Turkish GP Preview: What will be the key talking points?
A preview of what some of the hot topics will be at next weekend's Turkish GP.
Image: Mercedes AMG F1
Hamilton on the verge of the unthinkable
Lewis Hamilton will have his first opportunity at the Istanbul Park to clinch his 7th F1 world championship, which will also be his 4th consecutive title and 6th in 7 years. It seems now that it is a matter of when - not if - Hamilton will equal the great Michael Schumacher's record of 7 F1 world titles, a record that many thought would stand at least for many decades. In fact, it was only 16 years ago that Schumacher won his 7th title for Ferrari at the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix. Hamilton has also emulated Schumacher in winning the world championship for two different teams during his career. Next season, he will have his best chance to surpass Schumacher by making it 8 titles as the regulations remain relatively stable next season amid the coronavirus pandemic. All could change for 2022, but Lewis may decide to go out on top like Nico Rosberg in 2016, and pursue his many other interests.
To guarantee his 7th crown in Turkey, Hamilton will need to finish ahead of team-mate Bottas on Sunday. Although, he will still win the title unless Bottas outscores him by at least 8 points. There are many permutations, by these two situations set out clearly what Lewis must do.
The fight for 3rd in the Constructors' Championship is heating up
Image: Renault F1 Team
Image: McLaren F1
Renault, Racing Point and McLaren are all separated by just one point with just 4 races remaining. From now to the checkequered flag in Abu Dhabi, every single point that can be gained will be vital. Finishing 3rd is very important to all of these teams, as it the difference between 3rd and 5th is worth millions of dollars in prize money. Aside from car performance, reliability and consistency will be essential in the final 4 Grand Prix. Let's have a look at each of these teams in turn.
Who is most likely to come out on top?
Based on recent form, Renault look in the best position. The Enstone-based team have scored two podiums in the past 3 Grand Prix with Daniel Ricciardo. In the past 4 races, they have accumulated 52 points from their two drivers. However, to give themselves the best possible opportunity, then they will need Esteban Ocon to score top 5 results like his Australian team-mate. Although, admittedly Ocon has suffered two mechanical retirements in 2 of the last 3 events. Ocon has steadily improved his form as the season has progressed, closing the gap to Ricciardo in qualifying and he beat him on merit at the Emila Romagna GP. Renault know that they can count on Ricciardo to bring the car home in a good position. The Australian has scored points in the last 7 races, but can Ocon deliver for the team when it matters the most?
Racing Point have made big changes this season with a completely resigned car, albeit based heavily on last year's W10 Mercedes. This has propelled the Silverstone-based outfit to fight at the front of the midfield this year. They are currently on 134 points after 13 GP in a shortened season compared to the 73 that they scored last season from a full 21-race calendar. Both Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll have produced excellent results for the team this season, but the trend is recent races is that it is Perez alone who has been scoring the points. In the past 4 races, the Mexican has scored 36 points. Checo could have scored even more points, had he not made contact with Max Verstappen on lap 1 in Portugal, and if the team did not make a strategic error while under the safety car in Imola. In contrast, Lance Stroll has failed to score points in the last 3 races, as he was forced to sit out the Eifel GP due to illness which turned out to be coronavirus. In Stroll's defence, he was set to score a good result for the team in Russia, but was controversially taken out of the race on lap 1 by Charles Leclerc who was fortunate to escape without penalty. However, the reality is in the last 2 races Stroll has been poor. The Canadian must return to his early-season form as soon as possible. It may turn out that Renault beat them to 3rd by virtue of the fact that Racing Point were deduced 15 world champion points by the FIA in August as they upheld Renault's protest about the legality of Racing Point's brake ducts.
McLaren had an excellent start to the season with Lando Norris taking his first F1 podium at the season-opening Austrian GP. Both Norris and Sainz were scoring excellent points at the start of the season. However, their points tally has been declining in recent times since Carlos Sainz took an incredible 2nd place finish at the Italian Grand Prix, narrowly losing out to eventual winner, Pierre Gasly. In the past 4 races, they have scored 26 points which is the lowest of the three teams by some margin. This relatively low tally is not entirely down to car competitiveness. At the Russian GP, Carlos Sainz made a costly error when trying to rejoin the track too quickly which resulted in the Spaniard clouting the wall. At the Nurburgring, Lando Norris had a fantastic opportunity to score his second podium of the season until he was let down by a mechanical problem with his car. In Portugal, Norris would have been in the points had he not made contact with Lance Stroll who cut across the Briton's line at the first corner during the race. These were all missed opportunities which could cost McLaren at the end of the season.
The second Red Bull seat is still up for grabs
It is another three-way fight this time for the second seat at Red Bull Racing alongside Max Verstappen.
Image: Red Bull Content Pool
Albon's form at Red Bull this season has been well-documented as he has severely unperformed in comparison to Verstappen and in a car that is comfortably the second-fastest on the grid. This season, he has just 1 podium to his credit and is 9th in the driver's world championship with 64 points. Verstappen is 3rd in the championship with 162 points and 9 podium finishes, including a win at the 70th Anniversary GP. The performances of the London-born Thai driver have actually worsened as the season has progressed, perhaps a sign that the pressure and intense scrutiny by the media is really getting to him. He has scored just 1 point in the past 4 races. Red Bull are giving Albon every opportunity to retain his seat, rather than look externally for a replacement. It was recently announced that the team will not make a decision on who will partner Verstappen until after the season concludes in Abu Dhabi, which gives Albon 4 races to show what he is capable of. It seems hard to see that Albon will be able to make a miraculous turnaround in form in this very short period of time. However, it is something that Albon must do if wants a seat in F1 next year as the line-up at AlphaTauri is looking likely to be Gasly and Tsunoda.
Sergio Perez has been nothing short of exceptional this season for Racing Point. For the first time in his career, he has been given a car that can fight at the front on merit every weekend. However, if he is rejected by Red Bull, the Mexican will find himself without a drive for next year. Checo is 6th in the driver's championship despite having to miss 2 races after testing positive for COVID-19. This season, he has scored 7 top-6 finishes and has scored at least one point in every race that he has competed in. Surely he is everything that Red Bull want in a second driver- he is incredibly fast and consistent. Another benefit that he brings with him, is sponsorship money which could be particularly appealing to Red Bull who will lose Aston Martin as their title sponsorship at the end of the year. Checo has so much more to give to the sport, it would be such a shame if we were to lose him.
Nico Hulkenberg has been well and truly pushed in at the deep end this season- something that he has coped with remarkably. In the two Grand Prix that he his car made the start for, he scored in both. At the 70th Anniversary GP, he qualified an incredible 3rd and finished 7th on raceday. At the Eifel GP, he was put into the car for the first time that weekend for qualifying and so understandably started last. However, he made up for it on the Sunday by going from P20 all the way up to P8. What Hulkenberg has demonstrated this season is that he is adaptable, a quick learner and copes very well in high pressure situations. Hulkenberg has always been a consistent driver, but is still without a podium finish in F1 which could count against him as he competes for the Red Bull seat. Although, the German does enjoy a very good relationship with Max Verstappen, and perhaps would take being beaten on a regular basis by the Dutchman better than Sergio Perez.
Let's see how everything plays out in Turkey.