On the trickiest of afternoons, Lewis Hamilton splashed through a wet and slippery Istanbul Park track and claimed a memorable victory on a difficult day in Turkey.
From sixth on the grid, he survived a first-lap error and 50 laps on bald intermediates to take the top step and this year’s championship, equalling Michael Schumacher’s seven world titles.
“My family — we dreamed of this when I was young and we were watching the grands prix and this is way, way beyond our dreams,” he said.
“I have to always start with saying such a huge thank you to all the guys who are here and who are back at the factory. The journey we’ve been on is monumental.”
In a hint to his future plans, he added: “I feel like I’m just getting started, I feel in great shape. I would love to stay, I feel like we have a lot of work to do here.”
The rain dissipated half an hour before lights out but most cars started on full wet tyres, as the new track surface retained plenty of water for the drivers to deal with on the opening laps. There was also the threat of further showers later in the day.
Lance Stroll’s formation lap was brisk, the Canadian perhaps using the exploratory lap to find any kind of grip but it left the front quarter of the grid waiting for the rest to arrive for a long time.
Stroll leads into Turn One at the start
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It was a dream getaway though from Stroll and Sergio Perez to leap into a Racing Point one-two on the first lap. Max Verstappen’s launch was the worst of anybody and he slipped down to seventh position with plenty of wheelspin before arriving at Turn One.
Lewis Hamilton was pinched by both Renaults into the first corner but it was the yellow cars that came off worse, as Daniel Ricciardo tapped Esteban Ocon into a spin.
Valtteri Bottas’ slim title hopes were dealt an immediate blow, spinning himself trying to avoid the pirouetting Ocon ahead, and the Finn was down to 18th by the end of lap one following a second spin at Turn Nine.
Hamilton’s first lap wasn’t smooth sailing either, a lock-up into Turn Nine sent him across the grass. A fast-starting Sebastian Vettel and recovering Verstappen were quickly past and Alex Albon snuck his Red Bull through into fifth under braking into Turn 11.
Vettel’s rise through the order on the first lap from 11th was impressive but Verstappen was clearly the faster of the two and desperate to get by in the opening stages.
A lock-up into Turn 11 on lap two though dropped the Dutchman back briefly as drivers continued to search out any form of grip in the slick surface.
Ocon and Bottas were among those to struggle on the slippery surface on lap one
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Ferrari was the first team to blink for intermediates, with Charles Leclerc pitting on lap seven for the green-marked Pirelli tyres to become the first driver in the field to do so, apart from the Williams which started from the pitlane.
He wasn’t the only one who was eager for a switch, with Bottas telling his team he would not be able to make it through the traffic ahead. The Mercedes driver was in a lap later but it was already too late and it cost the Finn track position to Leclerc.
Vettel and Hamilton followed their team-mate’s examples and were both in on lap nine but the Red Bulls soldiered on, hoping for an overcut.
The moves behind brought the race leader in on lap 10, relinquishing the lead to Perez but perhaps still stinging from yesterday’s unfortunate decision to switch to interest in qualifying, Verstappen remained on track despite fast sector times from the others as the crossover point arrived.
Perez’s stop on lap 11 handed the lead to Verstappen and Albon followed through to make it a Red Bull one-two, but they were the only two other than Ocon still running on wet tyres by then.
Lap 12, Verstappen was in and out managing to get out ahead of Vettel and Hamiton in third but only just. Perez’s slow stop dragged him into the fight with the trio behind, but Albon’s stop one lap later cost him even more track position, and he rejoined in sixth.
The first retirement of the afternoon was not from a crash but a mechanical issue. A virtual safety car was deployed on lap 14 to recover the stranded Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi. The VSC was withdrawn on lap 15, but Stroll lost two seconds of his 10sec lead to Perez in the process.
Hamilton was eager to get by Vettel on the restart but an attempt into Turn 11 and lock-up put him wide and Albon was there to pick up the pieces and fifth position.
The Anglo-Thai driver made a move on the Ferrari immediately, moving ahead and putting Hamilton back on the gearbox of Vettel again. His team-mate and title rival was continuing to have a torrid time in the tricky conditions.
A third spin of the afternoon for Bottas sent him back down the order into 15th place from the edge of the points.
Verstappen had been reeling in Perez for second and on lap 19 was closer than ever before. The Mexican ran deep into Turn Nine and opened the door to the Red Bull for a slipstream attempt down the back straight.
Cooped right up underneath the rear wing of the Racing Point, Verstappen lost downforce through the right kink onto the straight and ran wide into the waterlogged run-off, pitching him into a high-speed spin.
Vettel and Hamilton were through as the Dutchman recovered to the pits to replace his now flat-spotted intermediates at the end of lap 19.
Verstappen closed the gap on Perez but span as he tried to pass
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Bottas’ hopes were all but over before the halfway point arrived, and his fourth spin of the afternoon on lap 22 put him down to 17th.
Verstappen’s stop unleashed Albon to chase down the Racing Point duo. Albon was keeping Perez honest at around 1sec behind but Stroll’s lead was down to just 3.5sec having led by three times that after the first stops.
By halfway, the top five were all still within touching distance. Vettel and Hamilton started closing on the top three; first to fifth were covered by just 10sec with the track drying rapidly in places.
All through the field, drivers had begun to seek out the wet patches but there was still plenty of standing water in places to make the switch to slick tyres too big a step.
Lap 30 and the stewards deemed conditions suitable enough to enable DRS as drivers and engineers still pondered new inters versus gamble to slicks.
Once again, Leclerc was the first to roll the dice, boxing on lap 31 for a fresh set of inters as the track remained stubbornly slippery.