While all signs pointed to an unusual qualifying session, it was no less of a shock to see Lance Stroll end up on pole in Turkey on Saturday.
“Did that just happen?”
That was my immediate reaction on seeing Lance Stroll qualify fastest of all 20 Formula 1 drivers at Istanbul Park. Lance Stroll. Not Lewis Hamilton. Not Valtteri Bottas. Not Max Verstappen. Not Charles Leclerc. Not even Daniel Ricciardo or his Racing Point teammate Sergio Perez. Lance-freaking-Stroll.
As all five long-time readers of this column will know, I’m not the biggest Lance Stroll fan. While over the course of this season I had started to accept that he wasn’t completely undeserving of his spot in F1, I still considered him one of the weaker drivers on the grid. Now, I don’t know what to think.
Say what you will about Red Bull getting failing to get the timing right with Max Verstappen’s tyres. Say what you will about the season-long qualifying head-to-head between Stroll and Perez (8-2 prior to this weekend), but it’s impossible to deny the impressiveness of the Canadian’s performance on Saturday.
In what were impossibly-low levels of grip, Stroll was as at-home as anyone. He had the pace, and he kept his nerve. You can’t ask for more than that, and it’s no easy feat, which is why of the approximately 775 drivers to have ever raced in the sport, only 101 have ever taken pole position – no matter what else happens in his career, Lance Stroll is now deservingly one of them.
As crazy as Saturday was, Sunday might be even better yet. It seems Mercedes simply can’t get the tyres to work around here, and that means even if the Racing Points slip back in the race, it’s an outcome that is very wide open.
While Daniel Ricciardo is as doing an outstanding job representing Australia in F1, I certainly can’t say the same for Michael Masi. Starting Q2 with a recovery crane and marshals still on track is simply unacceptable, especially given the incident with marshals two weeks ago at Imola.
A special tip-of-the-cap to Sebastian Vettel, who out-qualified Charles Leclerc for the first time in 11 races. The old dog’s still got some life in him yet.
Sunday race strategy preview, courtesy of Pirelli
This is one of the hardest races to predict a strategy for, owing to a number of different factors. First and foremost, track conditions. This asphalt is extremely new and slippery, with rapid evolution, but how much grip it will ultimately offer remains unknown. The weather makes those calculations considerably harder, with very cool track temperatures and rain today, while tomorrow’s conditions are still uncertain. Finally, there’s not much difference between a two-stopper and one-stopper.
On paper, a two-stopper is quicker – but teams always prefer a one-stopper, especially if they can somehow manage to do it on the two softer compounds this weekend. Right now, that seems almost impossible if graining on the soft stays the same as it’s been so far, but some teams might still try it. Alternatively, they might still go for a one-stopper using the White hard compound, if they can get it to work. All that obviously depends on what tomorrow’s race conditions will look like, so there are plenty of question marks.
In theory, a two-stopper is quickest: with two stints of 16 laps on the Red soft plus a Yellow medium stint of 26 laps (perhaps as the middle stint). Another way of doing it, if there’s graining on the soft, is just one 14-lap stint on the red tyre with two 22-lap stints on the medium.
If it’s warm enough to switch on the hard compound, the teams could try a one-stopper with 30 laps on medium and 28 laps on hard. Alternatively, 20 laps on soft and 38 laps on hard.
Wet weather characterised today’s action at Istanbul Park, both in free practice and qualifying, causing a 45-minute delay with just over six minutes of Q1 remaining, followed by another red flag three minutes later. A mix of intermediate and full wet tyres were used throughout all three qualifying sessions, with pole set using the intermediate tyre on the final run of Q3.
This made an already slippery track even more challenging, allied to the cool track temperatures of just 12 degrees centigrade.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen went quickest in every session so far this weekend (in both wet and dry conditions) apart from the crucial Q3 session, when Racing Point’s Lance Stroll dramatically took pole ahead of him.
As per the rules, the car set-up cannot now be changed even though tomorrow’s race conditions could be quite different.