10 things we learned from F1’s 2021 Turkish Grand Prix

Formula 1

Formula 1’s return to Istanbul Park for 2021 may have lacked the slipping and sliding of last year, yet it provided another intriguing, strategy-filled race.

Valtteri Bottas scored his first win in over a year with a controlled display at the front of the pack in damp conditions, ensuring Max Verstappen never had a sniff of victory for Red Bull.

But Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton had a more difficult day, fighting back from his 10-place grid penalty to finish fifth after frustration emerged over his strategy. The decision to pit eight laps from the end initially irked Hamilton, who made his feelings clear over the radio.

It has swung the points advantage back in Verstappen’s favour, but it was a weekend that Red Bull struggled to put up a fight to Mercedes, potentially marking a swing in power at the head of the field.

Here are 10 things we learned from the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix.

The Mercedes team cheer as Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, 1st position, takes victory

The Mercedes team cheer as Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, 1st position, takes victory

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

1. Bottas reminded F1 of his quality with a dominant drive

One year on from a galling, difficult race in which he spun six times in damp conditions, Bottas atoned himself in emphatic fashion with what he described as the best win of his F1 career to date.

The Finn inherited pole from Hamilton after the latter’s grid penalty, but was then able to control proceedings at the front. He quickly opened up a small margin to Verstappen that he built on through the opening stint, and Mercedes covered Red Bull well in the switch to a second set of intermediates, ensuring Bottas would never be in trouble.

PLUS: Turkish Grand Prix Driver Ratings 

For good measure, he put in the fastest lap on each of the last two laps, proving just how much pace he had in hand. Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said after the race Bottas’s drive “almost went unnoticed” because it was “so accomplished and effortless from him”.

It was an important reminder of the kind of drive that Bottas is capable of, and the quality he will bring to Alfa Romeo next season. It also showed the crucial role he still has to play for Mercedes this year in both championships. Without him, Verstappen would be 11 points clear instead of only six.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, in the pits

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, in the pits

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

2. Mercedes made the right call pitting Hamilton when it did

Hamilton may have been frustrated at the time, but Mercedes made entirely the right call to pit him late on instead of running the risk of keeping him out all race.

Toto Wolff conceded after the race that the optimal time to bring Hamilton in would have been 10 laps earlier, around when the other cars came in. But Mercedes was trying to open up options to get Hamilton in the thick of the fight at the front. Had slicks been required late on, saving a stop would have changed his result completely.

Esteban Ocon’s late drop in pace showed just how risking it was to go the whole race without pitting. Ocon himself thought one more lap would have resulted in a puncture on his front-right tyre, which was “quite damaged” by the end.

Hamilton was likely to have lost places to at least Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc – the two positions he gained by staying out and rising to third anyway – and would also have been at risk from Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris behind.

Even more concerning would have been the possibility of a puncture or a DNF that would have been costly in the title fight. Pirelli reckoned it was doubtful that Hamilton could have finished without a change.

All things considered, to have taken the penalty and only lost eight points to Verstappen is a good return, especially as Hamilton could only gain seven when Red Bull took its own power unit hit.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, with Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, with Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

3. Hamilton’s radio calls need reviewing for risk-reward balance

Wolff brushed off Hamilton’s radio frustration surrounding his pit stop on Sunday, saying Mercedes’ pitwall has a “thick enough skin” to understand frustration being vented.

Hamilton took to Instagram on Monday to clarify that he was not “furious” with the call, and that you should not “expect to be all polite” on the radio, which is very true. It is naturally easy for drivers to get worked up in the heat of competition.

The bigger thing for Mercedes to do will be to review the communications and how it weighs up not only the risk and reward, but also the balance of the driver versus the team in terms of making such crucial decisions.

Hamilton said after the race that he is a “risk taker”, so was appreciative of the chance to go for it. And while the ground lost to Verstappen was minimal, all things considered, Mercedes will inevitably go over things to try and smooth out the decision-making process where possible.

PLUS: The hidden factors that thwarted Hamilton’s bid for shock Turkish GP glory

“I think we just need to work on the communication to trust each other, and in a way be able to describe what we are aiming for,” said Wolff.

