Lewis Hamilton won his seventh world title with a champion drive, recovering from sixth and almost 25 seconds off the lead in the first third of the race to dominate the field by half a minute come the chequered flag.
There were conditions made for Hamilton, but not necessarily his Mercedes car, which had struggled on the slippery surface all weekend. Rather than machinery, this was a win founded on patience and experience, allowing Hamilton’s pure ability to shine on a day he equalled Michael Schumacher’s championship record.
And it wasn’t only the Briton who shone in the difficult weather — those who trusted their gut tended to win big in a race that rewarded nous and instinct, making F1’s Turkey return the season’s most memorably race.
Istanbul Park is one of favoured F1 track designer Hermann Tilke’s better liked circuits. Fast, challenging and raceable, the sport was eagerly anticipating its first visit since 2011, when financial saw it fall from the calendar.
But a lot had changed since the sport’s last visit almost a decade ago. Not only are the cars substantially more powerful and more heavily loaded with downforce, but the track had been completely resurfaced.
Indeed the resurfacing work had been completely just 10 days before F1 arrived. So recent was the job that the asphalt was still slick with oily bitumen rising to the surface. Combined with cool ambient temperatures below 15°C all weekend and Pirelli’s hardest tyres, the track was almost undriveable for its slipperiness.
The slickness of the surface was exacerbated tenfold by rain on Saturday and Sunday, which pushed the extreme challenge into lottery territory.
Racing Point’s Lance Stroll was a sensational podium-getter, capitalising on his team’s call to switch to intermediates in Q3. He had just one lap to make it work, and his car was so sweet with the green-striped tyre he pipped Max Verstappen to the punch, the Dutchman complaining his Red Bull Racing car wasn’t aggressive enough on its tyres to get them working over a single lap.
The Mercedes car didn’t seem to want to work on any tyres. Lewis Hamilton qualified sixth and Valtteri Bottas ninth. The team had conducted limited running on Friday morning and almost none in the wet on Saturday, leaving it underdone when qualifying rolled around and makings its race prospects a great unknown.
Little were we to know that the qualities that hampered it in qualifying were enough for Hamilton to build a dominant victory on Sunday.
Hamilton had held sixth at the end of the first lap but had dropped rapidly off the pace of race leader Lance Stroll during the first third of the race. Almost 25 seconds in arrears after the field had switched from full wets to intermediates, a win seemed out of the question.
But with the worst of the oily standing water off the track the race entered a more familiar rhythm and Hamilton was able to start building moment.
In an ordinary season the drivers tend to be occupied by keeping the sensitive Pirelli tyres cool to prevent overheating and thermal degradation, but as this COVID season pushes later into the European autumn, the opposite is increasingly required, with the tyres needing to be worked up into the operating window.
It was a similar story to the Portuguese Grand Prix, where Hamilton’s dominance of teammate Valtteri Bottas was underwritten completely by his ability to manage the tyres up to temperature without overusing them. Once warmed up, there was no stopping him.
The task was harder in Istanbul, where the slicker track was generating more graining, but the principal was the same, and the longer Hamilton ran on the one set of the tyres, the more competitive he became.
Down almost 25 seconds on lap 18, it took him only another 18 laps to be on the tail of the leading Racing Point cars, and on lap 37 he moved into the lead.
With his tyres in the sweet spot, there was no stopping him. He opened a three-second gap to second-placed Sergio Perez after one lap and was 15 seconds in the lead after five.
Happily for him, the circuit dried as his tread wore away, turning the tyre into a kind of hybrid slick, but it meant that any forays into the damp would be extremely costly.
This concern was key to him opting against stopping a second time, not wanting to risk a trip through the cold and damp pit lane and the concrete apron, where his worn tyres might betray him.
So the Briton held his lead, nursing his tyres without sacrificing speed, for 50 laps — 52 including the laps completed on Saturday — to record a perfectly judged 94th victory and seventh championship.
Hamilton’s decision not to pit a second time wasn’t necessarily decisive, having built a stop’s worth of time to Sergio Perez late in the race, but in choosing against the safety stop he recalled throwing away the title in 2007 to a crash in the pit lane.
The Briton had been left out too long on worn tyres and understeered into the gravel on pit entry. Knowing his intermediate tyres were well past their best and largely without tread, Hamilton decided against risking a pit stop while he had control over his tyres to avoid potential problems.
His leadership from the cockpit stands in contrast to Lance Stroll. Stroll had been struggling with intermediate graining through his second stint of the race when the team suggested he stop a second time. He was initially hesitant — after the race he admitted that in retrospect trying to drive through the graining until the tyres cleaned up would’ve been the smarter move — but relented to the team’s suggestion.
It proved disastrous for his race. He lost a place to Max Verstappen on pit exit and suffered worse graining with his new tyres than he had been dealing with previously leaving him to plummet down the order.
The Canadian scored only two points from his maiden pole position.
His teammate, Sergio Perez, was able to benefit from the combination of Stroll’s difficulties on new tyres and his greater experience whispering to the Pirelli rubber to make himself the only driver other than Hamilton to stop just once, stretching his intermediate tyres 48 laps to the flag to hold second place.
Charles Leclerc was the strategy pioneer of the race and perfectly judged both his tyre changes, with Vettel subsequently following suit
Some of the practice pace the team had shown returned on inters
Was one of the fastest cars out there. Just like old times!
The racing line was dry in most places near the end of the race, but no-one gambled on slicks for their final stint.
Not even Bottas, who didn’t really have anything to lose
Possible rain forecast for late in the race scared teams and drivers off a swap
Red Bull Racing had been rapid in the first stint with intermediates but were nowhere in the second.
Lance Stroll likewise couldn’t get his second stint past the graining phase and watched a podium slip away
Lewis Hamilton: medium (used) to lap 30, hard (new) to lap 52, soft (used) to lap 63.