The Friday in F1 Turkish GP was more about the track surface than the results as despite Red Bull being quickest, the true pace is still to be ascertained.

Friday of the F1 Turkish GP weekend began with a turbulent FP1 session, and the theme of disarray sustained even into the afternoon. However, it would be Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who claimed the prize of P1 in both FP1 and FP2.

Verstappen did spin at the end of FP1, but the Dutchman was not alone in this as a newly-resurfaced Istanbul Park proved unflattering. Lap times well into the one-minute-thirties – all some over 11 seconds off the record from 2004 in FP1 – can be attributed to this fact.

The conditions also made it difficult for F1 teams to get an accurate gauge of their respective performances, but nonetheless Verstappen was encouraged by early signs. “I think overall for us it was quite a positive day and the car is working well so I’m pretty happy about that,” he said, before remarking on the poor grip levels.

“I think the prep we did before we got here was good, but then of course we also did well to react to the conditions out on track. It is very slippery out there but at the end of the day it’s the same for everyone so we just have to adapt to it but I think we are all still about five seconds off where we should be on this track. I hope it’s not going to rain because then we may actually need spikes!

“I don’t think softer tyres would have made a difference, we did go faster when going from a hard to a soft but it’s just the grip on the tarmac. For sure Mercedes will get it together by qualifying, so now I just hope we can have a competitive qualifying and in the race we will see what happens.”

Verstappen’s teammate at Red Bull, Alexander Albon, likened the surface to that of a skating rink, and found his RB16 to be comparable to a drift car. He also explained that softer compounds did not have the sought-after effect, and quipped that Qualifying might entail soft tyres and full fuel loads in an effort to get clean laps. The Thai F1 driver had a strong showing in FP1 as he came second, but fell to fifth in the afternoon.

Ferrari, who’ve been displaying incremental gains to the performance of there SF1000, were also notably competitive on Friday, with Charles Leclerc the only F1 driver other than Verstappen to not miss out on a top three appearance in one of the two sessions. The Monegasque enjoyed himself on the lubricious surface, even though he acknowledged the lack of data that can be retrieved in such conditions. He was also happy to be so competitive once more.

By his reckoning, an opportunistic performance during Saturday’s Qualifying could set the team up well for Sunday’s F1 race. “At first I was not very convinced by the grip level of the track and thought this was going to be a very bad day, but after a few laps I actually really enjoyed it, as it was a lot of fun to have such low grip. It felt like driving on ice,” said Leclerc.

“Seriously though, it’s not great to have a Friday like this as you don’t learn much, but in terms of driving it was good fun and we were competitive too. I don’t know how much track conditions will improve throughout the weekend so it’s good that we’ve done quite a lot of mileage to understand the conditions and hopefully we can maximize the result.

“The weather forecast doesn’t look great for tomorrow so I don’t know how things could be in the rain, it could be a very tricky day, but if we do everything perfectly, this could be a good opportunity for us,” he theorized. His teammate Sebastian Vettel, who managed fifth and eighth, was unconvinced by his own pace on Friday, and explained that the day’s running was largely comprised of installation laps and are therefore unrepresentative of true pace.

Mercedes found themselves unusually far down on the leaderboard, meanwhile, with neither of their two cars even in the top three during FP1. FP2 brought about more success, particularly for Lewis Hamilton as an improving track yielded mildly more representative times, and he was able to climb the order to fourth.

The Brit nonetheless described the day as a difficult one, and told of drastic tyre temperature issues. “It was very difficult day,” he said. “This track is such a fantastic F1 circuit, but the new surface made it very tricky. None of the tyres were really working for us and it felt like driving on an ice rink out there. So, you don’t really get the enjoyment of the lap that you would normally get around here in Istanbul. When you’re way below the temperature window, the tyres just don’t work.

“You can go from one lap to another and find a second just because the tyres work a little bit better in one of the corners. We’ve got a lot of work to do to try and figure out what we can change overnight to put us in a better position for tomorrow. There are some fundamental things that you can’t change on the car, but we’ll just have to do the best we can. I think it will be a real fight for us this weekend.”

In the other Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas came ninth in FP1 – a session during which he also spun at Turn 9 – but the Finn would find his way up to third position come a more tranquil FP2. He, too, enjoyed the unique challenges of the track surface. “When I first went out on track this morning it felt more like rallying, it was quite far away from the normal driving standards that we’re used to in F1,” he said, with some rally experience.

“But I had fun playing around on track, experimenting with the car, it was actually quite enjoyable. The tarmac is new and very smooth, making it particularly difficult to heat up the tyre. It’s crucial in these conditions to build up the temperatures to give you the upper hand. We’ve experienced this in winter testing before, but never quite to this extreme.

“We’ve also seen a lot of track ramp, bringing the lap times down, which will continue over the weekend. The Soft tyre felt best overall, providing the best grip, even though we had a bit of graining on the front. Lots to learn from today, tricky to make the right decisions, not just in terms of set-up but also for the strategy of the race. We have some work to do in terms of the competitive picture too,” Bottas said.

AlphaTauri, meanwhile, were impressively relevant in FP1 and FP2, with both drivers Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly left uplifted after promising performance. Having come fourth and seventh, the former stated that the team will have to revisit their set-up choices to adapt to the conditions, but was nonetheless positive. The latter, having come P6 in both sessions, added that his Friday was a productive one during which they completed the various programs they had intended to despite the challenges of the track.

