Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Istanbul Park, 2021

Can Hamilton fight to the front without Bottas bunching the pack up?

2021 Turkish Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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After a dramatic increase in grip compared to last year, and with conditions changing throughout the weekend, teams will need to adapt their strategies on the fly at Istanbul Park.

A somewhat shaken-up grid order – due to penalties and a damp qualifying session – means there are several interesting scenarios to play out in Sunday’s race.

The first involved the driver who should have started on pole position. Despite being fastest in Q3, Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalty for taking a fourth internal combustion engine means that he will start 11th. That puts Valtteri Bottas on pole and Max Verstappen alongside him.

Once again, Verstappen won’t have his fellow Red Bull driver as close at hand as he’d like. Sergio Perez will start sixth, though he is at least well-placed to resist Hamilton’s efforts to charge up the order.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Istanbul Park, 2021
Having been quickest in qualifying, Hamilton will start 11th
Bottas will clearly want to hold off Verstappen for the win but Mercedes say he won’t be asked to back the pack up. “Valtteri’s going to race his race tomorrow,” said team principal Toto Wolff. “This is about the race win and Valtteri’s win and the team’s win. And we’re not going to do any bunching up.”

However, the Mercedes team boss also acknowledged that there was a risk of Hamilton struggling to move through the pack – and of the lead drivers disappearing up the road. “Yesterday we simulated some of these situations, and it’s very difficult to follow in traffic,” Wolff said.

“It’s a phenomenon that we’ve already seen all year but it could be something that we need to fight tomorrow. So there will be not many options left than to try with strategy and obviously hope that the front train is not disappearing in the distance.”

Hamilton himself acknowledged that “getting past people is not going to be easy,” especially if a DRS train builds up, as happened at Sochi and several other venues this year.

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One element that all the teams have as an unknown is tyre wear. Pirelli say they believe a one-stop strategy, switching from medium to hard compound tyres or visa versa, would be possible – but that a two-stop might be faster.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Istanbul Park, 2021
Verstappen doubts he’ll be able to fight the Mercedes
The pit lane time loss at Istanbul is only 20 seconds, which will make an extra pit stop a more tempting option than at other venues. With teams unlikely to use the fragile soft in the race (Yuki Tsunoda, who will start on softs, is a notable exception), strategies will involve juggling the two harder compounds.

“I don’t see anyone using [the soft] apart from right at the very end if someone’s after the fastest lap, maybe,” said Williams’ head of vehicle performance Dave Robson. “Then how many sets of tyres do you need to use of the [hard and medium] to get through?”

Nursing the tyres is tricky at Istanbul as turn eight deals out ferocious punishment to the front-right, and backing off there can bring rivals within range on the straights that follow.

“We’ll wait and see,” said Robson. “I think it will depend on how much time you’re prepared to give up in some of the corners to keep that probably the front right tyre, in particular, alive and avoid running out of rubber completely.”

It’s not hard to imagine one driver who, faced with many places to gain and starting on the same tyres as those ahead of him, will be willing to risk an early switch to a two-stop strategy: Hamilton. Whether Red Bull deploy Perez tactically early on to cover that off will be worth watching for, particularly as the benefit of the ‘undercut’ – being first onto new tyres – is likely to be large.

Robson said he believed the race would be “tough” in strategy terms. “It’s going to be one of those races where there’s some fairly live decisions to be made.” Williams themselves have proven they can make the right calls, recently – but not every team has, when offered a sudden decision.

Tsunoda, starting on his softs, will probably be pushed to a two-stop from the outset. That might provide some early advantage to the rookie, if he can make up places at the beginning of the race. His likely early pit stop could prompt others to pit in reaction, and potentially swing more drivers towards pitting twice. This carries with it a further potential risk, as we’ve seen a few sloppy pit stops since the FIA’s technical directive ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, particularly on the Red Bull side.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Istanbul Park, 2021
Tsunoda may be the only driver to run softs in the race
Tsunoda will start ninth on the preferable side of the grid. directly him lies Hamilton, who will have to decide how much he wants to gamble against the relatively untested rookie.

