Lewis Hamilton clinched 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 celebrating on Sunday.
Only two points separate Mercedes’ championship leader Hamilton from his Red Bull rival with six races left after Istanbul and the battle set to go down to the wire.
One mistake, one retirement — whether a mechanical failure or collision — would be a massive blow at this stage in the season and Hamilton may yet have to take a new engine and penalty.
Verstappen turned 24 last week and an eighth win of the season would put him back on top after Hamilton, 36, seized the advantage in Russia two weeks’ ago with his 100th career victory.
Red Bull will also have a special livery on their cars as a tribute to departing engine partner Honda on what would have been the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, but 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 it will be quite different circumstances this year, hopefully the Tarmac will be a bit more grippy,” said Verstappen, who finished sixth in the 2020 race.
“I think it will be quite a new weekend in general for everyone, there will be a lot to learn so I´m looking forward to seeing how competitive we are there.”
Verstappen has been on pole eight times this year to Hamilton’s three and narrowly missed out on the top slot in Turkey last year.
Last year’s race was the first at the Istanbul track since 2011 and the freshly resurfaced and slippery track triggered plenty of complaints.
Hamilton, the winner on that wet November afternoon, compared conditions to an ice-rink and said organisers had wasted their money.
That should not be such a problem this time, with the surface blasted to make it less slippery and Pirelli bringing softer tyres for a race that is also being held a month earlier.
There will also be a crowd, unlike last year’s race behind closed doors, with organisers hoping for 100,000 over three days.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said his team were still buzzing after the success of Sochi but ‘fortunes can change in the blink of an eye’.
“This season is keeping all of us on our toes and that’s something we’re enjoying immensely, but it also means we have to be aggressive with our approach to the season, in order to maximise the points available,” added the Austrian.
“It’s an exciting track layout and a good one for racing, so I think we’ll be in for another spectacular twist in this brilliant F1 season.”
Canadian Lance Stroll was on pole last year for Racing Point, now Aston Martin, in a career first but it will take something special to be back at the front this time.
Lando Norris put McLaren on pole on a wet Russian weekend and was heading for his first win until late rain wrecked his hopes, and they could again be in the mix if the weather proves tricky.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time in the simulator, learning from the experience in Russia, and I’m ready to go again,” said the Briton.
Reuters Statistics for the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix
- Istanbul Park circuit
- Round 16 of the Formula One world championship:
- Lap distance: 5.338km. Total distance: 309.396km (58 laps)
- 2020 pole position: Lance Stroll (Canada) Racing Point, one minute 47.765 seconds.
- 2020 winner: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes
- Race lap record: Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia) McLaren, 2005 One minute 24.770 seconds.
- Start time: 1200GMT/1500 local time
Turkish Grand Prix
- Seven of the eight Turkish Grands Prix to date have been won by a driver starting on the front row. The exception was last year, when Hamilton started sixth. The polesitter in Turkey has won five times.
- Jenson Button, winner with Brawn in 2009, and Hamilton in 2010 both started in second place.
- Three of the races have ended in one-two finishes (Ferrari 2007, McLaren 2010, Red Bull 2011).
- Kimi Raikkonen (2005), Hamilton (2010, 2020), Sebastian Vettel (2011) are the only active drivers to have won in Turkey.
- The circuit is one of seven anti-clockwise layouts on the calendar, and offers good overtaking opportunities.
- Hamilton has a record 100 career victories, of which 79 have been with Mercedes, from 281 starts. He has been on the podium 176 times.
- Championship leader Hamilton has won five times this year to Verstappen’s seven. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo have won once each.
- Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas has now gone a year without a win.
- Ferrari have won 238 races since 1950, McLaren 183, Mercedes 120, Williams 114 and Red Bull 72.
Hamilton has a record 101 career poles and has won 59 times from pole. He has had three poles so far in 2021.
Verstappen has been on pole eight times, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fastest in Azerbaijan and Monaco qualifying. Bottas was on pole in Portugal and McLaren’s Lando Norris in Russia.
- Hamilton is two points ahead of Verstappen. Mercedes lead Red Bull by 33 points.
- George Russell has scored for Williams in four of the last five races. The team had failed to score a point for two years before that.
Hamilton’s victory in Russia made him the first Formula 1 driver to win 100 races. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)