Sunday, November 15, 2020

Stroll Scores First Formula 1 Pole In A Soaker In Turkey

Photo Credit: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Image/Pirelli

In the previous 13 Formula 1 events held in 2020, there had been only one team securing pole position. Without doubt contributing to their seventh consecutive Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship title, the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team succeeded in putting drivers Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas into the top spot on the grid. Even as the tour shuffled the schedule to operate in spite of this year’s COVID-19 global pandemic the Mercedes team showed the impressive ability to adapt to new tracks. With the 14th round in Turkey, Formula 1's return to Intercity Istanbul Park would throw a wet wrench into the factory team’s desire to continue on its season-long qualifying domination. 

The Formula 1 circuit last visited Turkey in 2011 with the event won by Sebastian Vettel from pole driving at that time with Red Bull Racing. The 2020 revival of the Turkish Grand Prix weekend saw Red Bull Racing at the top of the time sheets in all three practice sessions. Max Verstappen recorded fastest times on both Friday and Saturday morning while Alexander Albon posted a second-quickest time in the first practice session and was with the top-five runners in the other two periods on the 5.338-kilometer track. In an unusual spectacle, the Mercedes-AMG teammates were being outclassed ahead of qualifying. Valtteri Bottas was the fastest of the squad in posting a third-quickest time in the second practice but was eighth in the third practice outing on a wet Istanbul course. The surreal nature of Mercedes-AMG’s performances in practice sessions would serve as a prelude to a wacky qualifying.

A steady rain drenched the Intercity Istanbul Park track that was recently repaved prior to this year’s grand prix. The slick, wet 14-turn race course led to a white-knuckle driving experience for the entire field as they rushed to set a lap time. Some teams sending drivers out on intermediate Pirelli tires and immediately noted the challenge of finding grip on the track. With even full wet weather tires provided little aid to competitors, Formula 1 race control elected to red flag the Q1 session with 6 minutes and 56 seconds remaining. After a 45-minute break in the action, the qualifying session resumed under improved yet still challenging conditions. Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean sliding into the gravel trap in turn 1 resulted in another red flag before the first qualifying session finally concluded with Max Verstappen’s Honda-powered Red Bull race car posting a 1-minute. 57.485-second lap time followed by teammate Alexander Albon. 

Charles Coates/LAT Images/Pirelli

The Q2 session for Turkish Grand Prix qualifying was less chaotic as wet weather tires allowed drivers to maintain some adhesion with the Istanbul circuit. Verstappen again led competitors out of the time trial session with a 1-minute, 50.293-second time with Albon, Lewis Hamilton, Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi rounding out the top-five. Failing to break into the top-10 included both cars from McLaren Racing and Scuderia Ferrari. 

In the final 12-minute Q3 session, the conditions gave all ten entrants a somewhat fair chance to obtain pole position especially as some drivers would migrate to intermediate tires for their final runs. With six minutes remaining, Racing Point driver Sergio Perez set the top mark with a 1-minute, 52.037-second lap time around the Intercity Istanbul Park with intermediate tires. As time expired for Q3, the Mexican bettered his time performing a 1-minute, 49.321-second lap. However, Perez’s Racing Point teammate Lance Stroll mustered together the session’s best lap time to take his first-ever Formula 1 pole.   

Setting a 1-minute, 47.765-second time on the wet Intercity Istanbul Park using intermediate Pirelli tires, Canada’s Lance Stroll was elated as he celebrated the career achievement. “When I was told over the radio that I had taken pole position, I was thinking: ‘pinch me, I’m dreaming!’. I’m still a little lost for words: I’ve dreamt of days like these and it’s a special moment.” said the driver of the #18 Racing Point RP20 in a post-qualifying report on the team’s website. The effort for Stroll is a welcomed change in fortunes based on his recent grand prix events in 2020. Following a strong first part of the season where Stroll regularly placed in the points and scored a podium at Monza, he has not scored a championship point in four events and missed the Eifel Grand Prix due to COVID-19. Lance Stroll prepares to start his first Formula 1 grand prix on the pole position seeking to complete the total reversal of his recent luck with victory on Sunday. Stroll’s pole is the first achieved by a Canadian driver since Jacques Villeneuve started at the front of the European Grand Prix in 1997. 

Stroll’s qualifying performance was enough to fend off a late lap posted by Max Verstappen who also outran Sergio Perez at the end of Q3. Verstappen’s front row start comes as he prepares to rise above the last race at Imola where a tire failure cost the Dutch driver a strong podium finish.

Starting third for Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix, Sergio Perez will be positioned directly behind his teammate ahead of the 58-lap race. The qualifying performance by both Stroll and Perez was an overall impressive effort for Racing Point. Positioned alongside the Mexican driver on the second row of the Turkish Grand Prix is Verstappen’s teammate Alexander Albon.

Daniel Ricciardo and his Renault finished qualifying as the fastest on full rain tires. Ricciardo’s teammate Esteban Ocon starting in seventh place and Kimi Raikkonen were the only other drivers preferring the set their best Q3 times using wet weather tires. 

Photo Credit: Charles Coates/LAT Images/ Pirelli

In the qualifying session where their pole-winning streak was broken, Mercedes-AMG experienced a comparably dreadful performance in Turkey on Saturday compared to the 2020 Formula 1 season prior to this weekend. The 2020 winner at the Intercity Istanbul Park track, Lewis Hamilton starts the Turkish Grand Prix in sixth place while Valtteri Bottas is positioned in ninth after qualifying. Entering Sunday’s race with an 85-point lead in the drivers’ standings, Hamilton can potentially clinch his seventh Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship. 

The winner of the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix in 2005, Kimi Raikkonen provided a sterling performance in the wet weather with his Alfa Romeo C39 race car. Raikkonen will start eighth for Sunday’s main event after a qualifying session that showed the Finnish driver putting in one of his finest efforts since last winning with Ferrari in 2018 at the United States Grand Prix. The bizarre qualifying round at the Intercity Istanbul Park track was favourable for both Alfa Romeo Racing drivers as Raikkonen’s teammate Antonio Giovinazzi also broke into Q3 settling for a tenth place starting spot. 

In the last Turkish Grand Prix, the circuit recorded the highest number of dry weather overtaking moves in a Formula 1 race since 1983. Set for 58 laps around the 5.338-kliometer track, the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix is staged with the likelihood of more wet weather. The start of the race is set for 1:10 P.M. local time (5:10 A.M. Eastern time).

2020 Formula 1
Turkish Grand Prix
Starting Grid

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