Verstappen, who starts on the off-line side of the grid, was not optimistic about getting a good launch, no doubt remembering the trouble he encountered in the grip-less conditions last year. “I don’t think that’s a great place to start on the inside because there’s no grip on the inside line, so we’ll see how that goes,” he said, pessimistically.

The Red Bull driver further downplayed his chances against Mercedes saying bluntly “no” as to whether he could equal them on race pace. “But we will of course just try to follow and see what we can do and see what happens in the race in general,” said Verstappen.

A final factor to throw question marks over teams’ calls is that there’s a chance of rain again on Sunday morning, which should clear up long before the race. Robson said that water on the track on Saturday morning had given it “a bit of a reset” and that, although the race looks set to be dry, the track would once again been green and potentially a bit greasy, as at the start of Q1, when several drivers slipped up.

“Understanding exactly how the tyres are going to work and how the drivers need to approach turn eight, in particular, is going to be a little bit of a voyage of discovery,” said Robson.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’24.5851’23.082 (-1.503)1’22.868 (-0.214)
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’25.0471’23.579 (-1.468)1’22.998 (-0.581)
3Max VerstappenRed Bull1’24.5921’23.732 (-0.860)1’23.196 (-0.536)
4Charles LeclercFerrari1’24.8691’24.015 (-0.854)1’23.265 (-0.750)
5Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’24.7041’23.817 (-0.887)1’23.326 (-0.491)
6Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’25.1741’23.914 (-1.260)1’23.477 (-0.437)
7Sergio PerezRed Bull1’24.9631’23.961 (-1.002)1’23.706 (-0.255)
8Lando NorrisMcLaren1’25.1381’24.642 (-0.496)1’23.954 (-0.688)
9Lance StrollAston Martin1’25.5111’24.601 (-0.910)1’24.305 (-0.296)
10Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’25.4091’24.054 (-1.355)1’24.368 (+0.314)
11Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’25.7871’24.795 (-0.992)
12Esteban OconAlpine1’25.4221’24.842 (-0.580)
13George RussellWilliams1’25.4171’25.007 (-0.410)
14Mick SchumacherHaas1’25.5551’25.200 (-0.355)
15Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’25.177
16Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’25.881
17Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’26.086
18Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’26.430
19Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’27.525
20Nikita MazepinHaas1’28.449

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton30.683 (1)29.262 (1)22.624 (1)
Valtteri Bottas30.730 (3)29.265 (2)22.779 (2)
Max Verstappen30.801 (5)29.333 (4)22.960 (4)
Charles Leclerc30.990 (6)29.319 (3)22.893 (3)
Pierre Gasly30.711 (2)29.361 (5)23.051 (8)
Fernando Alonso30.762 (4)29.592 (9)22.979 (5)
Sergio Perez31.188 (7)29.372 (6)22.983 (6)
Lando Norris31.247 (8)29.607 (11)23.028 (7)
Lance Stroll31.433 (11)29.592 (9)23.099 (11)
Yuki Tsunoda31.356 (10)29.544 (7)23.114 (12)
Sebastian Vettel31.999 (14)29.670 (12)23.074 (9)
Esteban Ocon31.965 (12)29.785 (14)23.092 (10)
George Russell31.344 (9)29.584 (8)23.273 (14)
Mick Schumacher31.967 (13)29.933 (16)23.236 (13)
Carlos Sainz Jnr32.008 (15)29.698 (13)23.471 (16)
Daniel Ricciardo32.695 (18)29.873 (15)23.313 (15)
Nicholas Latifi32.526 (17)30.031 (17)23.529 (17)
Antonio Giovinazzi32.469 (16)30.241 (18)23.530 (18)
Kimi Raikkonen33.121 (19)30.273 (19)23.635 (19)
Nikita Mazepin34.131 (20)30.438 (20)23.880 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari333.9 (207.5)
2Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari330.3 (205.2)-3.6
3Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes330.1 (205.1)-3.8
4Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari329.2 (204.6)-4.7
5Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari328.3 (204.0)-5.6
6Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes327.9 (203.7)-6.0
7Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes327.6 (203.6)-6.3
8Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes327.5 (203.5)-6.4
9Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault326.5 (202.9)-7.4
10Esteban OconAlpineRenault326.3 (202.8)-7.6
11Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda325.6 (202.3)-8.3
12Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari325.3 (202.1)-8.6
13Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda325.3 (202.1)-8.6
14Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes325.3 (202.1)-8.6
15Sergio PerezRed BullHonda324.1 (201.4)-9.8
16George RussellWilliamsMercedes322.4 (200.3)-11.5
17Max VerstappenRed BullHonda322.0 (200.1)-11.9
18Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari319.9 (198.8)-14.0
19Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes319.6 (198.6)-14.3
20Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes319.0 (198.2)-14.9