“We have no problem at all with tough conversations on the radio before you have complete information. Obviously we wouldn’t speak like this to Lewis, because he’s driving a car at 320 km/h. But that’s all OK, absolutely.

“We are totally aligned, we’ve been in this together eight years, and we have thick enough skin to understand that a driver in the car is frustrated about the situation, that he will understand afterwards.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, battles with Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, battles with Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

4. Red Bull’s performance offers warning signs for the run-in

Verstappen felt pleased with second place in Turkey, and rightly so. Red Bull lacked Mercedes’ pace throughout the weekend, meaning victory, even in the wet, was never really on the cards.

But that in itself is a big warning sign for Red Bull. After enjoying a pace advantage over Mercedes through the summer months, the peak coming with Verstappen’s sweep of the Austria races, it appears the tables have now turned.

“We’ll have to analyse of course why we were not competitive here,” Verstappen said. “I do think they probably stepped it up a bit more. So yeah, even with the points lead, it’s not going to be easy.”

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner made particular note of Mercedes’ straight-line speed advantage in Turkey, an area his team appeared to have the upper-hand on earlier this season.

“Their straightline speed has taken a significant step recently,” Horner said. “I think that whereas we could match them with smaller wings previously, now we can’t get near.”

But Mercedes also has its own concerns. Wolff explained that the team was working on containing an issue on its ICE that forced Hamilton’s change in Turkey until the end of the season, coming as a result of pushing the performance boundaries so much.

It leaves both teams with niggles to resolve in the run-in. Austin has typically been a happy hunting ground for Mercedes through the years, while Mexico may swing more towards Red Bull. But the picture does look very different to a couple of months ago.

Toyoharu Tanabe, F1 Technical Director, Honda, congratulates Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, 3rd position,

Toyoharu Tanabe, F1 Technical Director, Honda, congratulates Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, 3rd position,

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

5. Perez’s solid charge came at just the wrong time

The relief was clear in Perez’s voice after taking the chequered flag in Turkey and securing only his third podium finish of the season.

It was a well-earned result, having fended off Hamilton brilliantly just before the pit stops before coming in at the right time and getting his tyres into a good window, allowing him to catch and then pass Leclerc.

It made good on the Mexican’s claim he was feeling good with the Red Bull RB16B car in Turkey, seemingly more upbeat than he’d been on more recent weekends. He may have only been seventh in qualifying, and got some help early on with the Gasly/Fernando Alonso clash, but it was still a well-executed drive.

The downside for Red Bull and Perez is that one of his better weekends also coincided with Bottas’s best of the season. A double-podium wasn’t enough for Red Bull to make up any ground in the constructors’ championship.

Nevertheless, it was a good confidence builder for Perez after a fairly barren run of form. He scored one point less in Turkey than he had in the six rounds prior, but to have gone wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton – and won – will be a particular boost.

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

6. Sainz’s charge shows the good shape Ferrari is in

To have watched McLaren claim a 1-2 in Monza and come close to winning in Russia, and to only trail by 7.5 points in the championship is testament to Ferrari’s recent good work.

Carlos Sainz Jr admitted after practice on Friday that he was a bit sad to see team-mate Leclerc finish so highly on the timesheets – not for any rivalry reason, but because it was clearly a good weekend for the team while he’d be starting last due to an engine penalty.

Sainz put in a foot-perfect weekend display, the only slight blot on his copybook being his bump on Sebastian Vettel as he passed during his charge through the field. He knocked Daniel Ricciardo out in Q1, inadvertently helping Ferrari, and then gave Leclerc a mega tow in Q2 to help him clamber up the order.

The fashion with which Sainz scythed through the field showed just how hooked up Ferrari was in Turkey, grabbing some hard-fought points despite the slow pit stop due to a signalling issue.

Equally impressive was Leclerc’s ability to keep pace with Bottas and Verstappen through the majority of the opening stint. Leclerc admitted he was surprised to have done so, particularly after running a lower downforce set-up than expected.

