Turkish Delight for Lewis Hamilton
I’m sorry if you haven’t yet watched the race and I’ve just spoilt the result for you with the title of my blog, but rest assured there are still some surprises in store for the final line-up.
Qualifying provided enough excitement to get me in the mood for a wet and unpredictable race day. The conditions were so bad in Q1 that the next session was red flagged and delayed by quite some time. Track temperature was only at 14 degrees and drivers were spinning out at every corner. It was more like watching Dancing on Ice than Formula One. Mercedes were struggling to perform through the puddles, but Lance Stroll miraculously claimed his first pole position, followed by Verstappen, Perez, Ricciardo and Albon. Hamilton was uncharacteristically in 6th place.
Race day coverage started at 8.30am in the UK but we rose from our beds and prepared for a dramatic wet race with bleary eyes (I feel sorry for my American friends who had a 4am start). It was clear that today was going to be a game of tyres and finding as much grip as possible. Verstappen and Albon had a very poor start as they barely moved at lights out. Stroll and Perez slipped nicely into 1st and 2nd while Bottas was spinning out within minutes alongside Ocon. This was potentially caused by Ricciardo but it was very hard to tell what had happened as usual. It was definitely an electric start to the race.
Bottas was now down in 18th and Vettel was sitting in 3rd – a sight which we haven’t seen in a very long time. I wonder how they felt to be switching places and how Ferrari felt to see their driver in the top 3 again. My only experience of F1 is a grid where Ferrari are in the midfield so it’s hard to imagine that they used to be contenders for the podium in every race. Strategy paid off for them today, as they pitted LeClerc early and changed him onto intermediate tyres. This was a bold move with the amount of surface water which was still on track, but on this occasion it really paid off.
Pierre Gasly managed to gain 6 places in the first lap but unfortunately this didn’t reflect his position for the rest of the race. Cars were coming off and on track as if the curbs were part of the racing line, and it definitely felt as though we would be seeing lots of retirements. By lap 9, Stroll was reporting to his team that the track had begun to dry up and he had put a 9 second gap in between himself and his teammate. He was also about 20 seconds ahead of Hamilton which must have been absolute music to his ears. Hamilton was concerned about his front brakes for most of the race which were apparently not responding as they should have been.
Throughout the race Hamilton was determined to shape his own fate as he chased the world title, with comments like “Don’t pit me I’m fine” after just setting the fastest lap (although Mercedes boxed him anyway). Verstappen was also protesting against being put on intermediate tyres too early. The decisions for the teams were tough today as the racing line was drying up, but on either side of this the tarmac was still like ice. This was making overtaking really hard for the drivers on intermediate tyres. We had a few slow pit stops today for Perez, Verstappen and Vettel, but luckily Vettel still managed to gain an advantage. Then it was yellow flag time on lap 13 and virtual safety car as Giovinazzi slowly nursed his car off the track. It was unclear what exactly went wrong but it’s safe to assume there was a mechanical issue.
Hamilton was struggling to get past Vettel for quite some time and for most of the race they were battling each other. At one point, Hamilton tried to overtake too wide and so opened up a gap for Albon to overtake him. This was just unheard of and it was clear that he was becoming more and more frustrated at not being able to pass Vettel. His teammate span yet again and lost places to slip into 15th. From here on, I’m not mentioning every time Bottas span because it was a reoccurring theme in this race and needless to say, he finished at the bottom of the grid.
On lap 19 we saw a very close call and a situation which had me clutching the sofa. Verstappen had also been struggling to pass Perez, but unlike Hamilton, he didn’t have great control of his emotions when it came to race day. He was becoming more and more aggressive and was so close to Perez that he was driving in a cloud of spray. You could feel something bad was going to happen and sure enough, Verstappen came in too hot, went onto the green curb and span out – rotating the car at least 3 or 4 times. He very nearly hit Perez and was very lucky that he could correct himself quite quickly and get back in the race.
