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Long run Analysis | Red Bull off the pace, Hamilton gets penalty in Turkey

Long run Analysis | Red Bull off the pace, Hamilton gets penalty in Turkey

08-10-2021 16:38 Last update: 08-10-2021 16:38
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Friday in Turkey developed many important storylines off the track as Mercedes confirmed Lewis Hamilton will race with a new internal combustion engine (ICE) for the weekend in Istanbul. And on the track, it was Hamilton who did the talking by topping the leaderboard in both FP1 and FP2. The seven-time World Champion also looked strong in the long runs as Red Bull Racing had one of their worst Friday performances across the 2021 season. 

More grip on the circuit

The grip levels caught out many teams and drivers in the first practice session. Within a couple of laps, a number of drivers spoke on the radio about their relief with the grip levels of the circuit. In 2020, F1 arrived at the track with short notice. The asphalt had only recently been laid and therefore the oils were still present. This caused the track to be an ice rink that only became worse when rain fell. 

However, almost 12 months on and the circuit conditions are much improved. Over the year, the surface has been washed vigorously and more grip is present. Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas reported that the circuit is now one of the grippest tracks on the whole calendar. Proof of this comes in the lap times. 

In FP2 2020, Max Verstappen posted a 1:28.330 to top the timesheets. Flash forward 11 months and the first timed lap by Hamilton in FP1 had already knocked a full second off Verstappen's P1. Hamilton's quickest time of the day, with heavy traffic, was 1:23.804. That's a 4.5-second improvement with the grip levels as they are in 2021. This also plays with the tyres. 

Softest tyres

Pirelli arrived in Turkey with tyres a step softer than last year. The high grip levels cause problems for the soft tyres and therefore the teams wanted to burn through as much as their soft tyre allocation as possible. In FP1, none of the four drivers for Mercedes/Red Bull opted to use the medium or the hard tyre sets. Clearly saving the yellow and white marked tyre for the race as the soft tyre struggled to hang on for one push lap let alone several fully fueled laps.

We expect the top ten will all use the medium tyre in Q2 as they will want to start on this. It might not even be a surprise to see a midfield team roll the dice on the hard tyre in Q2, maybe sacrificing some grid spots but they will have an advantage by going longer in the first stint of the race. The weather may also play a part in this. Rain has been forecast for various stages on Saturday and Sunday, though the forecast looks better now than it did earlier in the week. 

Qualifying

All signs point towards a strong Mercedes performance in qualifying. With Hamilton's impending grid penalty, it's important for the Brit to get P1 as this will limit the penalty to 11th place. Bottas was also close to his teammate on a single-lap pace in FP2. Perhaps this will be the final weekend where Mercedes put all of the race win emphasis on Bottas as they look to prevent Verstappen from taking the win whilst Hamilton starts out of position. 

The Mercedes car looked hooked up with the circuit as early as FP2. The RB16B visibly struggled with understeer as Perez and Verstappen often ran wide. This played a big part in the two Red Bull drivers being half a second behind Hamilton. As Christian Horner alluded to in his post-session interview, it's something the Red Bull mechanics can fix, or at least work on overnight. 

However, Hamilton bumped into traffic on his fastest lap. This occurred in sector two at turn eight and would suggest Hamilton could improve further. 

Long-run pace 

Driver Tyre Average lap time
Lewis Hamilton Medium 1:27.6
Charles Leclerc Medium 1:27.8
Valtteri Bottas Medium 1:27.9
Pierre Gasly Hard 1:28.0
Max Verstappen Medium 1:28.1
     

This makes good reading for Mercedes fans. Hamilton again maintained his half-a-second advantage during the long run which could be very important when he has to fight through the field on Sunday. It's perhaps more important for Mercedes that Bottas' average lap time during the long run was faster than Verstappen's. 

Red Bull are well within the mix for the Grand Prix victory. They've proved over the last 15 Grands Prix just how strong their 2021 package is. And if they fine-tune that Red Bull overnight, they'll be able to find the working window. One interesting point regarding Red Bull is the performance of Perez. Whilst Verstappen had one of his worst Friday performances for some time, Perez had one of his best ever. 

This would suggest the balance and set-up of the car favour Perez's style of driving more than ever. Perhaps Red Bull will loosen the rear-end to suit Verstappen's style overnight. 

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