Bottas wins but could Hamilton have finished higher? 2021 Turkish GP report


On the one hand, Lewis Hamilton started the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix 11th and recovered to finish fifth. On the other, he was running third before a late pit call. Could the result prove crucial in the tight title race?

Valtteri Bottas sprays himself in the face with champagne at the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

One Mercedes dominates, the other secures a strong recovery drive, and yet all of the talk is on whether Mercedes screwed up.

That’s the nature of this year’s championship fight. Five points were the difference between where Lewis Hamilton was when he made a late pit stop and where he finished, but they’re five points that could certainly define this title come Abu Dhabi.

Whatever does define it, there have been plenty of opportunities for big slip-ups from both contenders, but they can barely be separated as we head into the final six races of the season.

Hamilton started from 11th but would have been rubbing his hands with glee when he saw the weather evolving on Sunday morning. Early rain was predicted, but what wasn’t was it continuing to drizzle, with low temperatures ensuring it was a properly wet track come lights out.

All 20 started on the intermediate tyre – music to the ears of Yuki Tsunoda who would have been the only car starting on softs – and Valtteri Bottas did exactly what he needed to by comfortably retaining his lead into Turn 1.


Bottas leads the field at the start of the race

Xavi Bonilla / DPPI

Max Verstappen slotted in behind him with Charles Leclerc also holding station in third, but there was drama directly behind as Sergio Perez, Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso went three-wide in the wet.

It would be a surprise if Alonso hadn’t been paying attention a year ago but he wasn’t really given any other option given his grid slot, and when he turned in from the outside he became the second Renault-powered cars to be tapped into a spin by the car in the middle.

A year ago it was Daniel Ricciardo clipping Esteban Ocon in low grip conditions, this time it was Gasly who was handed a somewhat harsh five-second time penalty.

Fernando Alonso spins at the start of the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix

Gasly nudge on Alonso earned the Frenchman a 5sec penalty

Dan Istitene/F1via Getty Images

“We came into Turn 1 and I saw Checo was on the inside,” Gasly said. “I had to give him some space because I didn’t know how much space he was going to give me, and at the same time Fernando appeared on the outside, I got in the middle, tried to go where I could and unfortunately there was contact.”

Alonso soon earned himself the same penalty for hitting Mick Schumacher early in his recovery attempt, but after that the race settled down somewhat. All of the action was provided by two cars – Hamilton and Carlos Sainz – as others tried to protect their inters.

Hamilton took a few laps to clear Tsunoda but did so impressively around the outside of Turn 3, before Lance Stroll was dispatched at Turn 4. For Sainz it was a much more simple equation as he went by George Russell, Kimi Räikkönen, Antonio Giovinazzi and Esteban Ocon at Turn 12 to rise to 11th place.

Sebastian Vettel and Carlos Sainz collide at the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix

Sainz’s smooth progress through the grid was interrupted when he bumped with Vettel

François Flamand / DPPI

Next up was Sebastian Vettel, but the Ferrari driver didn’t keep that one quite as clean as he took too much kerb on the inside and slid into the Aston Martin, but both continued unscathed.

“We had very strong pace in the wet and then as the track was drying out we were following the conditions really well,” Sainz said. “There were a lot of overtakes, I did every single overtake on track – I didn’t get lucky at any point, I had to send it a couple of times!

Related article

“With Seb it was a tricky one, I already said sorry to him because I was a bit over-optimistic. But these Mercedes engines are a little bit difficult to pass so you either go for it under braking or you don’t pass them. I wanted to keep the recovery going and I didn’t want to get stuck, and it worked.”

Hamilton had similarly used the run to Turn 12 to clear Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly to run fifth, but at this point the focus was on tyres. The track was barely drying and the intermediates were starting to wear down, but a Daniel Ricciardo stop showed that fresh inters were only good for a lap or two before another graining phase and then similar pace.

“These tyres are basically like slicks now, there’s no surface left but that’s OK,” Bottas said on team radio. Everyone was seeing how long they could run with the aim of switching to slicks, but the track didn’t dry enough.

Valtteri Bottas on worn intermediate tyres at the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix

“The intermediates are basically like slicks now,” said Bottas just after lap 20

Clive Mason/F1 via Getty Images

Hamilton caught Perez for fourth place but the Red Bull driver played the perfect team role as he thrillingly held off the Mercedes, even needing to cut from the pit entry back to the track after being forced wide by Hamilton as they went wheel-to-wheel through the final sector and Turn 1.

“It was pretty intense at that point because Lewis really got me at the worst time of my race today because I was struggling so much with my tyres at that point,” Perez said. “That first stint was so difficult for me, especially towards the end and Lewis was pretty fast.

“I think at the time he was the fastest car on track, so to hold him back at that point was pretty challenging. We had a good fight. Had to even avoid the pit bollard on pit entry, but it was a good fight overall, and managed to stay ahead.”

