Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Istanbul Park, 2020

Red Bull back on top? Six Turkish Grand Prix talking points

2021 Turkish Grand Prix

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After the long straights of Monza and Sochi, will Istanbul prove a venue better suited to Red Bull and Max Verstappen? Here are the talking points for this weekend’s race.

Red Bull back on top?

Mercedes were expected to hold the upper hand at Monza and Sochi, and so it proved, although Lewis Hamilton’s attempt to turn that to advantage in the Italian Grand Prix was ruined by his collision with Verstappen. Nonetheless he arrives in Turkey with a slender, two-point margin over his rival.

But the return to a more typical track configuration should play into the hands of Red Bull, presenting Verstappen with an opportunity to reclaim the points lead. He was quick on the opening day of practice at Istanbul last year before the conditions took a turn for the worse.

McLaren versus Ferrari

McLaren reaped a windfall result at Monza
The situation between the top two teams is mirrored by the next two in the points standings. McLaren looked strong on paper at the last two races, took a shock win in Italy, and nearly followed it up with another in Russia.

That moved them ahead of Ferrari in the fight for third place in the points standings. But like Red Bull, Ferrari can approach the return to more conventional circuits with optimism. Charles Leclerc has their uprated engine in the back and Carlos Sainz Jnr is expected to have it this weekend as well, though that will mean a grid penalty.

The good news for McLaren is that Daniel Ricciardo, who has contributed less to their points tally than team mate Lando Norris, is finally getting on top of the car, as his unexpected Monza victory demonstrated. The team finally look as though they can put up a fight with both cars against their red rivals.

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Hamilton’s power unit worries

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2021
Report: Hamilton at risk of penalties as Mercedes admit “question marks” over power units
Sainz may have company at the back of the grid in Istanbul. Mercedes are concerned about Hamilton’s power unit situation, and may have to resort to fitting a new one.

If it needs to be done, they are unlikely to take a decision before appraising the state of the competition on Friday. But with seven races remaining, they can’t necessarily afford to delay it more than a handful of rounds.

Can Perez raise his game?

Verstappen’s team mate Sergio Perez was on course for a podium finish when the rain arrived in Russia. But he under-performed in qualifying, manging only ninth on the grid.

This was the latest in a series of races since the summer break where he hasn’t put up enough of a threat to the Mercedes drivers. He qualified eighth at Monza, went out in Q1 at Zandvoort, and crashed on the reconaissance lap in dire conditions at Spa.

He’s only fifth in the points standings, and Perez’s race-winning form from Baku in June feels like a distant memory.

Team mate troubles at Aston Martin

Aston Martin duo Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll have had a few too many clashes in recent races.

On the first lap at Monza Stroll dealt so firmly with his team mate at Lesmo One it cost Vettel several positions. Then at Sochi Stroll collided with his team mate twice as Vettel swept by. Time for someone to have a quiet word with the pair, or at least the occupant of car number 18.

Has the surface improved?

Fresh asphalt yielded little grip last year
F1 hadn’t visited Istanbul Park for almost a decade when it returned at short notice last year. The track was given a new layer of asphalt, but the limited time between the completion of the work and the start of the race weekend meant the surface still had very little grip.

Almost a year on, the track should be in much better shape. It’s also been subjected to a high-pressure water cleaning treatment.

According to Pirelli, this last detail only came to light after they’d allocated softer rubber for this year’s race than they chose last time. It was previously a punishing track for tyres, so we could see higher levels of wear than usual on F1’s return, and a very different race.

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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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20 comments on “Red Bull back on top? Six Turkish Grand Prix talking points”

  1. Red Bull back on top? – We shall find out.
    Mclaren-Ferrari: I reckon Mclaren will be ahead.
    Hamilton’s PU: If Mercedes are skeptical about reliability lasting until the end, this circuit could be a good choice.
    Can Perez raise his game? – Hopefully.
    AM intra-team – hopefully, Stroll won’t inadvertently cause any trouble for Seb this time around.
    Has the surface improved? Yes, that should be better than last season. I bet a new outright & official record.

    1. I agree with your points but Lewis engine could be the thing which gives Red Bull the victory. Even if they are doing everything on a low power setting it’s a risk if you saw Valterri and the other Mercedes teams engines.
      And if you play the number game he didn’t had a DNF caused by engine failure sinds 2016?

      1. @macleod Exceeding component allocations would reduce reliability failure risk & wear-induced power drop + give more flexibility for pushing. They’d only risk giving a chance for RBR in this one race, so perhaps worth taking if truly necessary.

