Celebrations on the podium on Turkey

Turkey GP - Stat Wrap

By Sean Kelly
C4F1's Virtual Statman

Another race, another Hamilton win, another world championship.  Boring, right?

That headline doesn’t begin to tell the story of an incredible Turkish Grand Prix in which the race winner never ran in a podium position until lap 34, the driver who led 32 laps finished ninth, and it all played out organically with not a single intervention by the Safety Car or a red flag to artificially reset the order.

Given the magnitude of his achievement, it would be remiss not to start with Lewis Hamilton tying Michael Schumacher’s seven world titles, which was confirmed with a crushing 31-second victory, the third time this season that the Englishman has won by a margin of 24 seconds or more.

This was Hamilton’s tenth win of the year, the SIXTH time he has reached double figures in a single season (compared to four times by all other drivers in history – equally split between Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel).  He has also won four in a row for the seventh time in his incredible career.

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You simply can’t ever rule Hamilton out, even after a bad qualifying in which there was no Mercedes in the top five on the grid for the first time in the entire hybrid era…. but the last time Hamilton started outside the top five was when he lined up 14th at the 2018 German Grand Prix, and he still won the race.  The last time he had started from 6th on the grid before Sunday was at the 2014 British Grand Prix…..and he won that race too!

Hamilton’s 73rd race victory for the Mercedes team established a new record for the most wins by a driver with a single constructor, surpassing Michael Schumacher’s 72 wins with Ferrari only two races after he surpassed the German’s all-time record of 91.

His incredible consistency means he has scored in 47 consecutive races, a streak 20 races longer than any other driver has ever achieved.  Statistically at least, Hamilton is unquestionably the greatest driver of the era, and arguably the greatest of ANY era.

Amid the hullaballoo concerning Hamilton’s historic title success, Mercedes achieved something small but significant in their own right.  This was their 114th Grand Prix victory, tying Williams for third on the all-time list and only trailing McLaren (182) and Ferrari (238).  They only had 13 wins in their history prior to the 2014 season….

Having said all that, it seemed for much of the afternoon that Racing Point were set for a first Grand Prix victory, and for a good portion of the race it even looked like being a 1-2 finish, as Lance Stroll led Sergio Perez at the front of the pack.

Stroll was the surprise polesitter in a wet qualifying session, beating Max Verstappen to become the first Canadian not named Villeneuve to take pole position in an F1 race.  Not since Jacques Villeneuve won the title at the 1997 European GP at Jerez had a driver from Canada started at the head of the field.

This was also Racing Point’s first pole, and the first for the team since Giancarlo Fisichella at the 2009 Belgian GP in their days as Force India.  It wasn’t one of those poles that went to the last driver on the racetrack either.  With all the Q3 runners on track, Stroll pipped Verstappen by 0.290s, but it was especially notable that Stroll was 4.795s quicker than Hamilton’s Mercedes!

Racing Point’s speed in the tricky conditions extended into the opening segment of the race.  At the end of lap 3 Stroll led teammate Perez by 6 seconds, leaving everybody else over 13 seconds behind!  That he ended the race in ninth place was a travesty for Stroll, who has now led more laps this season (32) than any non-Mercedes driver, purely on account of this race.

Given Stroll’s lack of grip after pitting for new intermediates on lap 36, Racing Point elected to leave Perez out on track for the remainder of the race.  Having seen a podium finish evaporate at Imola due to the hasty decision to pit him in the final Safety Car period, Perez was this time the beneficiary of good strategy and finished second…. but only just (we’ll get to that momentarily).

It was Perez’s best finish since he was second – again to Hamilton – at the 2012 Italian Grand Prix, and his ninth career podium finish on a weekend in which he FINALLY started in the top three for the first time, at the 188th attempt.

Perez had previously started fourth on the grid nine times, and on the one occasion when he qualified second – at the 2016 European GP – a gearbox penalty relegated him to seventh.  Therefore this was the first race with a Mexican driver in the top three on the grid since Pedro Rodriguez was on the front row at Zandvoort in 1971.

There was a time during the final lap where it looked like Perez would not be on the podium at all.  A mistake going onto the back straight allowed Charles Leclerc to pass, with Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel in close attendance.

A costly Leclerc lockup under braking then allowed Perez to regain second, with Vettel following him through to claim his first podium of the season on the weekend where he marked ten years since winning his first world title at the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP.

With Vettel joining Perez and Hamilton, it meant that the podium this weekend was filled with the only three active drivers who had raced in the most recent Turkish GP back in 2011.

Vettel had not finished in the top five all season, and until Sunday he was one of only four drivers who had not completed a single lap in the top three in any race during 2020.  He also outqualified Leclerc for the first time in 11 races, and notwithstanding Leclerc’s bitter disappointment to lose both second AND third place in the final two corners, this could be a turning point for the Scuderia.

Ferrari scored 27 points in this race, and although they remain sixth in the Constructors’ Championship – which would make this their worst season since 1980 –  they are now only 24 points behind third-placed Racing Point.  They may not get there, but they at least now have a shot of retaining their regular position in the top three teams by the end of the year.

An improvement in qualifying form would certainly help, with neither car reaching Q3 this weekend.  In fact, there were no Ferraris, no McLarens and no Williams in the top ten on the grid for this race, astonishingly the first such occurrence in Formula 1 since the 1967 South African GP at Kyalami.

Racing Point were not the only constructor to run 1-2 during the afternoon, as Red Bull also saw both their cars at the front on lap 11, and remained strong contenders for victory until driver errors stepped in.  A spin while attempting to pass Perez hobbled Max Verstappen’s afternoon, and he would eventually finish sixth, the first time he’s finished a race without being on the podium in 2020.

He was followed home by teammate Alex Albon, who led a lap for the first time in his career in this race before suffering a spin of his own as his worn intermediates cried enough.  He did end a three-race pointless streak, but he will know there was at least the opportunity to beat Verstappen in this race.

As is so often the case in modern Grand Prix racing, Carlos Sainz’s performance went almost completely under the radar on Sunday, as he quietly avoided trouble to finish fifth, splitting the Ferraris and the Red Bulls.  While statistically minor in its own right, it was the Spaniard’s fourth top-five finish of the campaign.

Teammate Lando Norris turned 21 on the Friday of this weekend, and while on the way to eighth place he set the fastest lap.  Not only was it his second fastest lap of the year but it was McLaren’s third overall – more than any constructor other than Mercedes.

Given that the team are in a four-way fight for third in the Constructors’ Championship, McLaren’s fastest lap bonus points could prove priceless at seasons’ end.  With both titles decided, this will likely become the major focus of the remaining three races of this unique F1 season.