GRAND PRIX: Turkey: It’s all in the timing

Posted on October 13, 2021.

The Istanbul Circuit.
Rain Clouds had a big bearing on qualifying and race.
Even moderate rain causes problems, this was on Saturday.

Report by Tony Cotton

Despite my youthful appearance [?? – Ed] I have been competing at Curborough for over 40 years. It therefore came as a disappointment to learn that I’ve been doing it all wrong. The problem is that I put the inputs into the car at the wrong time – I brake too soon and then get on the throttle too early. I related this to an instructor in another field who complimented me on the consistency of my incompetence.

Clearly, all F1 drivers know when to brake and when to put the power on, but Turkey showed that they, and their strategists, certainly don’t always know when to swap tyres, when to push the car extra hard – to coin their dubious shorthand “hammer time” and “turning it up to 11” or even when to leave the pits after a tyre change.


How strange it was to hear general praise for the Istanbul circuit. It seems only yesterday that Tilke-drome was shorthand for a dismal circuit bereft of interest.  But the passage of time has meant that the beloved Spa is demoted and Istanbul rises, though only after it had received a thorough wash and scrub to bring up the grip. However, as Q1 began, the prospect of an imminent wash from the sky to reduce grip meant everybody was keen to put in a banker. Perhaps too keen, as both Charles and Carlos had times disallowed for track limits in Q1.

The rain didn’t come as strongly as expected and despite knowing he would start from the back of the grid due to use of additional power unit elements (or “a new moter” as my editor so quaintly calls it), Carlos put in the effort to reach 9th in the last moments. This was significant as it bounced Ricciardo, whose McLaren team are fighting with Ferrari for 3rd in the constructors’ championship, out of the top 15. Teamwork, and cunning timing.

Kudos is due to Mick Schumacher who dragged the slightly less awful than usual Haas into Q2, with a genuine delight that echo’d his Dad’s when he won a Grand Prix.

Q2 showed similar team spirit as Carlos stayed in the garage until needed to provide a tow to Charles. Initially, Q3 looked as though it was going to prove a challenge with the low downforce set up chosen on the 16 car, but ultimately he made it to 4th fastest, which meant 3rd on the grid as fastest man Hamilton was demoted 10 places for fitting new spark plugs or distributor or something. This in turn was another example of teamwork.

Bottas seemed to be in his element, but strangely had a slower 3rd sector allowing Hamilton past, which gained Sir Lewis a valuable place without dropping Bottas from pole. Again, teamwork. Inevitably, Verstappen was 3rd, and almost as inevitably ace qualifier Gasly 5th. The interesting part of the grid was formed by Alonso in the Alpine in 6th, Perez in 7th, blaming his position on losing a set of softs in the moistness of Q1, Stroll 9th and Sweary Tsunoda 10th, a worthy effort but unable to match Gasly. From being the man of the meeting in the recent past, Norris languished in 8th, confirming that the McLaren was back to mediocrity after its brief time in the sun.


Cold drizzle isn’t what most would have expected at Turkey, even in October, but it came. It caused intermediates to be fitted all round, which I suspect the teams fear above all else. There’s plenty of data from both race experience and simulations of slicks and wets, but inters are a bit of a black art, and there was uncertainty as to how long they would last.  Engineers like data and science, not uncertainty and art.

Charles stayed 3rd as the lights changed, with Bottas and Verstappen also keeping station. Behind, there was a 3-car formation of Perez, Gasly and Alonso. Gasly gave room to Perez, but clipped Alonso into a spin, so the unimaginative stewards penalised him 5 seconds because they have to penalise somebody. Actually, Alonso would argue with that, having accused them in the previous week of not penalising Brits. He got his come-uppance when on his recovery he nudged Schumacher and so got a 5 second penalty and doubtless a machiavellian chuckle from the stewards.

On lap 5, at the last corner, Carlos passed George Russell to go 14th and then pulled off one overtake per lap to get ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi, and Esteban Ocon. Meanwhile, Hamilton having cleared Vettel on the first lap, took 7 laps to dispose of Tsunoda, one to pass Norris, and 4 to pass Gasly. Interestingly, Carlos then took 5 laps to clear Vettel, which he did with a slightly messy move as he slid into the Aston (“I was a bit over-optimistic”) and 4 to pass Tsunoda.

Pit stops for more inters started at around lap 34, Norris’s change giving Carlos 8th. On lap 36 Verstappen pitted, moving Charles up to 2nd, while next lap Carlos took on new inters. The stop itself went to plan, but there was a failure in the traffic light system. As a result the elapsed time for the stop was 28.4s, just under 5s behind the norm and nearly 6 behind RedBull’s best time.

