Lewis Hamilton won his seventh Formula 1 World Championship in Turkey last year while Max Verstappen had a race to forget, but this time the title remains wide open and the Dutch driver could be the one to celebrate on Sunday.
Only two points separate Mercedes championship leader Hamilton from rival Red Bull with six races to go after Istanbul and the battle should go on to the end. A mistake, a retirement – whether it’s a mechanical failure or a collision – would be a big blow at this point in the season and Hamilton could still have to take a new engine and a penalty.
Verstappen turned 24 last week and an eighth win of the season would put him back on top after Hamilton, 36, took the lead in Russia two weeks ago with his 100th career victory. Red Bull will also have a special livery on its cars in tribute to its engine partner Honda during what would have been the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Last year’s Turkish GP was of course not the best weekend for us as a team, but I think the circumstances will be quite different this year, I hope the tarmac will be a bit more adherent, ”said Verstappen, who finished sixth in the 2020 race. “I think it will be a whole new weekend overall for everyone, there will be a lot to learn so I can’t wait to see how competitive we are there.”
Verstappen has been on pole eight times this year compared to Hamilton’s three and narrowly missed first place in Turkey last year. Last year’s race was the first on the Istanbul track since 2011 and the freshly redesigned and slippery track drew many complaints.
Hamilton, the winner on that rainy November afternoon, likened the conditions to an ice rink and said organizers wasted their money. That shouldn’t be a problem this time around, with the surface shot blasted to make it less slippery and Pirelli bringing softer tires for a race to be held a month earlier as well.
It will also be crowded, unlike last year’s closed-door race, with organizers hoping for 100,000 over three days. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said his team were still buzzing after Sochi’s success but “fortunes can change in the blink of an eye.”
“This season keeps us all on our toes and it’s something we appreciate very much, but it also means that we have to be aggressive in our approach to the season, in order to maximize the available points,” added the Austrian. “It’s an exciting and racing track layout so I think we’ll have another spectacular turn in this brilliant F1 season.”
Canadian Lance Stroll was on pole last year for Racing Point, now Aston Martin, for a career first, but it will take something special to come back to the top this time around. Lando Norris put McLaren on pole on a wet Russian weekend, and was heading for his first win until late rain ruined his hopes, and they could be in the mix again if the weather turns. proves difficult.
“I have spent a lot of time in the simulator, learning from the experience in Russia, and I am ready to go,” said the Briton.
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