Lewis Hamilton admits he has his work cut out on Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix to recover from the ten-place grid penalty for a new engine, but the Briton’s chances are promising if his FP1 and FP2 form is anything to go by.
Hamilton came to Istanbul with uncertainty surrounding him in terms of his power unit allocation, with Mercedes evaluating whether the Turkish Grand Prix would the right race to get a new power unit, and serve the ensuing grid penalty. The team ultimately decided to give their star driver an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) only, limiting his grid penalty to a ten-place-drop only.
Hamilton had a perfect start to this weekend in Turkey topping both FP1 and FP2, with his W12 showing speed out of the box, which in turn bodes well for his chances to fight back up the grid after he serves his engine penalty come Sunday’s race.
With the track being water blasted to increase the grip levels – which were an issue last year – the seven-time champion reflected on his day on the new Turkish tarmac during his team’s Friday recap.
“The track felt so different to last year – in 2020, oil was rising from the new surface and the grip was so difficult to find,” said Hamilton. “Coming into this weekend, I didn’t know what to expect when we went out there but the level of grip was intense, it was awesome. The track is so much more enjoyable to drive.”
“We started off with a really great setup in FP1, the first session was strong,” he continued. “We made some changes between the sessions and combined with track evolution, the car didn’t feel quite as good but we made some important learnings, for sure.
“We’re fairly close to the maximum we can extract from the package but we always find something overnight, so we’ll be working hard to take our pace into tomorrow – hopefully it isn’t raining!”
“I have a lot of work to do on Sunday and I need to just focus on getting the best out of tomorrow, obviously aiming for pole to limit the loss of the penalty,” concluded Hamilton, aware of the challenge that lies ahead, as he seeks to maintain his two-point lead on Max Verstappen on the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship.
Valtteri Bottas may not have enjoyed the same pace as Hamilton, but echoed his teammate’s opinion about the new track surface in the team report.
“Today was a lot faster than last year!” the Finn said. “FP1 today was over 10 seconds faster than last year and it’s actually become one of the grippiest tracks we have on the calendar which makes it a lot of fun – I enjoyed it today.
“Last year the balance was geared towards correcting understeer with the low grip but now we can be a bit more aggressive with the car.
“In FP1 we were all trying to adapt and read the balance. Our starting point was a bit off but by FP2, the car was feeling was pretty good. No big issues and no red flags so a lot of running and it feels like it could be a strong weekend for us.Looking at the timing board, it looks like a good track for Ferrari but I’m sure Red Bull have a lot more to come, as we all do.
“It’s going to be close,” predicted Bottas in conclusion.
Mercedes still hold the lead in the constructors’ standing over rivals Red Bull by 33 points, but Hamilton’s lead over Verstappen is a vulnerable two-point gap only. Hamilton will be aiming to have a strong recovery drive up the grid on race day, and Bottas will have to be at his “wingman” best to facilitate his teammate’s slice through the field.