Friday, November 20, 2020

Lewis Hamilton Locks Up Seventh Champion with Turkish Grand Prix Victory

Photo Credit: LAT Images for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd

Located within a city that connects the European and Asian continents, Intercity Istanbul Park had been widely regarded as one of the finest tracks in Formula 1 when the tour visited it between 2005 and 2011 for the Turkish Grand Prix. Designed by Hermann Tilke inspired by tracks including Spa-Francorchamps, Suzuka and even WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway, the 14-turn, 5.338-kilometer course has been lauded by drivers and by fans. Sadly, despite an attempt to have a crowd in the grandstands for this race weekend months prior, the 2020 return of the Turkish Grand Prix would run without spectators due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Spared of what ended up being a wet Saturday and Sunday at the Istanbul track, fans unfortunately missed witnessing one of the most unpredictable grand prix events of the already unusual 2020 season. 

A prelude to what would be a wild 2020 Turkish Grand Prix was the rain-drenched qualifying session taking nearly two hours to complete due to an extended red flag. Racing Point driver Lance Stroll captured his first Formula 1 pole in a late battle between Max Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Perez. Sunday’s 58-lap feature event allowed the young Canadian to preside at the front of field as the 20-car field prepared to take on a wet Intercity Istanbul Park surface. The first race in 2020 where a Mercedes-AMG factory race car did not start at the front, the Turkish Grand Prix saw the usually stable seasonal front-runners Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas would be placed in sixth and ninth respectively on the grid.

Though there would be no rainfall for the start of the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, all but the two Williams Racing team cars started the race on full wet weather tires as the recently resurfaced 5.338-kilometer race track was still soaked. From his first Grand Prix pole position, Lance Stroll performed a stellar start holding onto an early lead during what was a busy entrance into the Intercity Istanbul Park’s turn one. Sharing the front row of the grid with Stroll’s Mercedes-Benz powered Racing Point car, Max Verstappen was ambushed after a poor launch. The Red Bull Racing driver left the first turn in fifth place aided when the Mercedes-AMG race car of Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon spun in the corner after making contact. Both Bottas and Ocon remained running but have a difficult race. 

Photo Credit: Charles Coates/LAT Images/Pirelli

Starting third, Sergio Perez skillfully navigated his way to second place into the first turn resulting in the Racing Point cars running in the top two positions early in the Turkish Grand Prix for what could be a highlight moment for the organization. Other drivers improving positions at the start of the race included Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Hoping the clinch his seventh Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship in Turkey, Hamilton jumped to third early in the first lap but his Mercedes-AMG race car slid wide later in the opening lap falling back to sixth place. 

Although the full 58-lap distance of the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix presented slick conditions for competitors, the race’s progression saw the track surface drying leading to the field to abandon their wet weather tires for intermediate tread tires. While Williams Racing drivers Nicholas Latifi and George Russell started on intermediate tires from pit road, the remainder of competitors pitted between lap 6 and lap 12. Ferrari was the first team to begin swapping Pirelli tires when they pitted Charles Leclerc on the sixth lap. Leader Lance Stroll came to the attention of his Racing Point pit crew on lap 9 and would recapture the top spot in the race after lap 12. The stops came just ahead of a brief virtual safety car period used to retrieve the stopped Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi. 

The Turkish Grand Prix ended up being the tale of two races for Lance Stroll. From the start in wet conditions, Stroll took advantage of a clear track and compiled a lead of more than five seconds over his teammate in second place. After accumulating a 10-second lead on teammate Sergio Perez, the #18 Racing Point RP20 began to slowly lose its advantage at the front. By lap 24, the gap between first and second draw to within four seconds and Perez would close to within a second of Stroll by lap 35. As the Mexican shadowed his Canadian teammate on lap 36, Racing Point pitted Stroll’s car for a second set of intermediate tires. Returning to the track in fourth place, Lance Stroll was no longer at the wheel of a potentially winning car in Turkey. Citing graining of the latter two sets of tires, the pole-sitting vehicle would run the remainder of the Turkish Grand Prix recording some of the slowest lap times. Losing ground to the majority of the top-10 runners, Stroll limped his Racing Point across the finish line in ninth place. Although scoring his first championship points since his third place finish at Monza in early September, Lance Stroll left the Istanbul track on Sunday falling short of the promising result that might have been. 

Photo Credit: Mark Sutton/LAT Images/Pirelli

Following Stroll’s second pit stop, Sergio Perez inherited the lead of the grand prix. Unfortunately for the veteran Mexican driver who has been chasing his first Formula 1 win since he joined the tour in 2011, the Turkish Grand Prix would not be sight of victory. While Lance Stroll was losing pace as the race shifted from wet to intermediate tires, the Mercedes-AMG of Lewis Hamilton showed the performance the German team had largely lacked over the weekend. Seven seconds behind Perez on lap 32, Hamilton closed to within two seconds of the #11 Racing Point by the end of lap 36. Holding the lead for less than a lap, Sergio Perez was rapidly overtaken by Lewis Hamilton under braking into turn 12 on lap 37.

