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Rhapsody in the Rain
2020 Turkish Grand Prix
Text & Photos | Richard Kelley
Edit | Henry Lau

Lewis Hamilton pulls his Mercedes from behind to capture the wet and wild 2020 Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul Park


Overview

Lewis Hamilton couldn’t count on his Mercedes to compete with the rain-soaked and ever-changing track conditions of the Istanbul Park Circuit the entire weekend until it mattered.

Instead, against all odds, the winningest driver in Grand Prix history used his otherworldly driving skills for 50 of the 58 laps to claw his way to the front on virtually treadless intermediate rain tyres. With them, Hamilton claimed his 10th 2020 season win from 14 rounds, his 94th career Grand Prix win and his seventh world drivers’ title, matching the great Michael Schumacher 5,922 days later.

Podium Surprises

Nearly equaling the Brit’s masterclass was Racing Points’ Sergio Perez, 31.6 seconds behind. The Mexican started third and finished second, driving a masterful race after teammate Lance Stroll fell from the lead. Equally scintillating was third-place finisher Sebastian Vettel, once again looking comfortable in his Ferrari despite miserable conditions. The German just nipped the podium spot from teammate Charles Leclerc on the final lap when the Monegasque slid passed Perez on a determined final lap overtake for second place.

Qualifying

Max Verstappen’s Red Bull RB16 impressed all weekend on F1’s first visit to the Istanbul Park Circuit since 2011. Despite slippery new pavement and perpetually wet surface, the Dutchman lead FP1, FP2, FP3, Q1 and Q2. He looked set to claim his third career pole, but Racing Point had another idea.

They pulled off a masterstroke by putting both Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez on the quicker intermediate tyre for the start of Q3. Red Bull responded, ordering Verstappen to abort his fast lap and change from the extreme wets to the inter tyres.

Sadly, his Red Bull’s setup could not match Stroll’s pace on the less extreme tyre. The Canadian put in the best lap of his career to take pole – becoming the first Canadian pole-sitter since Jacques Villeneuve 23 years ago. Verstappen had to settle for second. The Dutchman was not amused.

Shocking Achievement

Stroll’s shock pole could be considered one of the biggest upsets in recent Formula One memory.

It ended Mercedes’ run of starting from pole at every round of this Covid-disturbed season. Stroll had not scored a point since the Italian Grand Prix when he took a podium. He then contracted Covid-19 and missed the Eifel Grand Prix. Since then, he had been virtually invisible.

Sergio Perez took third on the grid in the other Racing Point, next to Alex Albon’ Red Bull. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo would start fifth, next to Lewis Hamilton in sixth. The Brit’s Mercedes refused to adjust to either full wets or the intermediates, leaving Hamilton a stunning 4.7 seconds slower than Stroll.

Bottas Humbled

Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas, the only driver still mathematically in the title race, qualified a lowly ninth.

Both Ferraris fell out in Q2 with Sebastian Vettel 12th and Charles Leclerc 14th. They would rally on race day.

2020 Turkish Grand Prix

At lights out, Lance Stroll’s first Grand Prix start from pole on the cold, wet Istanbul tarmac was perfect. The same could not be said for Max Verstappen. His Red Bull barely moved forward, creating chaos in his wake. Perez, Hamilton and Albon stream by as the Dutchman faded.

By Lap 2, Verstappen regained grip and power, slotting into P4, just behind the significantly determined Sebastian Vettel, up to third from P11. In their wake, Ricciardo and Ocon collided at the first corner, with Ocon banging wheels with Bottas.

By Lap 5, Stroll led Perez by 6.4 sec., followed 8.6 sec. by Vettel. The Racing Point tyres seeming to have “switched on” like no others.

Hamilton’s Decision

On Lap 9, Hamilton said his tyres were fine but that inters were the right tyres. He pitted for inters, which seem to be quicker at the moment. There’s not a huge amount in it at the moment, though.

With Verstappen picking up the pace, Stroll, the leader, came in for fresh inters as well. He rejoined in P4 as Perez, Verstappen and Albon inherited the top three. It was Perez’s turn, two laps later. Verstappen waited until Lap 12 to pit.

By Lap 16, Stroll led Perez by 8.2sec, with Verstappen in close pursuit. Two laps later, a too impatient Verstappen spun trying to overtake Perez on the straight into Turn 12. The Dutchman lost bags of time, dropping down to P8 as he pitted to change his flat-spotted tyres. Bottas had another spin on Lap 20 and dropped to 17th.

By Lap 35 of 58, Stroll’s lead had dwindled, while Hamilton remained on his 26 lap-old inters and closed on Perez.

Stroll Loses Lead

Stroll stopped on Lap 37, giving the lead to Perez. Hamilton promptly passes the Mexican on the outside of Turn 12 for the lead. By Lap 40, Hamilton leads Perez by 7.8s.- the Brit now lapping six seconds faster than long-time race leader Stroll. The Canadian, for his part, couldn’t get his new tyres to “switch on”. In the shuffle, Charles Leclerc and Vettel moved their Ferraris into fourth and fifth.

Hamilton led Perez by 19s with ten laps remaining. The threat of heavy rain in the final few laps had vanished; however, the track’s treachery struck Verstappen. He spun in Turn 9 on Lap 51 of 58 and dropped to seventh. Leclerc and Vettel were now P3-P4.

Valiant Effort

On the final lap, Leclerc caught and passed Perez for second place in Turn 12 only for his brakes to lock, forcing him off track. Vettel went through to take P3, his first podium since Mexico, 2019. The valiant Leclerc was left an inconsolable 4th, in front of Carlos Sainz’ McLaren. Verstappen finished a rueful 6th, in front of Albon, with Norris 8th. Stroll dropped to 9th after running wide ahead of Daniel Ricciardo who picked up the final point.

Once the “Golden Boy” of F1, Sebastian Vettel gave way to Lewis Hamilton season’s ago. It was then a wonderful moment when Vettel made sure he was the first to congratulate the Brit in Parc Ferme for his record-equaling season.

“I told him that it’s very special for us because we can witness history being made today,”

said Sebastian.

Champions both.