Cometh the hour, cometh the man — at least that’s Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton will be hoping for Valtteri Bottas come lights out on Sunday.
Valtteri Bottas will start from pole for the 18th time of his career at the Turkish Grand Prix, having inherited top spot from the faster but penalised Hamilton, who will serve a 10-place penalty for an internal combustion engine change.
Max Verstappen will start alongside the Finn on the front row, and the Dutchman can sense an opportunity to damage Hamilton’s campaign.
For Bottas the figure of 18 poles is bittersweet. It’s a sign of how rapid a driver he is, but he’s now equal with Rene Arnoux for the record of most poles without a championship.
More bitter still is that this may well be among his last career poles and final shots at an F1 victory thanks to his impending switch to backmarker Alfa Romeo.
Perhaps the stars are aligning for that potential final victory this weekend. Not only is he in good form in Turkey and starting from pole with the class-leading car, but Mercedes will be willing him on to win, if only so that he stays ahead of Max Verstappen.
With Hamilton starting 11th, minimising Verstappen’s points haul will be key to the Briton staying within a race win of the Dutchman or perhaps — just perhaps — putting the title leader in a position to catch and pass Verstappen to extend his own advantage.
With high tyre degradation on the cards and the threat of rain in the air, F1’s second unexpected visit to Istanbul has the makings of a cracker.
|PROVISIONAL STARTING GRID|
Distance: 5.388 kilometres
Lap record: 1:24.770 (Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren, 2005)
Track record: 1:22.868 (Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2021)
Lateral load: high
Tyre stress: very high
Asphalt grip: medium
Asphalt abrasion: medium
Safety car probability: NA after one race
Pit lane speed: 80 kilometres per hour
Pit lane length: 385 metres
Pit lane time loss: 17.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: high
Tyres: C2 (hard), C3 (medium), C4 (soft)
Estimated tyre delta
Hard–medium: 0.5 seconds
Medium–soft: 0.4 seconds
SETTING THE SCENE
This is only the second time F1 has raced at Istanbul Park since 2011, but the track barely resembles that which greeted the sport around a year ago.
The configuration is unchanged by the surface is different. Whereas the asphalt had been freshly relaid just days before last year’s race, this year it has both matured and been pressure cleaner, reducing greasiness and dramatically improving gripe and abrasiveness.
The turnaround in conditions has caught several teams unprepared, perhaps most of all Red Bull Racing. Each constructors has had to estimate the conditions ahead of their arrival, and whereas Mercedes appears to have been close to the mark and was able to bolt from the blocks on Friday, the Milton Keynes-based squad has been playing catch-up from the get-go.
Where the team ended up on Saturday was in the ballpark but still not close enough to contend for pole or victory — at least in the dry.
In the wet it’s a potentially different story. Red Bull Racing is an inherently higher downforce car, and whereas that left the team off the pace in the dry, particularly down the straights, in the wet the RB16B is likely to be more competitive.
With the race set to start damp, and with Verstappen easily ahead of Bottas in the wet-weather stakes, the opportunity is ripe for a Red Bull Racing upset.
THE LIKELY LEADING STRATEGIES
Two stops or one? If Bottas and Verstappen share the track early and the circuit dries enough for slicks within 10 laps, this will be the principal question — and it’s likely a question already with an answer.
A one-stop strategy is possible with the medium and soft tyres, but it requires a great deal of management — too much to decide several laps into the stint. In this sense the strategic cards will be played early, with clear differences in pace between those pushing for a two-stop and those conserving to stop just once.
If the track stays wet for longer and dries later in the afternoon, teams will be presented with the trickier question of picking the crossover from intermediates to slicks. Not only has the track been drying slowly, and therefore remaining slippery even as the dry line emerges, but teams and drivers will be desperate to avoid using the soft compound, which just isn’t standing up to abrasive surface and is graining badly.
Switching straight to the medium compound would ratchet up the jeopardy for whoever would want to sample the slicks first.