Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Istanbul Park, 2020

Why Istanbul’s new surface caught Pirelli by surprise, and what it means for the race

2020 Turkish Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Before practice started at Istanbul Park, most drivers talked up the challenge the track would present, particularly the dauntingly fast turn eight.

Several of them laughed off suggestions they might need extra padding around their cockpits to support their necks around the ultra-quick, quadruple left-hander. It turned out they were right – though not for the reasons they expected.

A few other drivers remarked on Thursday that the track surface was fresh and oily. Dirt had also accumulated on its surface, and when field took to the track on Friday, they found an alarming lack of grip. Even down the straights the cars were twitching.

Pirelli has brought its hardest tyre selection for this race. On the face of it this seemed a sensible move at the time – the track is known to be hard on tyres. But following the resurfacing lap times remain over three second shy of the 2011 pole position time, which current F1 cars were expected to easily beat.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Istanbul Park, 2020
Red Bull are already flat-out through turn eight
Pirelli’s head of motor sport and F1 Mario Isola admitted they would be better off with a softer tyre selection. He said they hadn’t been aware of the resurfacing until it was too late to change the tyre selection, despite Pirelli having a factory around half an hour’s drive from the track.

“I believe it was quite a late decision from the circuit,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “We are well connected with the FIA in normal situations and at tracks where we’re used to going, we have information in advance.

“This year it was a bit more difficult: New local promoters and maybe the information was not so clear. But the result is that I got the information that the plan was to have a new Tarmac I believe four weeks ago, just before the start of the work at the track.”

In an ordinary season, in line with F1’s regulations, Pirelli declares its tyre compound choices nine week in advance for races held in Europe, and 15 weeks ahead for other rounds.

“Four weeks were not enough for us to change the allocation,” said Isola, pointing out that their F1 tyre production takes place not in Turkey but Romania. “We already produced the tyre and the tyres were travelling to Turkey.”

Pirelli’s presence near the circuit did allow them to inspect the near surface, which they discovered was very different to the old one.

“Our colleagues from our Turkish factory helped us to measure the Tarmac as soon as they finished resurfacing the circuit and it appeared that we had Tarmac that was very smooth,” said Isola.

“We measured it again yesterday and got slightly different numbers. But again, not a grained or aggressive asphalt like we used to have in Istanbul.”

It became clear the track no longer required the hardest rubber in Pirelli’s range. “Our decision on the allocation was based on the circuit layout and the severity of turn eight and also on the type of Tarmac and how the Tarmac is aggressive.

“So it is clear that the selection is a bit too hard for this circuit. In any case, everybody has the same tyres same allocations and number of sets so I don’t think there is a disadvantage for anybody.”

Drivers are likely to avoid the hard tyre in the race, which proved very hard to warm up on Friday. Graining appears to be a problem on the softer rubber, which may end up forcing teams to consider an approach other than the usual one-stopper.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Istanbul Park, 2020
Mercedes did not lead the way on Friday for once
“In our previous simulation we were assuming a one-stop strategy for the majority. Depending on the level of graining now, if we have graining also during the race on Sunday on the soft it’s possible that we have a two-stop strategy quicker than a one-stop strategy.

“The hard, I am not sure if it’s going to be a compound they will choose for the race. If they focus on medium and soft it is possible that we have a two-stop race.”

Obviously there was little which could be inferred from the lap times which were run. Interestingly, Red Bull were able to tackle turn eight flat-out, according to team principal Christian Horner. “They were flat,” he said. “Actually Alex was the first one to do it then closely followed by Max.”

They expect Mercedes will assert their usual supremacy on Saturday, and extend their unbeaten run in qualifying. But with track conditions this unpredictable nothing can be taken for granted about the race weekend ahead.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’35.0771’28.33065
2Charles LeclercFerrari1’35.5071’28.73170
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’37.6291’28.90564
4Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’40.2251’29.18050
5Alexander AlbonRed Bull-Honda1’35.3181’29.36368
6Daniil KvyatAlphaTauri-Honda1’36.7381’29.68969
7Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’35.5431’29.94468
8Sebastian VettelFerrari1’35.6201’30.02270
9Lance StrollRacing Point-Mercedes1’39.4841’30.29758
10Lando NorrisMcLaren-Renault1’37.2161’30.90760
11Sergio PerezRacing Point-Mercedes1’38.6121’31.10459
12Esteban OconRenault1’38.4281’31.38058
13Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’37.5031’31.49359
14Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren-Renault1’46.4621’31.49852
15Daniel RicciardoRenault1’45.1561’31.66054
16Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’41.0351’31.93265
17George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’49.2561’32.30255
18Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’40.0251’32.57057
19Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’41.8541’32.80757
20Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’38.5081’33.48857