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Over to you

Will Bottas take his first win of the season in Turkey? Will Verstappen be back in the lead of the championship come Sunday evening?

Share your views on the Turkish Grand Prix in the comments.

2021 Turkish Grand Prix

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    Author information

    Hazel Southwell
    Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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    44 comments on “Can Hamilton fight to the front without Bottas bunching the pack up?”

    1. No. He doesn’t have the lapdog skills of an Irvine or Barrichello.

      1. Ah, Irvine. I really miss him. I remember him “lapdogging” a certain Senna, who reacted in a very happy way. In fact, in a very Senna way.

        I just saw Eddie in that weird Schumacher doc. He looks the most reasonable character in that movie.

        1. Both Eddies and Flavio look the most reasonable characters ever!

        2. That Schumi doc was bizarre. Lots of weird personality disorders on display in that one.

      2. What are talking about? Bottas is the goat of being a sheep.
        Bunching up is not a good strategy, ham wants free air and no drs trains. Like in russia someone is going to undercut a tad too soon and everyone will move out of Ham’s way.

        The strangest speed trap chart of the season.

        1. @peartree Strangest, how? I don’t see anything unusual versus other events.

          1. @jerejj ferrari at the top and mclaren at the bottom of the speed charts.

        2. Bottas is terrible. He always lets Hamilton’s opposition through so easily and that is if he is even in position to do anything.

      3. Honest question. What lapdog means?

    2. That speed trap of Leclerc is something. I wonder if he got a massive tow, or if that’s down to the Ferrari engine. 4 of the top fastest cars on the speed trap have Ferrari engines.

      1. @krichelle His figure is probably from his final flyer when he got that tow. A combined slipstream/DRS effect.

      2. @krichelle @jerejj Leclerc said they went for a very low downforce setup to begin with

    3. Best strategy for Lewis would be an earlier pit stop and coming out in free air (if that is possible). He is starting P11 and there is a big chance he will be stuck behind a car or DRS train so pit early and come out in free air (ideally close to Russell who is P13). Hoping for an exciting unpredictable race.

      1. @amg44 DRS train is less likely on this track than in Monza. Early pitting can be risky.
        Overtaking should be easier for him than other tip team drivers in the previous races.

    4. Jelle van der Meer (@)
      9th October 2021, 22:08

      Bunching up the field likely wouldn’t work anyway as it likely will result in Bottas being overtaken by Leclerc or Max, I expect Leclerc to be 2nd after turn 1.

      With the extra race speed Mercedes had Lewis will be top 5 prior to pitstops if not top 3 as those starting on softs will pit earlier. That leaves him the rest of the race to overtake Max and take the win.

      Even if by some miracle or brilliant driving Max is leading prior to the stops there is no chance to build enough lead to stay ahead of Lewis.
      Max only chance of retaking championship lead is either Lewis making mistakes or him getting involved in first corner crash.

      Sadly the Merc current pace advantage doesn’t bode well for an thrilling fight for the championship at the last race of the season.

      1. What races are you watching this season? You think Lewis will beat Max starting some 10 places behind him in a normal race?
        Lewis needs some incidents, safety car or rain to close this big gap.
        If Lewis starting P11 beats Max starting P2 in a normal incident-free race then Max should just retire at the end of the race.