  2. Jelle van der Meer (@)
    5th October 2021, 8:08

    “It was previously a punishing track for tyres, so we could see higher levels of wear than usual on F1’s return, and a very different race.”

    Hopefully that means a 2 stop race instead of a slowed down 1 stop race.
    Considering overtaking is well possible in Turkey I hopeful it will be the 2 stop race.

  3. Really looking forward to this. A good track with unpredictable surface and soft tyres could mean a top race.

  4. I would say red bull was pretty strong last year here even though hamilton won, but it was an unusual race with inters from start to end, so who knows.

    Hamilton has clearer red bull tracks to take an engine penalty if needed, perez won’t improve imo, they extended him too soon, he said he’d need 5 races to get up to speed, then he got worse than the level he started at.

    Think the mclaren vs ferrari battle will be very clear now that ricciardo has got up to speed, they were evenly matched before, so mclaren should generally beat ferrari most of the times now.

    1. @esploratore1 Ricciardo hasn’t really improved all that much. Just did well on tracks which didn’t need much braking which is his problem. At Sochi he was far behind again.

      But the fight between the two future stars Norris and Leclerc is great.

      1. He was well and truly in the mix for a top 5 or possible podium early on in Russia, so wouldn’t say he was too far behind. His first stop killed him. He’s definitely come on strong since the summer break.

  5. Nell (@imabouttogoham)
    5th October 2021, 8:40

    Medium-term forecasts are for rain over Istanbul.

    So if it isn’t raining, the track will be very green. Compounds brought by Pirelli are soft. Should be a fun race.

  6. Dave (@davewillisporter)
    5th October 2021, 9:01

    Not convinced Redbull have this one. I think it will be close.

    My vote would be PU change, start from the back with a skinny wing and go for it 2006 GP2 style. Max used up his tyres too quickly in Sochi and stalled out in 7th before the rain. I’d bet Lewis could do better starting on hards and going for it than 7th. Some rain during the race would be an advantage too.

    1. I’m confident RedBull have this one wrapped up. They were dominant in Turkey practice last year and the race was in bizarre conditions. Max also had a very clumsy race which didn’t help.

      This year it’s looking like a dry weekend so I’m really expecting an easy RedBull win, similar to Zandvoort.

      We’ve seen multiple times that this years RedBull is much better than last years, and last years really did have the pace at this circuit.

      I honestly see a bit of a Mercedes struggle this weekend. Hamilton was flattered by the conditions last year as during practice and even qualifying he never looked to be putting in times capable for a top 5 finish.

      1. Zandvoort was everything except an easy win for red bull.

      2. I think it was only over one lap that Mercedes were struggling so much, due to the very slippery surface and them being unable to generate tyre temp. I’m sure they would have been more competitive in the race and Hamilton was by far the fastest on track when it started to dry later in the race (granted his tyre management played a big part in that). With the track surface bedded in for a year and water treated, plus a softer tyre selection I think Mercedes will be in a better place compared to the extreme situation of last year.

  7. “Mercedes are concerned about Hamilton’s power unit situation, and may have to resort to fitting a new one.”
    What? I thought a race ago they said everything was A OK on the engine side for Lewis?

    1. That was toto, he is like trump. When his lips move there is a lie.

      1. Advantage Red Bull for remainder of season. The RB pit crew is much more consistent. The cars and top drivers are evenly matched. The 2nd drivers, one is pressing too much and the other has less to race for as the season goes on. Strategy will be a toss up as Mercedes are reactionary but if they fall behind by a lot that will change.

        1. @jimfromus Not so sure as Red Bull has thrown away points after the pit stop rules change that Mercedes managed to get lobbied through. Monza for example, but also last race in Sochi.

          About strategy, Mercedes has a huge advantage in Bottas who is not far off Hamilton, compared to Perez who is nowhere. That means they can block undercuts etc, but are free to do it themselves.

        2. I don’t think red bull crew is better than mercedes any more after the pit stop rule change, look how often they get 9 sec pit stops while mercedes never.

      2. Yes it’s so consistent that it’s actually helpful, as you can just take the opposite of what he says as the truth.

  8. But he under-performed in qualifying, manging only ninth on the grid.

    Perez really did make a dogs breakfast of qualifying at Sochi and while you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, every dog must have its day.
    While only ninth on the grid was hardly leader of the pack material, the response when asked if this was an OK qualifying was “‘Kay, nine should be enough for anybody. There’s no need to get hot under the collar, I worked my tail off out there”.

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