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Statistics | Can Hamilton salvage a race win from the midfield in Turkey?

Statistics | Can Hamilton salvage a race win from the midfield in Turkey?

10-10-2021 08:00

Mercedes have opted to install a fourth internal combustion engine [ICE] to Lewis Hamilton’s car ahead of the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix. The fourth engine is outside of Hamilton’s allocated pool of three ICE for the season, and the British driver will therefore take a penalty. He will start from the back of the grid. Is it possible for Hamilton to limit the damage and recover to the podium, or even a race win around Istanbul Park

The business end of the season 

Formula 1 is fast approaching the business end of the 2021 season, and the World Championship title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen rumbles on. It seems like it’s going to go down to the wire, with Hamilton currently holding a two-point lead. 

Going into the Russian Grand Prix, Hamilton and Mercedes would’ve expected that lead to be much bigger. Red Bull Racing opted to install a fourth engine into Verstappen’s car for the race in Sochi. He managed to work his way through the field, and aided by some rain, he managed to limit the damage as much as possible and finished in second place. 

Hamilton will be hoping to do something similar this weekend. When F1 raced at this venue last season, the track was slippy due to a freshly laid track. This then became worse during the race because of the rainfall. Despite rain being forecast this year, grip levels are expected to be much improved because the surface has been laid for over 12 months now.  

Fighting through the field in Turkey

In the short history of the Turkish Grand Prix, the race winner has come from the front row of the grid 88% of the time. In fact, only once has a driver won the race starting from outside of the top two grid spots. That person was Lewis Hamilton in the 2020 edition that saw him wrap up his seventh World Championship title. In that race, the Mercedes came alive in the drying track conditions after the Brit started from 6th place.

Hamilton went on to take the lead by lap 37 and he went on to take the chequered flag first. Under these track conditions, Hamilton proved it’s possible to advance from sixth and get the race win. However, the Mercedes driver will be starting from slightly further back than that this weekend. Perhaps slightly more notably, Sebastian Vettel started the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix from 11th. The same position Hamilton starts from this year. Using some good racing skills, and a bit of luck in the final sequence of corners, Vettel secured his final podium in Ferrari colours. Two of the drivers on last year’s podium started from outside the top five. 

Whilst the above is relatively good news for Hamilton, the previous editions of the Turkish Grand Prix make for bad reading. In the seven races held between 2005 and 2011, nobody finished on the podium by starting outside of the top five. This would suggest overtaking is difficult on the circuit and any fight through the field might be challenging even for a seven-time World Champion. 

Speaking of seven-time World Champions, Michael Schumacher started from the back-row in 2005 but withdrew after 32 laps. The then-Ferrari driver stayed at the back of the grid but did make contact with Mark Webber. 

Hamilton’s previous lowest starting position at the Turkish Grand Prix came in 2009 when he was racing for McLaren. He failed to work his way through the field and finished in 13th place. 

Hamilton fighting through the field 

In his whole Formula 1 career, Hamilton has only started from 11th once before. This came in the 2010 Australian Grand Prix when the Brit was still competing for McLaren. In the wet, Hamilton worked his way up to sixth position for the chequered flag. As a Mercedes driver, Hamilton has started from 10th place twice. In the 2016 Russian Grand Prix, Hamilton worked his way up to second to complete a Mercedes one-two on a track which is one of their strongest. He started from the same place in the 2016 European Grand Prix and managed to finish fifth. 

His only other start for Mercedes in the same ballpark came in the 2013 Italian Grand Prix. The car wasn't dominant in that season, and the Brit only just scored points. 

For his Championship bid, Hamilton needs to get on the podium to limit the damage. His own statistics prove that this is possible. However, around Istanbul Park, an advance through the field isn’t going to be easy. Tricky wet conditions could cause other drivers to make mistakes and help Hamilton jump through the field, as long as he avoids any incidents himself. And drying track conditions could help Hamilton find an advantage pitstop. 

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