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Sector times

Car numberDriverCarBest lapLapsSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
33Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda88.333732.74331.11624.471
16Charles LeclercFerrari88.7314532.77631.24424.668
77Valtteri BottasMercedes88.9054233.0331.32324.552
44Lewis HamiltonMercedes89.183932.97631.41624.548
23Alexander AlbonRed Bull-Honda89.3634233.11731.37924.867
26Daniil KvyatAlphaTauri-Honda89.6894333.23231.56824.889
10Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda89.9444333.37831.57924.987
5Sebastian VettelFerrari90.0224133.23831.61625.002
18Lance StrollRacing Point-Mercedes90.2973833.38231.90325.012
4Lando NorrisMcLaren-Renault90.9073933.40831.53824.865
11Sergio PerezRacing Point-Mercedes91.1043833.82232.09225.19
31Esteban OconRenault91.383633.732.21425.225
99Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari91.4933934.03932.4225.034
55Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren-Renault91.4984033.93832.00325.257
3Daniel RicciardoRenault91.663534.12632.3925.036
7Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari91.9324334.11932.07625.242
63George RussellWilliams-Mercedes92.3023934.24732.39325.662
8Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari92.573334.29732.51325.365
20Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari92.8073734.33332.75725.615
6Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes93.4884034.91932.83925.57

Speed trap

#DriverCarEngineMax speed (kph)Gap
144Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes329.2
218Lance StrollRacing PointMercedes328.21
333Max VerstappenRed BullHonda325.93.3
423Alexander AlbonRed BullHonda324.74.5
511Sergio PerezRacing PointMercedes323.65.6
626Daniil KvyatAlphaTauriHonda322.56.7
777Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes3227.2
84Lando NorrisMcLarenRenault321.67.6
916Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari321.47.8
105Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari320.78.5
116Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes319.110.1
128Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari317.811.4
1355Carlos Sainz JnrMcLarenRenault317.511.7
1410Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda317.112.1
157Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari316.912.3
1699Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari316.912.3
1763George RussellWilliamsMercedes316.712.5
1831Esteban OconRenaultRenault316.712.5
193Daniel RicciardoRenaultRenault315.214
2020Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari313.915.3

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2020 Turkish Grand Prix

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    Author information

    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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    9 comments on “Why Istanbul’s new surface caught Pirelli by surprise, and what it means for the race”

    1. So, VSC/SC on the first laps, everybody pits, and go for the line. Great!

    2. Sports cars have been lapping overnight, hopefully that improves things somewhat for tomorrow.

      1. @skipgamer my thought to; but then we got FP3 of course!

    3. Don’t agree with Pirelli’s excuse at all. They could have done something.
      Pirelli had hard, medium, soft for this race and yes there may not have been time to make complete new sets but surely they could have made a softer soft for all the teams and then have the previous softs become the medium and the previous mediums the hard. The softer softs would need another color code for this race as it seems that the other tyres were already in the pipeline.

      1. That’s far to logical. They would probably rather stick with what they have than mess up the colour codes for the tyres.

      2. @jimfromus Easy to judge from the outside.

    4. The track should’ve been resurfaced much further in advance, for example, back in August when the race got confirmed. Resurfacing a circuit is something that shouldn’t be left as close to the relevant event date as a mere four weeks. BTW, it’s eight and 14 weeks.

    5. It is incredible that an organization that can arrange this COVID season, isn’t capable of communicating with its partners that the track is being resurfaced, and isn’t capable of setting up a policy of how resurfaced tracks should be rubbered in.
      How can an organization be so professional and so horribly amateuristic at the same time.

    6. Twitcher cars make for more fun, because its obvious the difficulty the driver has.
      More surprises for the teams please!

    Comments are closed.