at this point, and the Turkish Grand Prix was definitely a weekend to forget after such a promising start.
Drivers were still spinning during the closing phases of the race, with one of them being Daniel Ricciardo, who lost the back end at Turn 12 after trying to out-brake an attacking Lando Norris. Raikkonen spins at Turn 4 when getting out of the way of the Red Bulls, but Verstappen spins in the exact same place after being distracted by the Alfa Romeo. However, Albon was struggling on his tyres, and Verstappen soon caught him up and passed him on Lap 53.
With just a handful of laps remaining in the race, many teams were reporting that more rain would arrive in the dying laps. Hamilton, who was leading and had a gap of 25 seconds to Perez in second, was asked to make a ‘safety stop’ by Mercedes, but he decided to stay out on his 50 lap-old Intermediate tyres. Lewis crosses the line to take a phenomenal and unlikely win, also crowning him as the 2020 world champion, and equalling another of Michael Schumacher’s ‘unbeatable’ records!
The drama wouldn’t end there, though. At the final three corners on the last lap, Charles Leclerc dives down the inside of Sergio Perez to try and finish in second place, but goes wide and let’s Sebastian Vettel by. Perez would cross the line to finish in second, but Vettel would follow behind in third, followed by Leclerc in fourth. It was a fantastic race for Ferrari, especially considering that they didn’t make it through to Q3…
Another team that was happy with their result is McLaren – finished in a strong 5th place with Carlos Sainz and 8th place for Lando Norris (who also got an extra point for fastest lap). With the pressure of the Racing Points being at the front all race, McLaren did a fantastic job to recover to these positions and remain close to Racing Point in the battle for third in the Constructors Championship.
Overall, I thought the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix was one of the best races we have seen all year, and I would rate it 8.5 out of 10. Not only did Lewis Hamilton make history, but we saw a dramatic race in challenging conditions, a different podium to that we normally see, and also a long-awaited podium for Vettel – which makes every F1 fan happy.
Meanwhile, you can check out the race results below: