Hamilton goes fastest in Turkey, but will face 10-place grid penalty for updating engine

Istanbul Park Circuit water-blasted ahead of weekend to increase grip and track conditions

By Olivia Kairu

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton lead both Friday Practice sessions at Istanbul (Photo: Mercedes/Twitter)

Lewis Hamilton topped both Friday practice sessions ahead of the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul, ending FP2 with a new track record. But it wasn’t all good news for the championship leader.

Despite setting a 1.23:804s lap time to dethrone Juan Pablo Montoya and his 1.24:770s record lap time set in 2005, the championship leader will face a 10-place grid penalty this weekend for taking on his a fourth internal combustion engine (ICE), one more than allowed.

In the previous race, his rival Max Verstappen also renewed his power unit and started from the back, storming to second in the Russian GP.

Unlike Red Bull, however, Mercedes opted for a change in the engine component as opposed to a completely new power unit which would make Hamilton lose more than 10 places.

Mercedes’ head of  trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin explained that a change in engine solved most reliability queries and was a step down from “a lot of fairly intrusive work.”

“Obviously the thing that you definitely don’t want to do is fail during a race and then have to take a penalty anyway,” he said. “And then there’s also a performance element because the power units do lose a bit of horsepower over their life. The bit that most contributes to that reliability element and the performance is the ICE itself and it’s better to take 10 places than start from the back.”

Charles Leclerc impressed by taking his Ferarri to third place in the morning and second place in the afternoon, just 0:166s shy of Hamilton in the FP2. Verstappen was second in the FP1 while Bottas wrapped the top-3 in the later session, improving from P4 in the first session.

Slippery track seen last year not expected for this weekend

Returning to Istanbul Park for the second time in a decade proved difficult for Formula 1 teams as multiple drivers complained of understeer and front-end setup whilst trying to gather as much data on tire degradation and track conditions.

Following the tarmac resurfacing just 10 days ahead of the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, the asphalt has been reported to have significantly matured during both Free Practice sessions, to the point of high blistering for the red-marked soft C4 tire compound, making it least favourite for the race weekend. 

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Carlos Sainz Jr. will also fall victim to an engine-related grid penalty to start from the back of the grid, following a complete change in power unit similar to the enhanced hybrid system Ferrari gave Leclerc in Russia.

The Spaniard jumped from the low P12 to P5 in FP2 after frequent runs on the soft tire compound during both sessions. Leclerc was a frequent front runner in both sessions constantly darting within the top 3.

Verstappen, focusing on reclaiming the championship lead from Hamilton, complained of understeer and “no front-end” in both sessions and was visibly uncomfortable in the car.

His Red Bull Sergio Perez finished one position ahead of Verstappen in the FP2 by finishing fourth, 0.567s off the fastest time in the second session, seeming more confident with the balance of the car around the circuit.

The Austrian team is using a one-off livery for the race weekend in tribute to their partnership with Honda, honouring the first Honda F1 win in Mexico in 1995. Red Bull Powertrains will take over Honda’s engine production as they leave the sport at the end of the season.

The homage was supposed to happen in the Japanese GP, which was cancelled and replaced by the Turkish event.

Lando Norris returned in high spirit after the late Sochi heartbreak due to rainfall. The young McLaren driver held P6, just sixth tenths off the leading time. 

“A good day but a couple of mistakes that is what Fridays are for. We tried some things in prep for tomorrow. Nothing special today. Five or six seconds quicker than last year and feels different,” Norris said.

Daniel Ricciardo who also missed out on a podium finish in Russia reflected on his Friday performance finishing FP2 in a disappointing P14. “I feel better than the position that I ended (P14). It’s a completely different track to last year. It’s a nice track with more grip. I know what needs to be done on the set-up,” Ricciardo said to Sky Sports.

Alpine have proven to be contenders in Turkey after Esteban Ocon’s performance in the first session. The Frenchman held P1 for a lengthy period with a 1.25:968s lap on the soft compound and improved his time to, 1.24:672s, on the hard compound tire to finish sixth three-place ahead of his teammate, Fernando Alonso. The two-time world champion lead his teammate in seventh, split only by a hundredth of a second in the final session of the day. 

Pierre Gasly maintained a top-10 standing in both sessions only dropping one place to ninth in FP2 from eight in FP1. The French driver joined in the many struggling with front tire grip with worries that his “arms are too short to turn the wheel.”

Rookie AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda improved to P11 after making multiple setup changes looking more settled in the second practice session.

Canadian Lance Stroll’s free practice performance fell short of that which secured pole position and a near victory in the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix. He only managed P13 from the low P17 in the first session.

His Aston Martin teammate Sebastian Vettel also struggled with the set-up of his Aston Martin, complaining of understeer on team radio when asked about balance.

George Russell lagged in P18 from an impressive eleventh in the first session while Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi improved from a previous fourteenth to round up the top 10.

Nicholas Latifi spun at Turn 9 while struggling with front-end grip issues plaguing many drivers on track. The Canadian driver did however stay within the bottom five in both sessions only managing 1.25:307s lap in the second session. 

Kimi Raikkonen complained of a faulty drinking system that was leaking for an extended amount of time that began in his helmet and migrated to a leak in his boot. The Finn placed 15th in the second session, overshadowed by his teammate five places ahead. 

The Haas duo of Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher closed out the bottom five in P19 and P20. Mazepin lost control of his car and ended the day with a spin at Istanbul’s Turn 8.

The Turkish Grand Prix at the Istanbul Park circuit is set for Sunday at 8 AM EST, 5 AM Pacific Time. The Qualifying session on Saturday is also set for the same time.

See the full FP1 results:

See the full FP2 results:

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