Again, it speaks to the strength of Ferrari right now – and contrasts with McLaren…

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

7. McLaren’s form looks increasingly track-specific

Ricciardo remarked on Thursday that he doubted McLaren would be taking the fight to Mercedes and Red Bull on a regular basis, and that its form would be more track-specific.

His prediction proved bang-on in Turkey, which was a difficult weekend for McLaren. Norris came home a respectable seventh, but never really looked like hassling Gasly ahead – explaining that the MCL35M was struggling in the circuit’s long corners.

Ricciardo’s own struggles after dropping out in Q1 and taking a new power unit contrasted greatly with Sainz’s charge.

“I saw Carlos cut through the traffic and I just couldn’t,” he said after the race. “As soon as I got behind someone, I just lost the front and then it started to get dead.”

In the fight for third, McLaren will need to maximise the opportunities that come its way in the final six races, much as it did at Monza and so nearly did in Russia. It looks set to enjoy higher highs than Ferrari in the final stages, but consistency may be what settles the fight to be best of the rest.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02, Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, and the remainder of the field at the start

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02, Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, and the remainder of the field at the start

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

8. Penalty consistency is in the spotlight once again

Alonso’s recent comments about F1’s penalties and stewarding caused a bit of a stir, particularly on Thursday when the double world champion said reaction to his move in Russia proved there were “different rules for different drivers”.

It was therefore somewhat ironic that Alonso himself was then caught up in two in-race incidents on the first two laps: at Turn 1, when he was spun in contact with Gasly; and on the second lap when he ran into Mick Schumacher.

The five-second time penalty handed to Gasly was harsh. The stewards argued that he was wholly to blame (albeit after updating their document) as he was not in a sandwich of cars at Turn 1 – yet with Perez lurking behind him on the inside, it is hard to know where else Gasly could have gone.

Alonso had little to say about that clash, and was apologetic for running into Schumacher. But the Gasly incident does again raise the topic of inconsistency when it comes to penalties. Alonso’s race may have been ruined, but the outcome of an incident is not something that should really be accounted for in defining the sanction.

George Russell, Williams FW43B

George Russell, Williams FW43B

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

9. Istanbul Park was back to its best this year

As exciting as last year’s cold, slippery Turkish Grand Prix may have been as drivers struggled on the resurfaced asphalt, we did not get to see this tremendous track at its very best.

Drivers were left tip-toeing around corners, and the challenge of Turn 8 was somewhat nullified as these wonderful cars – the fastest ever in F1, that have just six races now remaining – struggled around.

Thankfully the issues with the track were resolved for this year. Drivers actually noted there was perhaps too much grip, far more than they had simulated, after the water-blasting treatment had worked perfectly ahead of this year’s race.

The race might have been damp and qualifying always faced the threat of rain, but it was great to see the cars properly tackling one of Hermann Tilke’s best circuit designs. Juan Pablo Montoya’s lap record from 2005 was beaten in FP1, showing just how much conditions had improved.

It may be unclear when, if ever, F1 will return to Istanbul Park – having once again stepped into the breach to fill gaps left in the calendar by cancelled season regulars. But we’ll always have the memory of watching this generation of cars properly going for it here.

Red Bull mechanics prepare the car of Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, on the grid

Red Bull mechanics prepare the car of Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, on the grid

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

10. The 23-race calendar is going to push F1 to its limit

The World Motor Sport Council will this week give its approval to the provisional calendar for the 2022 season, which is set to feature a record-breaking 23 races.

The calendar was a regular topic of debate through the weekend in Turkey as teams considered the human cost of staging so many events – a salient point of discussion with Sunday being World Mental Health Day.

AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost said that staff “should go” if they cannot handle the pressures of such a schedule, but Wolff offered a totally different view. He told Autosport in an interview that F1 should consider putting something in the regulations to encourage rotation, helping make working life more sustainable.

Insight: How F1 teams manage their mental health 

Triple-headers and packed runs of races have been a necessity in recent times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the riches of a bumper calendar may be attractive for F1, there does need to be some balance. We cannot continue to ask more of everyone in the paddock year on year, as there will come a tipping point.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, on the grid with his engineers

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, on the grid with his engineers

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images



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