A seventh Formula 1 World Championship for Lewis Hamilton seems inevitable after he won the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and further extended his title lead over Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton can now…
Bottas needs eight more points than his team-mate to deprive him of sealing the title in Turkey. If he’s leading in the closing stages of the race, the 2020 championship could come down to who secures fastest lap at Istanbul.
The Finn has shown better speed on Saturdays but has been blighted with mistakes or poor luck on race day, with the bodywork from Vettel’s Ferrari depriving him of what looked like a drive to victory having retained the lead from pole position at Imola.
Of the two though, Hamilton is the one with experience around the Istanbul circuit, and was the race winner back in 2010, fighting off team-mate Jenson Button to secure the top step following Vettel and Webber’s coming together.
With the constructors’ title secure, it could be gloves off between the two Mercedes drivers from here on out.
The Turkish GP will mark 300 races in F1 for Red Bull, and in that time it has produced several high-calibre drivers as well as a world champion.
While many will tip Max Verstappen as a champion of the future, team-mate Alex Albon is under immense pressure and fighting for his Formula 1 future heading into the final four rounds of the 2020 season.
The Anglo-Thai driver was on course for points in Imola until a late-race spin following the safety car restart, and his prospects for 2021 look ever-slimmer with Yuki Tsunoda lined up to take the second available AlphaTauri seat alongside Pierre Gasly.
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Red Bull were the victors the last time F1 visited Istanbul for a race but the odds of Max Verstappen defending that accolade is unlikely, even with Mercedes’ focus now on 2021 and beyond development-wise.
Around Imola, it appeared as though the Dutchman was keeping race leader Bottas very honest in the opening phase, but the Finn was dealing with a wounded W11, and once Hamilton was unleashed, the true pace of the Mercedes was clear to see.
His record of finishing on the podium whenever he has seen the chequered flag is still intact though. The relative unknown of a circuit last visited almost a decade ago could provide a surprise or two come Sunday.
Might Daniel Ricciardo be feeling a tinge of regret about his move away from Renault for 2021? The team has made clear strides of progress in 2020 and the Australian has been the team’s star performer alongside Esteban Ocon.
His second podium in three races is the proof the French team has taken a crucial step in the fight for third against McLaren and Racing Point. Ricciardo might have a head start versus his rivals again this weekend, even if it is just by a tiny bit.
“I can’t wait for Turkey. I’ve only done one session there in Free Practice 1 in 2011 and it was in the wet, so if it’s dry, it’ll basically be a new track for me. It’s an awesome circuit and a lot of fun to drive.
“It’s going to be pretty cool in a modern Formula 1 car with some fast corners and long periods of time on the throttle. I think it will provide good racing as overtaking should be more straightforward [than Imola]. I think it’s a pretty complete circuit, so I’m certainly looking forward to that.
“I think full beans around there is going to be awesome. Turn Eight is a great corner, but so is Turn One, the downhill, unsighted left. It’s really cool!”
A change in development direction for McLaren has seen the team slip into a rut of form relative to Renault, and while Racing Point has struggled as well, the Woking team is not as far clear in the midfield battle as it once was.
As the season comes into the final stretch, every point and position will be crucial, with Renault moving into third position in the constructors’ standings.
McLaren technical director James Key says getting to grips with the freshly re-laid track surface will be crucial for teams going into qualifying and the race.
It’s one of those tracks which is very technical but fantastic to drive and puts a lot of demand on the car, particularly at Turn Eight with that famous multi-apex corner which will be flat-out in these machines.
“Understanding the track surface, which I believe is new, adds certain challenges to any race weekend,” says Key. “New tarmac is often smooth but also has low grip and can evolve very quickly over a race weekend.
“So, knowing how that’s working in conjunction with the tyres and the set-up of the car is going to be a challenge for Friday, as it has been at recent events with circuits not familiar to us with these cars.”
Since missing the Eifel GP weekend having come down with an illness and later testing positive for Covid-19, it has been a rough few weeks for Lance Stroll.
While the Canadian has not had any strong results to write home about, his Racing Point team have also fumbled at a crucial point in the season in their fight with Renault and McLaren.
Stroll says he’s hoping to turn a corner at Istanbul and believes the team will be able to fight for best of the rest come Sunday.
“I’m feeling good about this weekend,” he said. “We’ve been quite unlucky recently so it’s a chance to score points and get back into a good rhythm. It’s a close fight in the midfield, but I think we’ve got a car that’s going to be competitive at all of the remaining races.”
Team-mate Sergio Perez does have experience around the Istanbul circuit, racing there with Sauber back in 2011. The Mexican says there is a chance his experience will prove vital this weekend as the constructors’ championship battle continues to tighten up.
“It’s a very nice track. It’s very fast and it famously has the long Turn Eight corner. It’s a circuit that’s very physical and we’ll definitely feel it in the neck at the end of the weekend! I’m really looking forward to racing there again.
