Turkey is back once more and is the replacement round for the cancelled Singapore Grand Prix. Istanbul Park hosts round 16 of the 2021 Formula 1 season with the championship on a knife-edge between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
The latter leads the way in the standings but only but two points. Russia went the way of the Mercedes driver but the recovery effort by Verstappen leaves Hamilton in a tough position entering this weekend, with an engine penalty reportedly hanging over his head.
Work has taken place at Istanbul Park since last year’s chaotic edition to improve grip after a late resurfacing job left drivers “looking like idiots” according to George Russell as they scraped for traction. Rain only worsened the field of play and a repeat of the wet weather isn’t out of the question on one day this weekend at least.
It will also be the final round before an extensive long-haul schedule brings the season to a close with visits to America and the Middle East rounding out the year.
Here is what to keep an eye out for during the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix weekend.
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As far as modern era F1 trophies go, the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix isn’t half bad. In a world of soulless Heineken stars and other efforts that are lacking in creativity, a celebration of one of the most famous corners on a track built this side of 2000 stands out. The design is a step up from the usual Crypto and co eyesores.
The everlasting Turn 8 used to be a severe challenge for drivers in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but the F1 cars of today should handle the sweeping section no problem, making for a tantalising prospect to watch on board as they speed through.
Rain and a fresh resurfacing-gone-wrong prevented us from getting anything like full throttle through the entirety of the corner last season, but 2021 might be the year we see the bravest rewarded in a brilliant corner.
Grid penalty looming for Hamilton
Seen a ghost? Hamilton walks away as rival Verstappen pulls up in P2
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Mercedes is still undecided as to whether or not it should take a grid penalty with Lewis Hamilton this weekend.
Team boss Toto Wolff has admitted that a single mistake from either championship contender between now and the end of the season could spell the end of their title charges, so an ill-timed penalty would be catastrophic for the defending champion.
But it’s not just an imminent back-of-the-grid start that will concern Hamilton, after team-mate Valtteri Bottas was forced into using a second fresh engine when the new unit Mercedes introduced in Monza developed an issue.
The Mercedes power unit has been showing some frailties this season and Hamilton won’t want the nightmare situation of taking a penalty for a fresh engine that then breaks down, potentially resulting in another new engine penalty.
All this is set against Verstappen’s P2 finish in Russia, having started on the last row of the grid due to his new power unit. It was a brilliant result for the Dutch driver to minimise the damage of his engine penalty and had Hamilton doubting what he was seeing in parc fermé as the Red Bull pulled up alongside.
The new track made for a very difficult weekend for drivers in 2020
Grand Prix Photo
Not from the skies this time but Turkish GP organisers have water-blasted the track surface in order to avoid the same issues that made its fresh resurfacing job a nightmare for teams and drivers.
In its preparations for a return to the Formula 1 calendar in 2020, the Istanbul Park circuit was resurfaced late in the year just ahead of the Grand Prix which resulted in a track surface that was treacherous and gave little in the way of grip, no matter the weather conditions.
Cold temperatures only added to the headache and 2020 FP1 ended with times 15sec down on F1’s previous visit to Turkey back in 2011.
This year should be better. Work has been carried out to improve conditions and give greater levels of grip to the drivers where there was none last season. Hopes of seeing the current cars flat out around Turn 8 aren’t over yet.
Has McLaren found the sweet spot?
Despite missing out on victory, McLaren looked in form once again in Russia
Grand Prix Photo
The last two races have included a marked improvement for the papaya orange cars from Woking and there is a real sense that the team is on the up in the Formula 1 food chain.
At Monza, Daniel Ricciardo was able to secure his first race victory since leaving Red Bull and Sochi would surely have belonged to Lando Norris had the forecast remained dry to the end.