By Neil Leverett
- Round 16 of the Formula 1 season rolls into Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix
- Lewis Hamilton clings on to World Drivers’ Championship lead after memorable 100th win in Russia last time out
- Briton will start tenth at best in Sunday’s race after grid penalty for engine change
ISTANBUL, TURKEY – With just seven races of the Formula 1 season left to run, can Lewis Hamilton manage a 10-place grid penalty at the Turkish Grand Prix?
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Intensity ratchets up in Istanbul
After 15 races of a see-saw Formula 1 season, the next instalment is set to play out at Intercity Istanbul Park this weekend in Tuzla, for the Turkish Grand Prix.
A fortnight on from Sochi that saw an extraordinary conclusion to the Russian GP, Lewis Hamilton arrives on the Bosphorus holding onto a paper-thin advantage in the title race.
Grabbing an unlikely win from the sodden clutches of Lando Norris last time out, the Mercedes driver then saw Max Verstappen claim a remarkable P2 to follow him home and douse any hopes the Briton had of opening up a relative World Drivers’ Championship points cushion.
Two points in the standings still equates to a lead of of course, and with less than a third of the campaign to play out, given also that three separate drivers have topped the podium since the Dutch GP, the season’s continuing unpredictability has led to every point gained being the one that could prove crucial come December. The case will be no different here.
The battle both on and off the track is building to unprecedented levels and though both Hamilton and Verstappen both finished in Sochi, after the last six race weekends, the gap in the title race has been less than 10 points. Remarkably, not since Austria back in July has the different been more (32 points).
So what will play out next in Turkey?
Can Hamilton manage grid penalty?
If further spice were needed ahead of Sunday’s race, the news that Hamilton will serve a 10-place grid penalty is likely to raise more than a subtle eyebrow amongst F1 fans.
After Verstappen pulled out a mighty 18-point rabbit from the Red Bull hat by finishing runner-up amidst the Sochi melee, this weekend however, it is the seven-time champ who must roll the dice.
Following an engine change, the Stevenage driver will be pushed down the grid regardless of his Q3 result, but it may not be all bad news for both he and the Mercedes garage.
Not only was Toto Wolff reportedly impressed with their pace on Friday, but it appears that Verstappen was unable to keep early pace in Tuzla, a full half-second slower in practice.
That could be just a mere bluff on the part of Red Bull, but the target will again be damage limitation – just as it was for Christian Horner in Russia. The question is however, can Hamilton pull another ace from his ample sleeves and do the same this weekend?
Alonso relishing Turkey seconds
After Friday’s practice sessions, Alpine look poised to enjoy another stellar weekend.
With the French manufacturer still basking in their maiden F1 victory in Hungary, both Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso have laid down the foundations for a profitable weekend in Istanbul.
For Ocon, the 25-year-old posted sixth and eighth in FP1 and FP2 respectively, and could be a contender for the front two rows.
For Alonso meanwhile, seventh in FP2 was a similarly impressive marker. Having claimed four podiums in Turkey between 2005 and 2011, Alonso has never finished outside of the top 10 in this race.
Making his return to the Turkish GP after for the first time in a decade, Alonso has finished outside of the same position only once this season since Baku back in June, and as he told F1.com, the veteran driver is reveling in his return to the country:
“I think it was as I remember in the past so I’m happy that I was not here last year because apparently it was very different, and the timed lap was very different as well. Yes, today was a much more normal feeling; we concentrate on the three compounds of tyres and try to get some answers for the weekend.”
The 2021 Formula 1 Rolex Turkish Grand Prix takes place at Intercity Istanbul Park, Tuzla, this weekend.
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