Lewis Hamilton fights with Sergio Perez at the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix

Perez got the better of intense dice with Hamilton

François Flamand / DPPI

By this stage, Norris had pit for fresh inters as the older tyres started to fade, and Red Bull responded with Verstappen on Lap 36. Bottas could simply cover having pulled out an advantage of over six seconds, and Perez followed the lead Mercedes in.

That left Leclerc – who had been keeping Verstappen honest to the tune of two seconds – and Hamilton in first and fourth, but Leclerc soon locked up heavily into Turn 12 and it became clear he’d struggle to go to the end without a pit stop, despite it being allowed as the race was wet.

“At least from my side, I didn’t consider going through the whole race in one set, because at some point I started to feel a bit of vibration from the tyres, they were like slicks and eventually they would get to the canvas,” Bottas said. “I was having in my mind we would be stopping at some point. I don’t know about the team yet, about what they were thinking about, but I’m glad we stopped. Obviously, Max stopped first and we just covered him.

“When I was gaining on Charles, he was still on his first set of tyres, he was really quick on the bits that were a bit drier and I was quicker on the points were a bit wetter, because I had fresh tyres.

“Just when I was closing on him, my tyres started to grain quite a bit, but I was still catching him. Obviously my tyres grained until the point they were slicks again, and then they were fine. There was a bit of a pace difference, he had a couple of lock ups and when I got him he had a bit of a snap coming out of the last corner, so that helped.”

Valtteri Bottas passes Charles Leclerc for the lead of the 2021 Tuyrkish Grand Prix

Leclerc and his old intermediates were defenceless as Bottas passed for the lead

Xavi Bonilla / DPPI

With the lead lost, Leclerc finally stopped, promoting Hamilton to third place. Mercedes tried to call him in and the defending champion questioned the move, having made a similar decision work a year ago in Turkey. But having backed Hamilton’s call, Mercedes eventually told him to pit with eight laps remaining as his pace started to drop off, with Perez and Leclerc closing him down.

That decision dropped Hamilton to fifth, and after initially catching Leclerc quickly he then went through the graining phase that others had suffered earlier on the drying track, leaving him defending from Gasly and telling Mercedes it had made the wrong decision bringing him in.

Related article

But Mercedes maintained he would have dropped behind Perez and Leclerc regardless, and probably even further had it risked staying out.

“For me it’s hard to want to give something up when you don’t fully know the whole picture,” Hamilton accepted afterwards. “That’s why you have to rely on your team and accept the choices they make and hope it’s the right one.

“I always say we win and lose as a team. I listened to the team today. Could we have stayed out? Who knows. If you look at a couple of others that did they dropped off massively and lost positions so it was a risk either way.”


Hamilton was critical of the call to pit


It was still a number of points and a fresh power unit gained for Hamilton, whose fifth place with Verstappen second saw him lose eight points to his title rival – one more than Verstappen lost in Russia two weeks ago. That it was similar is thanks to their respective team-mates; with Bottas dominant and Perez defensive, it was a race where the influence of the second cars was keenly felt.

“Considering our whole weekend being a bit off the pace compared to Mercedes I think we had quite a decent race,” Verstappen said. “In the beginning I just tried to follow Valtteri but of course we had to manage the tyres so I just dropped back a bit.

“At one point we started to pick-up the pace a little bit, also because the track was drying a bit but there was no point where I would attack Valtteri and he was just managing his race.

“I think it’s very nice to be up here, both of us, especially after a weekend where I think we were struggling a bit for pace, so to still, let’s say, maximise the outcome with two cars is a really good result for us.”

Blurred image of Valtteri Bottas at the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix

There was no chance of catching Bottas, said Verstappen after the race


Leclerc’s attempts to win eventually dropped him to fourth after a very competitive run, with Gasly rueing his penalty as he ended up sixth. Norris was right behind the AlphaTauri at the flag as McLaren struggled compared to recent form, while Sainz also had reasons to be resentful as a nine-second pit stop cost him a shot at the top five.

The top eight were well clear, with Lance Stroll 30sec adrift in ninth after overtaking Esteban Ocon late on. Ocon was the only driver to complete the non-stop strategy but he was passed by Stroll with six laps to go and finished 20 seconds behind the Aston Martin, in a show of what could have befallen Hamilton without his stop.

But it will remain a ‘could’ that is likely to be debated long after the season is over, because in such a tight battle such decisions are pivotal. Given the risk involved and from where he started, it felt like the right one at the time.


2021 Turkish Grand Prix results

Position Driver Team Time Points
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 58 laps 25
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull +14.584sec 18
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull +33.390sec 15
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +37.814sec 12
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +41.812sec 10
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +44.292sec 8
7 Lando Norris McLaren +47.213sec 6
8 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +51.526sec 4
9 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +1min 22.018sec 2
10 Esteban Ocon Alpine +1 lap 1
11 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 lap
12 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo +1 lap
13 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +1 lap
14 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri + 1 lap
15 George Russell Williams +1 lap
16 Fernando Alonso Alpine +1 lap
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams +1 lap
18 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +1 lap
19 Mick Schumacher Haas +2 laps
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas +2 laps

*Includes additional point for fastest lap