Six times. Went no less than six times Valtteri Bottas last year in the round at the ‘Istanbul skating rink’. The Mercedes driver is often hesitant in the real rain, but can cope well in so-called ‘low-grip conditions’. Especially when he’s having his day. That has been proven several times in Sochi (not this year) and last Sunday he was presented with such an opportunity. Bottas finally had the knife between his teeth and was determined to take his first win of the season. He succeeded in that mission with flying colours. Admittedly, there was no size on Mercedes last weekend and that superior car helped a little, but hey, an individual mistake is easily made. Bottas didn’t make that, so man and machine were in perfect harmony and the victory was never in question. The ten-time GP winner called it one of his best F1 races, but more importantly in the title race is what this says about Mercedes’ strength. There was no one in Istanbul to compete with the W12 and Red Bull fears it wasn’t just the track…
It automatically brings us to this weekend’s second winner: Max Verstappen. The Dutchman has regained control of the World Cup and has – as it is nicely called – maximized. That certainly applies if you take a look at the Friday training sessions. Unlike Mercedes, Red Bull did not manage the set-up well and had a lot of work to do. The people on the track did that work and Sébastien Buemi also contributed to the simulator. It meant that the situation on Saturday was slightly better, although Mercedes remained out of the game. There was no more than P2 and Verstappen said he was lucky that the asphalt was wet. In the dry the gap would have been even bigger and that aptly shows that Verstappen certainly does not count himself rich with a six-point lead. “We’re a little too slow,” he said. Christian Horner added that Mercedes is running 15 to 20 kilometers faster on straights and that is not a good sign for the races in America, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – where it will be a lot of full throttle. However, Verstappen cannot change it and has to do what he has been doing all year: maximize.
The latter has Sergio Perez also done in Turkey. The Mexican was on the podium for the first time since the French Grand Prix. That statistic says a lot about the good performance in Istanbul, but even more about the period Perez has had. Horner attributed that lesser phase to bad luck, but it is fair to say that Perez has not reached his usual level every weekend. Last Sunday he showed why Red Bull got him. He proved to be of added value, especially in the duel with Hamilton. The world champion kept trying the same trick. Taking advantage of the immense top speed towards Turn 12 and leaving the car there on the outside, which becomes the inside afterwards. It often worked, but not with Perez. The Mexican sold his skin dearly. He was forced down the wrong side of the pole at the pit entrance, but didn’t flinch and kept his position towards turn 1. It gave Verstappen some breathing room at his pit stop and that is exactly what Helmut Marko would like to see from his second driver. P3 is also a nice reward for Perez on a personal level.
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The other man in that duel can be marked as the loser. Yes, from P11 has Lewis Hamilton kept the damage pretty limited, but there was more to it. In the final phase, Mercedes had three tactical options, the worst of which was chosen in retrospect. Admittedly, not stopping and finishing the race on worn inters was risky, but what Hamilton wanted. Even better was to listen to the team and get a new set of intermediates earlier. It blames both Mercedes and Hamilton. Mercedes has been guided too much by simulations that indicated that Hamilton would have finished third even with a stop on lap 50. However, because the tires enter a graining phase after a few laps of grip, those simulations were wrong. Hamilton never reached the phase in which the intermediate becomes a half slick and can deliver lap times again in the final phase. A costly mistake, although Hamilton could (or should) have listened better to the team in the first instance. He speculated on slicks, but anyone who had seen Sebastian Vettel just before knew enough. It is not the first time that the board has been tactically missed. On the other hand: with a superior engine they have the fastest car again, so nothing is lost.
With the choice for slicks, Sebastian Vettel also turned out to be a loser, although we can’t hit him too hard. If you keep in mind that a four-time world champion is not happy with one point and sees a chance for more, then you can’t blame him for taking a gamble. It is a textbook example of gambled and lost. “There was nothing left of my intermediates and those tires also resembled slicks. That’s why I thought it could be done. Anyway, I didn’t get any temperature in them and so it turned out to be the wrong choice,” said the man from Heppenheim after end fair. The consequences were that he spun twice, touched the pit wall and had to settle for P18. The British would say ‘A bad day at the office’, although such a tactical miss at Vettel is a lot less painful because there is no world title at stake. It’s just a matter of crying out and starting over.
The latter also applies to Daniel Ricciardo, who is a bigger loser from the Turkish GP. The Australian started from the last row with Carlos Sainz and the difference between the two men was immense. Sainz made an impression, worked his way forward decisively and was allowed to add four World Cup points to P8. For Ricciardo it turned out to be a matter of struggle and survival. It should therefore come as no surprise that the normally so cheerful man from Perth has remained scoreless. It should be noted that Ferrari made a stronger impression than McLaren in Istanbul, but the contrast with team-mate Lando Norris is quite significant. The young Briton also struggled with the MCL35M, but usually outperforms Ricciardo under tricky conditions. The victory over Monza was beautiful and well deserved that Sunday, but in Turkey his progression of the second half of the season was just as hard to find.