Formula 1 have released the calendar for 2021, confirming Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, as the opening round once more. There has been an inclusion which already has caused some angst, being Saudi Arabia in late November. That angst stems from the alleged human rights abuses in the oil-rich kingdom.
With the addition of Saudi Arabia, the total race count is out to 23 for 2021. One of the dates is currently unspecified as to where the event will be held. That date is April 25. Bahrain and China follow Melbourne before the April date, with three European rounds at Barcelona, Monaco, and Azerbaijan. That’s on June 6 before a flying visit to Canada for June 13 before heading back to Europe for France and Austria. Silverstone follows on July 18.
Hungary and Belgium’s Spa make up the two rounds for August, with September seeing three; The Netherlands, Monza and Sochi. October is a return to south east Asia with the night race at Singapore then Japan, before The U.S. F1 GP at Austin. Halloween sees a race at Mexico City. The final race in the Americas is Brazil on November 14 before the Saudi Arabian round on November 28. The final race is back at Abu Dhabi the following week. Vietnam does not get a second chance in 2021 after having their 2020 event cancelled.
This weekend’s round at Turkey saw practice bring out the hard rubber on a newly relaid surface. Carlos Sainz observed: “The strangest session I’ve done in my life, the strangest Friday. You need to think that ahead of the weekend we were thinking of 1m 22s to 1m 23s lap times and this morning we were doing 1m 45s…” His own practices were interrupted with a power unit failure in FP1. Lando Norris agreed, stating the surface gave the high powered F1 cars a feeling of like being in a drift school.
That may have been the case, however it was all good for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. “At first, I was really not convinced by the grip of the track, and I was like, ‘This is going to be a very bad day’,” But after a few laps, I actually really, really enjoyed it.” This was in opposition to Lewis Hamilton, despondently saying “The track – it’s worse than Portimao was, when we had the new surface there, so for us at least, the tyres aren’t working, and you see it, it’s like an ice rink out there, so you don’t get quite the enjoyment of the lap that you would normally get out of Istanbul. And I don’t see that changing.”
Qualifying and on a greasy track, with torrential rain, a few surprises. Lance Stroll took pole position after all three qualifying sessions were affected by the weather. Q1 was halted with seven minutes to go, and would lead to a forty minute delay before being restarted. In the opening stanza both Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat would spin, with Romain Grosjean seeing the kitty litter and stopping the session. Q2 and wet weather tyres were called for. Carlos Sainz was called to the stewards after the sessions for impeding the progress of Sergio Perez.
Remarkably, Q3 saw Stroll top the time sheets, for Racing Point’s first pole in eleven years. Both the Mercedes cars struggled in the wet, with Lewis Hamilton down to P6 and Valtteri Bottas in P9. A late charge by Max Verstappen got him into P2 with Perez and Alexander Albon behind him. Daniel Ricciardo grabbed his second P5 in a row. Esteban Ocon will start behind his team mate and alongside Kimi Raikkonen. Antonio Giovinazzi closed out the top ten.
Both Ferraris will start from P11 and P12, ahead of Gasly and Kevin Magnussen, Sainz and Lando Norris, who both received grid place penalties (Norris for not slowing enough under yellow flags), Kvyat, Grosjean, Latifi and Russell.
Stroll’s pole position has him becoming the fifth youngest person to do so, aged 22 years and 17 days. Said Stroll:
“I’m shocked, I didn’t expect us to be up here after FP3. There were a lot of things we weren’t sure of coming into qualifying and we didn’t look competitive in P3 but I’m so happy right now. I really put that lap together there at the end.”
All that would come to nought however. Lewis Hamilton joined 19 other drivers on a wet, greasy, and potentially greasy track in Istanbul, would be in the mid-pack for a portion of the race, and would, somehow, lap his team mate and win. This win sealed his place in history as he now has seven world championships next to his name and equals Michael Schumacher’s record. In a touching moment at the end of the race, Sebastian Vettel, who had managed his first podium this year, reached out to Hamilton to congratulate him.
It is a truism of motorsport that rain is the great equaliser, and so it was for the 2020 Turkish DHL Grand Prix. The treacherous surface had Giovinazzi spin off before taking the starting grid and he would retire on lap 11. George Russell would also nose off before race start, snapping his car’s front wing. He would finish a lap down in 16th. From the start it was obvious traction was going to be an issue as Hamilton and the Renaults of Ocon and Ricciardo tangle and spin. Verstappen alsmost stalled on the start line and fell through the pack quickly. Stroll would lead but not for long.
Bottas would rue his start; he needed to finish first and have Hamilton no higher than sixth for a mathematical tilt at the crown. Perez was pacy early, and pushed Stroll for the lead before the Canadian pitted on lap 10. Red Bull’s Albon was also quick early, taking the lead once Stroll pitted. A VSC was called when Giovinazzi pulled over on lap 14, allowing Stroll to pit and emerge in the lead.
Pressuer time for Hamilton as passing on the greasy track was proving impossible. Verstappen spins and is lucky to miss all of the barriers on lap 18. Bottas gets to lap 22 and somehow has spun four times. Goodbye the long shot for the championship. Half race distance and as the track dries Vettel is getting pace. His team mate is nowhere to be seen. Rubber choice is becoming critical as the drying line confuses the intermediate compound but it’s still too wet for slicks.
Lap 35 and Albon is in for a swap, moving Hamilton to 3rd. Sergio Perez has been the dark horse here, he’s been in 2nd for some time, however loses the lead to Hamilton on lap 37. Stroll has also pitted and somehow it’s a bad thing. Six laps later and his lead has evaporated, as has any chance of a podium. Hamilton, however, is scooting away as Latifi falls by the wayside and his day is done.
Twelve laps left and Bottas is lapped by Hamilton. The track’s greasiness is disappearing. Vettel and Leclerc are 3rd and 4th. Nine to go and Grosjean ploughs through a corner and it’s a DNF. Three left and the threat of rain has abated leaving Hamilton to take the flag and the championship for the seventh time.
“I haven’t been out, I haven’t taken any risks this year as I had a championship to fight for. That’s made it quite difficult. It’s the not most exciting thing but I’ll go home and watch the race, and maybe have a bottle of wine. Making memories, I’ll wait until I can be around my family, my friends and celebrate with them.” Reviled by some, respected by others, Hamilton continues to remind both sides that his family and his team are why he is at the top of his game.
Vettel: “I told him that it’s very special for us because we can witness history being made today. I think he is the greatest of our era for sure. I think it’s always difficult to compare, how can you possibly compare [Juan Manuel] Fangio, Stirling Moss to our generation? You can’t.” Perez: “I think the team did a fantastic job in terms of strategy and I think Lewis today was extremely strong and towards the end we died but we managed to get a good result.”
There is another two weeks before the F1 cars hit the track, this time in Bahrain for the final weekend of November. Congratulations Lewis Hamilton, 2020 F1 champion and seven times world F1 champion.