It’s pure speculation but it’s not unreasonable to suggest a Ferrari tyre man had a close look at the tyres and guessed how much was left in Charles’s. Suffice it to say that he stayed out after Bottas pitted. He was in the lead, a stop for new tyres would put him back to 3rd, so could those inters possibly hold on to the win? We hoped. The new tyres of others seemed to be suffering graining and not be fast. As Charles himself put it: “Once the rest of the field had stopped for the new set, we found ourselves to be quite a bit faster on the used ones. But after just a few laps, the other drivers started to clear the graining they were struggling with and found a lot of performance, so we knew we would have to stop too.” By lap 47, the dream was over. Charles took new inters, and dropped to 4th behind Hamilton. Whether the graining is caused by going too fast too soon, or is simply a design feature of the inters, I cannot say, but there’s clearly a window when the new tyres are little if any better than the old.

The unknown of the inters and the difficulty of timing tyre changes was emphasised by 2 outliers. Ricciardo had made an early stop on lap 21 and found no real benefit, while a brave – foolhardy would be too uncharitable – Vettel tried slicks on lap 36, only to have 2 spins and change back a couple of laps later.

Like Charles, Hamilton was also on a long strategy. Not one devised by Mercedes, but one of his own.  He had been invited to pit, but the tyres just seemed too good to waste and a similar call had worked last year, so on he drove. Pirelli warned against running through. The radio was fascinating as it was clear Mercedes weren’t sure what to do. How much of the hesitancy was through lack of tyre data and how much was indulging a prima donna can only be guessed. They must have taken some notice of Charles, who was initially fast on the new tyres but was soon complaining of lack of grip from the graining.

Sure enough, Hamilton came in on lap 50 of 58, returning behind Charles, though not in 4th but in 5th, because on lap 51 Perez had gone through the graining window and was able to get past Charles. On his first lap out, it looked as though Charles was under pressure from Hamilton, but the dreaded graining soon equalised them. Could a less aggressive approach by Hamilton have degraded the tyres less? Or would a similarly less aggressive approach allowed Charles to fight off Perez? Would an extra 5 seconds have given space for the graining to go? We’ll never know, we just know that our man got a very well deserved 4th, though 3rd would have been a better reward.

With Bottas concentrating on a carefully calculated trip to the podium, and Verstappen realising for more times than he would have liked that the RB is only up to challenging the Merc in certain circumstances, the order stayed as Bottas, Verstappen, Perez, Charles and Hamilton.

Gasly showed his form with 6th, with a 5 second penalty and only 2.5 seconds behind The Ham. Norris didn’t move,  from 7th on the grid to 7th at the flag,  while Carlos gained 11 places to finish 8th. He was voted “Driver of the Day” by the fans, as well as moving up to third in the Overtaking Award, six moves behind leader Vettel. Nope, I hadn’t heard of it either. The team closed the gap to closest championship rival McLaren by 10 points.

Stroll and Ocon completed the top 10, Ocon achieving the rare distinction of finishing on the same set of tyres with which he started. They weren’t a pretty sight, and he lost an average of around 3 seconds a lap to Stroll over the last 6 laps, which indicates that neither Charles nor Hamilton would have benefited by staying out, despite Hamilton initially claiming that Mercedes had made the wrong decision. Many would say that they did make the wrong decision, in listening to a driver rather than a strategist.


Despite soon leaving for Alfa Romeo – Sauber (or will it be Andretti-Stellantis?) Bottas is still a great team player for Mercedes.

In the past, Turkey seemed an odd venue for F1, yet this year it worked.

Although Ferrari scored 16 points, there is an air of distinct restraint in the quotes from the team. “It’s a shame that we lost out on a podium finish, but the performance was there which is a positive.”, said Charles, while Mattio Binotto said “We continue to make progress but there’s still a lot of work to do to be regularly fighting for the win. We have to be realistic and continue to push to improve in every area. We can approach the remaining six races with confidence, in the knowledge that we have a package that allows us to fight right to the very end for third place in the Constructors’ championship, one of our stated aims for this season.”.

Carlos was a bit more upbeat, but the pit stop stung: “This was one of my best races, and probably my strongest with Ferrari! That first stint in those tricky conditions was very intense but good fun. I overtook at different parts of the track and using all kinds of lines, so I really enjoyed myself. It was a pity we had a problem during the stop, because the pit stop itself was fast. Instead of coming out behind Ocon I would have come out closer to Lando, and during the last ten laps I was one of the fastest on track, so I feel we could have finished the race further up.”

Carlos began the year as a definite number 2 to Charles, and while Charles is undoubtedly faster, Carlos seems to be the better tactician, fighting more with head than heart. It’s now a close call between them.

The outcome of the race is good for the championship, as it leaves a lot in doubt. Neither Hamilton or Verstappen had a faultless day. On the basis of Turkey’s performance, neither laid a claim to be the natural heir to the crown, though my prediction would be Hamilton.

And finally, the outcome could have been very different if only a few decisions (and a traffic light) had been unchanged but the timing of them had been a better.

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