The Saturday in F1 Turkish GP was dramatic with the wet weather conditions as Racing Point eventually took glory away from Red Bull Racing.
At the end of Saturday’s wet Qualifying session in F1 Turkish GP came a surprise polesitter in Racing Point’s Lance Stroll. The Canadian bested Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the latter half of Q3, with a time still considerably higher than those that had been expected before the inclement weather, and resurfaced track saw lap times soar.
Stroll was under threat of being penalised for failing to respect yellow flags, but it transpired that no punitive measures would be levied against the Racing Point F1 driver, who held on to his maiden pole. “I’m a bit lost for words,” said an understandably elated Stroll, who in part attributed his P1 to correct tyre choice. “It was such a crazy session. It’s been a crazy day since this morning.
“In these wet conditions it was just so slippery the whole way through qualifying. It was really just a case of being on the right tyre at the right time at the end on Q3 and I had one lap to deliver it at the end of qualifying. I felt like I had the confidence in the car and the consistency in my driving to do it and at the end of the session there I pieced my lap together quite nicely and didn’t really make any mistakes and I’m sitting here in pole position.”
As Stroll goes on to explain, the pole comes after difficulties at the past several F1 rounds. “It’s a pretty special moment for me especially after the last couple of months it’s been a rough ride for me,” he said. “Since Mugello really. I haven’t scored a point since my podium in Monza. It’s been a rough run, with incidents and COVID. So much has been going on and to bounce back like this and put it on pole position today is very special for me.”
A key element to Stroll’s triumph was his call to switch onto intermediate tyres in Q3, when many were still running the blue-marked, full-wet F1 tyres. He said afterwards of the decision, “I expected to be on Wets until the end of qualifying with the track conditions just being so poor and the surface being so slippery – but in Q3 on that Wet tyre I was really feeling poor grip and I just knew the track was drying up and it was time to go on Inters.
“So we pitted for Inters with a few laps to go and immediately when I got on the Intermediate tyre, it was a lot better. So, that was definitely the right tyre to be on but in these conditions it’s so tricky,” he said. Stroll called winning Sunday’s race “a big ask”, but seemed encouraged by the threat of rain early in the race.
The 22-year-old is frequently a contender in mixed conditions, as has also been proven in the past, like in Qualifying for the 2017 Italian GP, or at Hockenheim in 2019. “I haven’t really looked at the conditions yet but I heard maybe there was a chance of rain at the start of the race, so we’ll see what happens as that could mix things up,” he said.
Likewise, Stroll’s teammate Sergio Perez was in contention for pole come Q3. The Mexican, in fact, sat on provisional pole before he was beaten by Stroll, and subsequently, Verstappen. He felt he had been denied a pole position by the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, who he was unable to pass. He spun in this instance, as a result of the encounter. “I think, towards the end I think my final lap was going really well,” he said. “Very strong first sector but I caught out with Giovinazzi and that was it really.
“I tried to overtake him but I just simply lost too much. I lost the rear end to Turn Six, spun out and there was nothing more I could do. The call was good, in the beginning, to stay on the Inter, I think the Inter worked really well for us, but I think just the timing there at the end, with the track getting a lot better on the final stages saved us from pole – but on the other hand it’s a great result for the team and hopefully tomorrow we can make it into a lot of points for us,” he said.
No driver, though, was more regretful after Saturday’s events than Verstappen. The Dutchman had led every session prior to Q3, when he – on full-wet F1 tyres – was unable to replicate the performance of Stroll. “[This is] the first time I sit here this year upset,” he said. “So, I think that says it all. It was all going quite well on the Wet tyres but already in Q1 when I tried to go on the Inters it was just not working at all even compared to other people on Inters around me.
“So, I was, in Q3 not very sure to go on Inters because I felt really comfortable on the extreme tyres. [But] once we boxed and we went out, I had no grip at all compared to the laps I was doing before. Just very disappointing to be second,” he said. A photo of Verstappen sitting down, being consoled by a fellow Red Bull member, had made the rounds after the event, underlining the disappointment of the 23-year-old.
Though two seconds off the pace of his teammate, Alexander Albon – also of Red Bull – came fourth. It was a performance that the London-born Thai driver felt could have been improved upon, especially given the fact that he says his RB16 has felt “amazing” since the beginning of FP1 but both struggled to switch on the intermediate tyres.
Mercedes, meanwhile, were disappointed to have their undefeated Qualifying record in 2020 broken, with neither driver within the top five. Of the team’s two F1 drivers, Lewis Hamilton had the more successful outing as he bagged a sixth place. It was a result, though, that he was far-from satisfied with, after an inability to generate tyre temperature plagued his efforts.
“It was so challenging out there and we were all struggling, but for whatever reason some people could switch on the tyres better than us,” he said. “We were limited on tyre temperatures and just couldn’t find the grip we needed. We tried our hardest and did the best we could, but this was the fastest that we could drive. It’s going to be a challenge and I think we’ll find it hard to get the tyres to work, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”
Valtteri Bottas, meanwhile, was similarly displeased with his own attempts. Having come ninth, he, too, told of tyre troubles. The Finn actually spun in front of Stroll in Q3, a moment which was caught in photos but wasn’t aired on world feed. Ahead of Hamilton was Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian came fifth, and was left stunned by the low-grip conditions which he likened to driving on a skid pan.
