F1 – Turkish GP – Qualifying

Merhaba, MiniFans! Welcome back to Istambul Park, home to the famous turn 8 and to just a handful of unforgettable races. However, the fairy tale dream has so far been in line with the reality that some other old yet loved circuits have shown. The track has been resurfaced in the last month and that, coupled with the extremely hard tyres provided by Pirelli for the weekend, has made it so that it resembles a slippery skating rink not only in the wet, but also in the dry.

The weekend so far has been anything but predictable and quiet. With a surface that isn’t grippy enough and the constant threat of rain, every free practice has had different conditions. The first qualifying run wasn’t going to be different and everyone went out as soon as the lights turned green in their intermediate and full wet tyres, soon realising that only the ones prepared for full on rain would stick them down to the track in some way, yet almost half the grid still insisted on staying out with their green rimmed tyres. Verstappen soon noticed he lacked grip when compared to the McLarens and more rain was falling, prompting those with intermediates to switch to full wets.

Yellow flags and more water pouring down made us doubt whether the times would improve, specially for those who had to change tyres as cars were not cruising through turn 8 as usual, but rather slowly and fighting their car to keep it in the racing line. The session was red flagged with barely seven minutes to go due to the amount of water on track. A few of the drivers in trouble were both Ferraris (with Leclerc down in the elimination zone), Sainz, Ricciardo and Verstappen, who had settled himself into the spot of favourite for pole position and was now in 15th, his gamble on intermediates not proving fruitful.

Before Q1 even kicked off again, less than seven minutes on the clock for drivers, Albon was already getting first place in the queue, followed by Ferrari. Teams were weighing the pros and cons of staying out on the pit and most remained in their boxes until the lights turned green. A small spin by Raikkonen foreshadowed the one by Grosjean, who got stuck in the gravel and prompted another red flag, albeit much quicker than the last one, leaving three and a half minutes on the clock. The warmup lap had to be as fast as possible but still managing to keep the car on the track. Verstappen, the first to cross the line, took a great chunk of time off Ocon’s previous fastest lap, proving the track was so much better than it had been. Virtually everyone shaved off at least a couple seconds from their times but, with the amount of yellow flags being waved due to spins and driving out of track limits, the investigations after the session were announced, but they’d likely amount to nothing. All drivers would need to do was prove they did slow down in the yellow flag zone, even if their overall lap time decreased, as the track conditions had massively improved. The drivers eliminated in Q1 were Magnussen (P16), Kvyat (P17), Russell (P18), Grosjean (P19) and Latifi (P20).

With just one minute to spare between sessions, Q2 started with a double yellow in sector 2, as marshals were still taking car of Latifi’s car, which had gotten stuck in the gravel on the outside of turn 8. McLaren, in something not quite clear as of yet whether it should be called crazy or genius, put both their cars out with intermediate tyres while everyone else was still fitted with full wets. After the first lap times were in, it wasn’t too clear whether the green tyres were a good choice, at least during the beginning of the session. Red Bull soon regained their top spots and McLaren stayed stubborn, confident that the track would improve enough that they’d save an eventual pit stop. This thought was halted as the drivers realised they wouldn’t be able to fight for Q3 if they didn’t put the full wets on. The decision of who would eventually make it through went down to the line, as the track kept improving by the second, the standing water disappearing. The stars were the Alfa Romeo drivers, both getting through relatively easily (Giovinazzi was fifth in the standings), while the McLaren bet didn’t work for any of their drivers. Meanwhile, Red Bull topped the timing tower once again. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Norris (P11), Vettel (P12), Sainz (P13), Leclerc (P14) and Gasly (P15).

The conditions in Q3 meant that intermediates could be seriously considered, but only Ocon and Pérez took the risk in their first run, with vastly different results. Pérez improved Verstappen’s time and Ocon was dead last. Red Bull reacted quickly and pitted their favourite driver for the green rimmed tyres as soon as they saw it, leading a majority of the pack but not all of them. Raikkonen, Albon and Ricciardo didn’t go in and Ocon, whose intermediates hadn’t worked for him, did the opposite to the other drivers going into the boxes. The last minutes were absolute mayhem, with Racing Point‘s bet paying off and Verstappen’s hopes going down the drain, while Mercedes lost all colour left and blended in with Alfa Romeo.

In a qualifying session where some rain was predicted, even if not up to the level we saw, Verstappen ruled over them all. Or so should he have done if Racing Point didn’t make a bet with intermediate tyres. However, it wasn’t Pérez who was on pole, but his teammate Stroll, whose last lap was almost three tenths faster than Verstappen’s. Rain always provides unpredictability to racing and today was the best proof, specially if we add a very newly resurfaced track. Here’s to hoping that tomorrow can be even remotely similar to today.