His teammate, Albon, meanwhile was setting fastest laps. Albon was in 3rd and the commentators were slightly over-excited in my opinion, talking about him potentially winning the race. They also surmised that Red Bull should keep Albon as a driver because they often get rid of drivers too quickly who can actually perform well. As far as I’m concerned, one race shouldn’t outweigh a whole season of disappointing results. I learnt very quickly that F1 is a brutal, unforgiving sport and I think that there are a lot of people dying to be in Albon’s seat who could potentially bring Red Bull more points than Albon has.
The track was still “slippery as hell”, as said by Hamilton, and Ted Kravitz provided us with an ultimate cringe moment as he named the track “Old slippy Mcslipface”. On lap 31 everyone was now on intermediate tyres and Hamilton again defied team orders by refusing to box and be put on slicks. This was a decision which massively contributed to him winning the race because the rain held off. LeClerc changed onto his second set of intermediate tyres to be able to maintain his blistering pace. He then set the fastest lap.
Stroll’s team were also trying pit him for a fresh pair of intermediates, probably inspired by LeClerc’s performance, but Stroll’s response was less than welcoming. I wish I could insert a replay here of the tone of the team radio as they let him have his way, sounding like exasperated parents. The commentators disagreed with this: “you’ve got to overrule your driver as they only have 10% of the information”. Stroll pitted and lost his lead – he was now in 4th.
In an unfortunate turn of events, Magnussen came in for pit stop but as he pulled out of the pits, he noticed one of the tyres hadn’t been put on properly. He was retired from the race. We then saw Stroll, Vettel, LeClerc and Albon in a right group of 4 jostling for position. Vettel overtook Stroll, then Leclerc overtook both Albon and Stroll in one corner. It was like a beautifully choreographed team dance from the Ferrari drivers. LeClerc then overtook Vettel.
I have to say that I don’t particularly like Stroll, but I did feel sorry for him as he slipped down the ranks. I’m sure he thought at the start of the day that a win was in his sights. The poor guy ended up finishing in the midfield. Latifi and Grosjean suddenly collided which ended Latifi’s race and the threat of another rainfall loomed. There I was, wishing that the rain would cause havoc so that we could have some more unpredictable results. How awful of me.
Leclerc was now in 4th and absolutely flying. He gained a place on Verstappen as Hamilton simultaneously lapped Bottas. The top 6 was looking interesting: Hamilton, Perez, LeClerc, Vettel, Sainz and Albon. Verstappen and Albon were battling for 6th place and lapping Kimi when Kimi span out, causing Albon to go wide and Verstappen to spin out again. This was starting to turn into a wild goose chase.
We had 5 laps to go of the race when we heard it: “Heavy rain expected for the last lap of the race”. Excitement shot across the nation, nerves rippled through the grid and eventually… we had no heavy rain. With 1 lap left it was looking like an amazing top 3 consisting of Hamilton, Perez and LeClerc.
Out of the blue, LeClerc absolutely ruined his chances of a podium by being too eager and having to lock up his brakes. In an absolutely jaw-dropping moment, Vettel took advantage of his mistake and slid into 3rd place. Nobody expected that. Sainz was close behind in 5th, having gained 10 places in the race, and LeClerc finished in 4th after similarly climbing the ranks. All in all, the top 5 finishers had an incredible race and kept us thoroughly entertained. Perez grabbed a well-deserved 2nd place.
Now let’s talk about the inevitable star of the show – Lewis Hamilton, who started in 6th and finished in 1st. This win confirmed his claim on the world title and crowned him a 7-time world champion – equalling Michael Schumacher’s record. We heard him crying over the team radio on his cool down lap as incredible graphics of Michael Schumacher played on his helmet visor, and as he pulled into the pits his tyres almost looked like slicks because he had pushed them so hard. He sat in his car and had a few moments/tears to himself before interacting with anyone else. It was so nice to see that Hamilton could be a human with real emotions. I think that’s probably why I previously haven’t warmed to him.
Even I had tears in my eyes as I watched him in his post-race interview: “This year I sacrificed more than I have in my whole life because I didn’t want to risk anything”.
Fair play Hammy, fair play.
Sophie Middleton @MotorsportSoph