“I thought yesterday was unique but today was something else! It was by far the slipperiest conditions we’ve ever experienced in F1,” Ricciardo said, who registered his best on the wet tyres. “It was so unpredictable, and I would compare it to driving on a skid pan. There was no sign as to where the grip was in the corners, and I wasn’t getting much feedback from the track either.
As for his qualifying attempts, Ricciardo said that he took a conservative approach in Q1, before increasing his aggressiveness as the track dried and his confidence grew. He also called his eventual P5 result a decent one. “I didn’t go all guns blazing in Q1, and I kept chipping away at it throughout Q2 and Q3 and to end fifth at the chequered flag is a decent result. It’s so much more taxing mentally when conditions are like this. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t blinking during a lap.”
Teammate Esteban Ocon looked solid too as he reckoned a top five might have been on the cards earlier, had he not made an exceptionally early switch to the intermediate tyres. Ultimately, he came P7. McLaren, meanwhile, had a spectacularly poor day, not necessarily because of on-track events, but rather because of those that transpired off of it, when both drivers were hit with significant penalties to wind up 15th and 16th.
It came after Carlos Sainz was found to have impeded Perez and was subsequently given a three-place grid penalty. His qualifying position, once 13th, now means he’ll start 15th. Likewise, a five-place penalty levied against Lando Norris for his disregard of yellow flags, puts him 16th after he qualified 11th – helping his teammate gain one place.
The strategy may have faltered for them when they opted for intermediate at the start of Q2, which was too early at that moment. The latter of the pair called it a difficult day, echoing the statements of the former: “A difficult quali,” said Norris. “I don’t think we managed to extract enough out of the car to do better, we just struggled throughout.
“Maybe we didn’t choose the right tyres for the start of Q2, so we were a couple of laps behind the others. At that point I don’t think we managed to get the Wet tyres in the right window to improve enough and make it to Q3.” Sainz added that he is hoping for dry conditions on Sunday to simplify things for the British outfit.
In stark contrast, Alfa Romeo were thrilled to have both cars in Q3 of the wet session. Kimi Raikkonen, more firmly so than his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi. The Finnish driver would come eighth, performing well in conditions he described as “awful”. “We brought home a good qualifying result as a team and we can be happy with it,” he said. “These were some of the most awful conditions I’ve faced in my career but there wasn’t much we could do about it, we just had to go out and face them. We struggled a lot in the morning, but I think the laps we did in FP3 helped us later in the day.
“Even when the rain stopped, the track remained very slippery and it was hard to stay on track, but in the end I think the conditions benefitted us. What really matters is tomorrow, we have to do our best and see where we end up. We have a good chance to convert our grid places into a good result,” Raikkonen said.
Giovinazzi appreciated that the result came at the team’s 500th GP, and said that the F1 team can be “very happy” with their achievement. The Italian also wisecracked that he might not be able to make up the same number of positions as he usually does upon the start given his competitive company.
Further down the order than even their customer team, Ferrari endured a catastrophically poor day. The Italian F1 team failed to make it into Q3 and will start Sunday’s race with cars in 11th and 12th places, but only after penalties applied to the McLaren drivers improved their initial results of 12th and 14th.
Of the two drivers, Charles Leclerc struggled more so than his teammate Sebastian Vettel. The Monegasque said that FP3 gave him confidence in the car that was not felt come Qualifying, when he too had tyre trouble. “The conditions were very difficult for us out there today and unfortunately, our performance was worse than expected, after a reasonably good weekend so far,” he said. ”
This morning it was raining quite hard but I could feel the grip and I was confident with the car, but this afternoon it was a completely different picture. We just could not make the tyres work in quali, we were struggling in the rain and being so far off the pace is really not good. I’m hoping for a dry race tomorrow,” he said, with Vettel adding that he was “quite sure” of his car’s ability to do better than the eventual P12 result it yielded. As such, the German believes an improved result could come out of Sunday’s race.
Aside this, there was one big moment at the start of Q2, which FIA Race Director conceded to be a bad one, when they cleared for the session to start despite the crane on circuit at Turn 8, moving away the stricken Williams of Nicholas Latifi.
“We released the cars from pitlane as the recovery vehicle was moving to the escape road,” said Masi to media including Motorsport Network, Racefans.net, BBC, Reuters and more. “Following information given to Race Control by the Clerk of the Course that the vehicle would be clear of the track before the cars on their out laps reached Turn 8 where the recovery was taking place.
“As soon as it became apparent that the recovery vehicle had been delayed in moving completely into the barrier opening, we extended the area of double-waved yellow flags from Turn 8 to the entry point of Turn 7 to further slow down the cars on their out laps.
“Clearly this is not a scenario we want to see, and with the benefit of hindsight we would have done it differently and held the cars until the recovery was completed. We will review our procedures to minimise the likelihood of similar incidents in future,” summed up Masi, who is already under fire for last event’s Imola F1 race, where drivers were too close to marshals at the time of unlapping.
Here’s how F1 Turkish GP qualifying panned out