        1. If the car is significantly faster it’s definitely possible to beat a p2 starter when starting p11, we’ll have to see if red bull is maybe closer in race pace.

          1. @esploratore1 And we have already seen they Red Bull and Mercedes are not “significantly” faster than McLaren and Ferrari. Sure anything is possible, but Verstappen wasn’t even able to advance past P7 in Sochi (until he got lucky with the weather lottery)

      2. If mercedes keeps this advantage, but we’ll have to see cause there’s some red bull tracks coming, red bull probably really needed the 50 points gap they lost through bad luck earlier in the season as a cushion.

        1. @esploratore1 What advantage are you talking about anyway? You mean a few tenths faster in Q3? Which was largely because Verstappen messed up in Q3 again.

          Plus Verstappen having one of his usual setup woes. On this track where they actually should be fastest by a country mile. Like also happened in Silverstone, Hungary and Monza. It’s not the track characteristics that are holding him back.

    5. Do Mercedes even want a bunch? That’s a DRS train. I don’t see the early stop either – that’d just put him back behind whatever cars he’s just got past. Surely he has to play his strongest card and go long, unless he’s really being held up with a huge gap opening in front of one car he’s stuck behind.

      But really they can’t decide anything until after T2 and seeing where Max is can they, 1st 3rd or what. But I bet PlanA has to be long in the first stint. Later on a second stop could make sense, perhaps, once there are gaps.

      1. Tend to agree. Undercutting your way behind the cars you could not pass doesn’t make sense. If he can’t get by immediately, save the tires, go very long when people ahead pit, and come screaming through at the end on the softs. Key is not letting Bottas get undercut, but in theory he should just drive away from verstappen on pace anyway.

        1. Yes @dmw, tho I reckon the C2 will turn out to be the best race tyre, the C4 won’t even do one hot lap without overheating. A lot of them could go C3,C2,C2 I’m thinking, or C3,C2,C3. Or Lewis might try C3,C2, would be intriguing.

      2. Why not stop early for the undercut and do 2 stops. It worked well in hungary.

        1. @f1fan-2000 An early stop also has risks.

    6. He needs to pass Noris. Alonso, Gasly, Vettel, Perez, Leclerc, stroll and tsunoda.
      Not an easy work imo and not all the drivers in front of him will be easy.

    7. I think First Lap Fernando will be the one to watch at the start.

      1. Yes, can’t wait to discover which bit of non-track Shorter Route Alonso exploits this time.

        1. @david-br This circuit has one, LOL.

      2. Alonso is always the guy to watch at start.

    8. Bottas can win if he can stay ahead & his teammate doesn’t get behind at any point.

      1. The question is, will they slow him down if he is 20s ahead?

        1. “Box, box, we have a slow puncture.”

          1. @mzs16 Undoubtedly. They’ve even pulled that before I believe.

    9. Wolff usually says the opposite of the truth so then the plan is for Bottas to slow Verstappen down. Verstappen on the dirty side could end up behind Leclerc after the start who has a stop speed advantage and is about even around the lap so this looks good for Hamilton, especially with the usual 5 kph top speed advantage over the Red Bull.

    10. Bottas needs to win the start first.

    11. No problem, he has the best car. This was supposed to be a RBR track… yet we had a Mercedes 1-2.

      1. A Mercedes 1-2 is most likely and what I entered in my poule predictions. The new Pirelli is doing its job in restoring a situation everyone but Mercedes was tired off for quite some time. Pity and underlining the need for a regulation change next year.

      2. I watched the qualify on the track. Mercedes’s cars were in a different league. They were sticking to the turns like a slug.

    12. When it comes to defending, there is no good driver for Mercedes than Bottas.

    13. Look at the fastest sectors, hes 6 tenths faster, of course he will make it to the front.


    14. High tire degradation, a long straight with a crazily powerful DRS: Hamilton will effortlessly slice through the field.

    Comments are closed.