“When you get the challenge of learning a new circuit or re-learning an older one, it’s an exciting prospect. You can outperform drivers by how quickly you learn the track, so that’s an interesting dynamic too.”
Charles Leclerc has been one of the better performers in recent races, but Sebastian Vettel’s drive at Imola was a sign the Scuderia has made steps forward with its 2020 car.
Vettel had been on for a decent showing until a delayed pit stop undid his hard work during the first stint. Despite the setback, the four-time champion believes the team is making progress with the 2020 car, and that the next few races could show a better level of performance if he can extract more during qualifying.
“I was comfortable in the car even if this year the problem is more severe in qualifying, where I struggle to get a feel for the car,” he said.
“We have to remain patient and continue to make gradual progress, as we have been doing, given that we missed Q3 by just two-tenths yesterday. If we can start from a bit higher up the grid, the next races could bring us better results.”
Team principal Mattia Binotto added the team is hoping to show improved performances before the year is out. Binotto has also recently commented on the team’s 2021 car development, and that the Prancing Horse is expecting more power from next year’s power unit.
“It’s clear to see that we are consolidating the progress we have made in recent races, especially in terms of race pace at a variety of tracks with very different characteristics. That’s important for the rest of this season and for the next one.”
As rumours continued during the Emilia Romagna GP weekend over the future of Red Bull and AlphaTauri’s line-up, Daniil Kvyat put in a timely performance to remind his team he is still a very capable set of hands in the junior outfit.
Whether it is too late for his 2021 F1 hopes or not remains to be seen, with F2 and Honda junior driver Yuki Tsunoda completing a test with the team after the race at Imola, but he will be on equal footing with many others on the grid when they turn left out of the garages on Friday morning.
“I’ve never raced in any category at the Istanbul circuit and, with the current situation, I’ve not even been able to try it on the simulator, so I will be really starting from zero,” Kvyat said. “Of course, I know where the corners go and have watched old races from there.
“I know it runs anti-clockwise, like the last race in Imola, and that it climbs and drops a lot and then there’s the famous Turn Eight that goes on forever. I reckon with the modern F1 cars’ level of downforce, it should be really fast now and require plenty of commitment.
“Then there are some corners that are similar to famous turns at Spa and Interlagos, so I expect it will be an interesting weekend.”
On the back of a double points-scoring finish at Imola, Alfa Romeo is another team celebrating a milestone this weekend as the outfit formerly known as Sauber reaches 500 races in Formula 1.
Last time F1 raced in Turkey, Kamui Kobayashi scored a solitary point for the team, but any repeat would be a welcome result.
“The 500th race for the team is an important milestone, one that shows the incredible heritage of this outfit: we are now in a very small group in the company of some of the most historical teams in the sport and that shows the strength of our project,” team principal Fréd Vasseur said in the team’s preview.
“As an independent team for most of our history, we have shown that it’s possible to build a long-term project and we are confident the best is yet to come – the next 500 races will be even better. It would be nice to celebrate this occasion in style with another good performance, especially after the double points finish we scored in Imola, which was a big confidence boost for the team.
“The progress we have made is a positive, as is scoring points in three of the last five races, but we know there is a lot more work to do before we are where we expect us to be. Returning to Turkey will be another chance to continue on this path: it is another track on which there is not a lot of information available and we can use it to our advantage.”
Last but one and a DNF for Haas at Imola capped off a dismal weekend for the team.
The team struggled to get to grips with the new venue, and thinks are unlikely to get easier with Istanbul awaiting.
Of the two Haas drivers, Romain Grosjean is the one with prior experience of the Turkey GP circuit, racing in the GP2 series in what was his championship year. The Frenchman took victory in the feature race there and says the circuit should provide good racing this weekend.
“I think it’s going to be an outstanding circuit, another really good one. It’s very high speed, there’s ups and downs, different kerbs – again, everything you need to have. There’s some low speed at the end of the circuit for some good overtaking. I think it’s going to be a very good weekend.”
Coming back from his error under the safety car, George Russell will have had time to digest a tough afternoon when a maiden F1 points finish had been a real possibility.
This weekend, he’ll have another chance of achieving the feat around another circuit not originally scheduled for the 2020 season, and it could play into Williams‘ hands once more.
“I am excited to get back racing in Turkey, and for the challenge of driving at a new circuit. It has been good to have a week off to reflect on what happened at Imola and learn from my mistake.
“The recent performance from the car has been really encouraging and I am looking forward to seeing what we can achieve. Overall, I am feeling stronger and prepared to fight back this weekend.
Team-mate Nicholas Latifi almost profited as a result of Russell’s mistake but ended up just outside the top 10 in P11. The Canadian is already looking forward to getting to grips with yet another brand new venue to him.
“I am super excited to get to Istanbul and hit the track there. It is probably one of the newer tracks on the calendar that I was most looking forward to driving. I think it is the only one that I haven’t been to, so it’s always nice as a driver to have the challenge of finding your way around the track.
“From whenever I watched it when they used to race there, it always looked like a fun one.”