While Hamilton pulled out a considerable lead over the field in last third of the event in Turkey, a fight second place shaped up as the Racing Point started to feel pressure from the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel. On the final lap of the Turkish Grand Prix, Sergio Perez slid on the exit of turn 9 and allowed Leclerc to take the second place spot on the exit of turn 10. However, just as the driver of the #16 Ferrari benefited from a competitor overshooting a corner, he himself would fall victim to a last lap miscalculation on the slippery Intercity Istanbul Park track. Entering turn 12, Leclerc slid wide allowing Perez to retake second place as well as the Ferrari driven by Sebastian Vettel to pass for third. 

Taking the chequered flag 31.6 seconds before the second-place driver, Lewis Hamilton took 2020 Turkish Grand Prix and his 10th win of the season. Additionally, Hamilton’s win clinches the 2020 Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship with three races remaining on the schedule. In the year where the Brit equalled and succeeded Michael Schumacher in all-time Formula 1 grand prix victories, Hamilton is now tied with the German driver for World Drivers’ Championship titles with seven. 

Photo Credit: LAT Images for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd

Falling short of victory, Sergio Perez and Racing Point celebrates a strong effort together in Istanbul. Perez’s first podium since the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the Mexican’s only other runner-up finishes came with an upset performance at the Malaysian Grand Prix and the Italian Grand Prix in 2012. Looking for a new ride in Formula 1 or in another form of motorsports, Perez continues to make an impression in 2020 as he bids farewell to Racing Point. The second-place finish for Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll’s ninth place result allows Racing Point to take possession of third place in the Formula 1 Constructors’ standings currently five points ahead of McLaren.

The story of Sebastian Vettel’s 2020 Formula 1 campaign prior to the Turkish Grand Prix is well-documented. Following five previous seasons that did not produce a drivers’ or constructor championship, many observers consider the pairing of Ferrari and Vettel as a disappointment on that front before looking at this year. With the team appearing to favour the younger Charles Leclerc, the Ferrari/Vettel partnership is set to end after 2020. This planned separation has arguably had some effect on the year as Sebastian Vettel’s best run in 2020 was a sixth place result in the Hungarian Grand Prix while Leclerc has two podium finishes and generally outscores his German teammate. In this complicated race in Turkey, Sebastian Vettel showed his most competitive form of the season. Though his first podium since the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix came due to a mistake by his teammate, Vettel nonetheless ran solidly with the leaders throughout the Turkish Grand Prix. With Charles Leclerc crossing the line in fourth place after starting in 12th place, Ferrari has given their hard-core fans some sense of relief that progress can be made with their SF1000 race car.   

Qualifying 13th but forced to start 15th on the grid after receiving a penalty in qualifying impeding Sergio Perez in the session, Carlos Sainz Jr. and his McLaren team managed to score an impressive 5th place finish after 58 laps. Scoring points in the last four grand prix events, Sainz passes his teammate Lando Norris in the season’s drivers’ points standings. Norris Finished eighth in the Turkish Grand Prix but also gained the additional point in the race for achieving the fastest lap at 1-minutes, 36.806 seconds (almost 11 seconds faster than Lance Stroll’s pole time on Saturday).

With drivers finishing in sixth and seventh place, Red Bull Racing had an underwhelming result at the Turkish Grand Prix. After almost capturing pole on Saturday, Max Verstappen showed speed with his Honda-powered race car but also drifted off track on several occasions. Verstappen as well as his teammate Alexander Albon found inconsistency performing on the slick Intercity Istanbul Park circuit. Finishing ahead of Albon, Max Verstappen’s chance at a podium result was foiled by the necessity of a third pit stop after a lap 18 dice with second-place Sergio Perez. Attempting to pass the Racing Point, the #33 Red Bull race car lost control on a wet portion of the track. Spinning twice and coming to a brief stop, Verstappen resumed but the incident led to the premature end for his tires requiring him to pit just seven laps after the initial stop for intermediate tires.

Photo Credit: Charles Coates/Motorsport Images for American Honda Motor Co.

Rounding out the top 10 for the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix is the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo. Ricciardo finished ahead of teammate Esteban Ocon who beat the two AlphaTauri racers across the finish line. The trip to Istanbul was only the second twice in 2020 that the AlphaTauri team failed to score championship points. Despite the adventurous conditions in the 58-lap event, the list of retirements from the Turkish Grand Prix was relatively low at just four cars (Magnussen finished 55 laps but did not take the chequered flag).

Leaving Turkey, Formula 1 now has a 2020 World Drivers’ Champion and three races remaining. The next race will be the Bahrain Grand Prix on November 29th serving as one of two events being held on the Bahrain International Circuit. 

2020 Formula 1
Turkish Grand Prix
Race Results

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