At Racing Point, meanwhile, where Sergio Perez came P12 and P11 in FP1 and FP2 respectively, the Mexican felt that strategy would play a key role in the race, even more so than in usual circumstances given the restrictive grip levels. “It was very tricky out there today and it’s not just because of the colder temperatures – the lack of grip is a real factor too,” he said. “When I did the track walk yesterday it was like walking on a marble floor, almost like your kitchen surface at home!

“It’s very slippery and I think it will be like that all weekend. From what we’ve learned, the strategy is going to be key and getting it right could be a big advantage. We’ve definitely learned a lot and I’m confident we’re going in the right direction,” he said, while Lance Stroll contributed that Qualifying could be decided by whichever team can utilize the hard tyre the most, as drivers complained about the graining on the softer compound.

Though the F1 team might have wished for a better showing of pace, the British outfit are no worse off than their adversaries in the fight for P3 in the constructors championship, among them McLaren and Renault. It was a similar case with them, where one half did better than the other.

For the former, Lando Norris seemed in a better shape, especially after Carlos Sainz was hurt with a power steering issue in FP1, which ended his run 20 minutes early. Even though he got through more laps in FP2, he wasn’t hugely happy as the slippery surface continued to trouble him. “It was frustrating to lose running time, in what was obviously an important FP1 due to the very challenging track conditions that we’re going to face this weekend at this new and resurfaced circuit,” he said.

“So, we had quite a lot of catch-up to do during FP2. I didn’t have the cleanest of runs with the Soft tyre and the lap-times then improved quickly with track evolution. The tarmac feels strange at the moment, but that only adds excitement to see who can get it right.” Birthday boy Norris was marginally quicker than Sainz but felt he needs to make further progress to be a sure Top 10 finisher, something his future teammate Daniel Ricciardo thought so as well in his Renault F1 car.

The Australian did not look comfortable at all as he was beaten by teammate Esteban Ocon in both the sessions. The car did fell a bit better in the afternoon but Ricciardo still struggled to end up at the cusp of Top 15. “I would say it was a challenging day for us,” he said. “There was just no grip in the session this morning and even as the track rubbered in slightly towards the afternoon, we weren’t as quick as we’d hoped.

“I was not able to feel the grip on such a good circuit, which is a bit frustrating. We found something towards the end of FP2, so we did end on a positive note.” Behind the leading and mid-pack, the Alfa Romeo Racing F1 drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi felt a bit better in the circumstances, especially by FP2, where they thought they could sense the track improving. Still they couldn’t penetrate the Top 15 in the standings.

Both Raikkonen and Giovinazzi had their moments, similar to Haas’ Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman noted that he was about five seconds off from Kevin Magnussen on the medium tyres and so he is not sure if he will use that compound again in the weekend. He feels the chance of rain can either play for good or ruin the F1 weekend further, mixing with oil. The Dane stated that they had to be very precise as slight movement was leading into a disaster moment and with no support series, it was only making things much worse.

For the Williams pair, where George Russell is to start from the back anyhow with the engine penalty, it was a tough outing along with Nicholas Latifi, as both had multiple spins across the two F1 practice sessions. The Brit sees long run pace to be good for the team, though. Because the re-surfacing only completed a week ago for this weekend’s grand prix, without any event since then, it was brand new for the F1 cars. This also caught out tyre suppliers Pirelli in their compound selection.

Mario Isola admitted that they would have probably selected one compound softer had they have known that this would happen. “We have a level of grip that is lower than expected,” he said. “When we selected the tyres, we didn’t know about this idea of the circuit resurface, all the track, so the characteristics of the new tarmac are different from the old one. That means that we decided for the three hardest compounds we have in our range.

“It’s a bit challenging for drivers but they’re all the same F1 tyres and at the end they have to work with what they have. I believe it is quite difficult if it is going to rain because of the bitumen and the fact that you have some oil that is coming on the surface when it is raining, so we have to pay attention if, in one of the next days, if it will be wet.

“About the rest, probably the level of grip will increase. We don’t have support events here so obviously the level of rubber we are able to put down on track is less than usual and this is another element they have to consider in strategies and track evolution. Maybe [we would have brought a softer compound] – but we have data that are very, very old. Ten years ago we had a completely different situation, different tyres, different compounds and different cars, so we are looking at this F1 circuit as a new track.

“We made our simulation considering this circuit as a new track and yes, obviously we had a look at the data from 2011 but I believe they are not very relevant, so maybe yes. We know that Turn 8 is quite severe on the tyre. The rest of the circuit is not so heavy, so severe on tyres. Knowing the characteristics of the tarmac in advance, yes, maybe it was good to go one step softer.”

While there are reports of rain in the area of the circuit and the weather expected to be cloudy certainly for Saturday and Sunday, one of McLaren F1 mechanics’ showcased an interesting video of organisers using road cars to lay down more rubber.

Aside the on-track news, moving on to the COVID-19 numbers, F1 released further eight positive cases from the 2,543 tests done between November 6 and 12 – it includes Williams’ team principal Simon Roberts’ positive result too. The overall tally now sits at 71 from over 60000 tests done since the start of 2020.

Here’s the last F1 COVID-19 tally

Here’s how F1 Turkish GP FP1 panned out

Here’s how F1 Turkish GP FP2 panned out