Can Hamilton fight up front without Bottas doing a lot of things? | Pre-race analysis of the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix

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After a dramatic increase in grip compared to last year, and with changing conditions over the weekend, teams will need to adapt their strategies on the fly at Istanbul Park.

A somewhat altered grid order, due to penalties and a wet qualifying session, means that there are several interesting scenarios to play in Sunday’s race.

The first involved the driver who should have started from pole. Despite being fastest in Q3, Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalty for running a fourth internal combustion engine means he will start 11th. That puts Valtteri Bottas on pole and Max Verstappen next to him.

Once again, Verstappen will not have his fellow Red Bull driver as close as he would like. Sergio Pérez will start sixth, although he is at least well positioned to resist Hamilton’s efforts to bring order.

Having been the fastest in qualifying, Hamilton will start 11th

Bottas will clearly want to hold Verstappen at bay for the win, but Mercedes says she won’t be asked to endorse the package. “Valtteri is going to run his race tomorrow,” said team principal Toto Wolff. “It’s about the victory of the race and the victory of Valtteri and the victory of the team. And we are not going to do anything. “

However, the Mercedes team boss also acknowledged that there was a risk that Hamilton would have difficulty moving through the peloton and that the lead drivers would disappear down the road. “Yesterday we simulated some of these situations and it is very difficult to stay in traffic,” Wolff said.

“It is a phenomenon that we have already seen throughout the year, but it could be something we will have to fight against tomorrow. So there will not be many options left to try with strategy and obviously hope that the front end does not disappear into the distance ”.

Hamilton himself acknowledged that “passing people will not be easy,” especially if a DRS train builds up, as happened in Sochi and several other places this year.

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One element that all teams have incognito is tire wear. Pirelli says they believe a one-stop strategy, switching from tires from medium to hard compound or vice versa, would be possible, but that a two-stop could be faster.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Istanbul Park, 2021
Verstappen doubts he can fight Mercedes

Time lost in the pit lane in Istanbul is just 20 seconds, which will make an additional pit stop a more tempting option than elsewhere. Since teams are unlikely to use the brittle soft in the race (Yuki Tsunoda, who will start soft, is a notable exception), the strategies will involve juggling the two harder compounds.

“I don’t see anyone using [the soft] other than right at the end if someone is behind the fastest lap, maybe, ”said Williams vehicle performance chief Dave Robson. “So how many sets of tires do you need to use the [hard and medium] getting through?”

Caring for the tires is tricky in Istanbul as Turn Eight delivers fierce punishment at the front right, and backing up there can put opponents within range on the straights that follow.

“We will wait and see,” Robson said. “I think it will depend on how long you are willing to give in some of the corners to keep that probably the right front tire alive, in particular, and avoid running out of rubber altogether.”

It’s not hard to imagine a driver who, faced with plenty of places to win and starting on the same tires as those before him, is willing to risk an early switch to a two-stop strategy: Hamilton. If Red Bull will deploy Perez tactically early on to cover that, it will be worth keeping an eye out, particularly as the benefit of ‘undercut’, being the first to use new tires, is likely to be large.

Robson said he believed the race would be “tough” in terms of strategy. “It’s going to be one of those races where you have to make some pretty real decisions.” Williams themselves have shown that they can make the right decisions recently, but not all teams have done so when offered a sudden decision.

Tsunoda, starting with his softies, will probably be pushed two stops from the start. That could provide a head start for the rookie, if he can make up places early in the race. His likely early pit stop could lead others to pit in reaction and potentially cause more drivers to pit twice. This carries an additional potential risk as we have seen some sloppy pit stops from the FIA ​​technical directive ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, particularly on the Red Bull side.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Istanbul Park, 2021
Tsunoda may be the only driver who runs soft in the race

Tsunoda will start ninth on the preferred side of the grid. He directly meets Hamilton, who will have to decide how much he wants to bet against the relatively untested rookie.

Verstappen, who starts on the off-line side of the grid, was not optimistic about hitting a good pitch, no doubt recalling the problems he encountered in gripless conditions last year. “I don’t think it’s a good place to start on the inside because there is no control on the inside line, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said gloomily.

The Red Bull driver downplayed his chances against Mercedes by saying flatly “no” as to whether he could match them in race pace. “But of course we will try to keep going and see what we can do and see what happens in the race in general,” said Verstappen.

A final factor in throwing question marks over team calls is that there is a chance that it will rain again on Sunday morning, which should be gone long before the race. Robson said that the water on the track Saturday morning had given him “a bit of a restart” and that although the race appears to be dry, the track would go back to being green and potentially a little greasy, like at the beginning of Q1, when multiple drivers failed.

“Understanding exactly how the tires are going to work and how drivers should approach turn eight, in particular, will be a journey of discovery,” said Robson.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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To you

Will Bottas achieve his first win of the season in Turkey? Will Verstappen lead the championship again on Sunday night?

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