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Formula 1

Who was really fastest on strange Istanbul Friday?

by Mark Hughes
6 min read

In a strange Formula 1 season, we’ve had a few strange Friday practices recently.

The first F1 laps of Istanbul Park in nine years certainly conformed to that trend, but the longer the cars ran on the very recently resurfaced track, the clearer the competitive pattern became.

The surface was like a more extreme version of Portimao’s, the super fine-grained asphalt still sweating oil, a combination that severely limits both the mechanical and chemical grip mechanisms of the tyre.

“It’s worse than ice,” said Lando Norris in the early laps, trying to convey just how bad it was. “I honestly think we’d be quicker on inters,” offered Daniel Ricciardo.

The problem in such cases is getting the whole mechanism of tyre grip to initiate. If the tyre’s core cannot reach the temperature at which it becomes elastic enough to bend under load, it will offer very little support to the tread as it tries to grab hold of the track surface at its contact patch.

If the contact patch is not being adequately supported by an over-rigid core, it either doesn’t reach the temperature at which chemical bonding of the rubber and track takes place – or alternatively the tread overheats as a result of sliding across the surface rather than biting into it.

The problem at the beginning of practice was invariably lack of temperature in either tread or core.

As the track grip slowly builds as more cars run on it, so one or other of the two main mechanisms of tyre grip begin to work. As that begins to happen, then the other quickly follows.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Turkish Grand Prix Practice Day Istanbul, Turkey

Although the track was hugely quicker by the end of the afternoon session than the ‘worse than ice’ conditions in which the morning session began, it was still a long way from its optimum.

Max Verstappen – whose Red Bull headed both sessions – lapped in 1m28.3s in the afternoon, around 7s faster than he’d managed in the morning, but still 3s off the pace of the 2011 pole position time.

Typically, based around their performances at Barcelona and the Hungaroring, these cars might be expected to be around 6s faster than those of 2011.

Some of the apparent missing 9s on Friday will be accounted for by the significant fuel loads on board the cars even as they did their ‘low fuel’ runs, precisely because the tyres needed multiple laps to be brought up to temperature.

Regardless, the track is probably still many seconds slower than it will be by the end of the weekend. As such, the balance of the cars could yet change wildly as the track grip continues to ramp up. Cars well balanced today may not be so by the beginning of Q1 tomorrow – and vice-versa.

“I didn’t make a single change to the car today,” said Lewis Hamilton, fourth-fastest in the afternoon in his Mercedes but with a better long-run average than anyone else.

“There’s no point if the tyres are not working…

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Turkish GP practice

“It’s worse than Portimao was [at the beginning of that weekend]. It’s almost like there are wet patches all over because you’re way below the temperature window of these tyres. If you’re 10 or 20 degrees below or over they’re not working.

“This surface is so smooth, super closed and flat and shiny. On this surface, the hard was terrible, the medium wasn’t good, the soft was just starting to be better at the end.

“If we’d started with that as the hardest tyre and gone softer from there it might’ve been better.”

When they were on-track together, Albon was lapping every bit as quickly as his team-mate Verstappen

So the practices were even less of a barometer than usual and the patterns come with even bigger caveats.

That said, the fastest three cars – Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes – were vastly faster than the rest of the pack.

In that front group, the Red Bull and Ferrari apparently switched on the tyres more quickly than the Mercedes. But they all required multiple laps to bring the tyre in.

Try to bring it in too quickly and the front-right grains. If it’s still like that in Q1 the traffic problems could be considerable. The graining problem should lessen as the track grip builds – but the forecasted cool conditions tomorrow won’t help.

Alex Albon Red Bull Turkish Grand Prix practice 2020 Istanbul

Within Red Bull, the 1s gap between Verstappen and Alex Albon in fifth place is not representative.

Albon – who was second only to Verstappen in the morning – was a few minutes ahead of Verstappen in his run plan in the afternoon.

When they were on-track together, Albon was lapping every bit as quickly as his team-mate. With his low-fuel running completed, Albon pitted, leaving Verstappen out there to benefit from the ever-increasing grip of the track. That’s where that 1s margin came from.

Up until that point, they were running neck-and-neck, Albon if anything fractionally ahead.

All four Ferrari and Mercedes drivers were doing their low-fuel soft tyre runs at much the same time as Verstappen, though we cannot know how those fuel loads compared to each other.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Turkish GP practice

The long runs weren’t particularly long but looked as follows for the leading cars on the softs:

Hamilton – 4 laps – 1m32.81s average
Bottas – 7 laps – 1m33.01s
Verstappen – 8 laps – 1m33.12s
Leclerc – 9 laps – 1m33.68s

Albon’s long run was not as impressive as his low-fuel runs, while Sebastian Vettel concentrated his running on the slower medium tyre so skewing the comparison.

As has become the norm recently, AlphaTauri headed the chasing pack albeit around 1s adrift of the top teams.

Within that group Renault looked badly out of position, down between Alfa and Williams.

But there will undoubtedly be some dramatic form swings to come.

“The track’s going to evolve a lot yet,” said Bottas, “so it’s really tricky now to make the tight decisions on set-up and strategy.”

Practice 2 Results

Pos Name Car Best Time Gap Leader
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1m28.33s
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1m28.731s +0.401s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m28.905s +0.575s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m29.18s +0.85s
5 Alex Albon Red Bull-Honda 1m29.363s +1.033s
6 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri-Honda 1m29.689s +1.359s
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1m29.944s +1.614s
8 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m30.022s +1.692s
9 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 1m30.297s +1.967s
10 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 1m30.907s +2.577s
11 Sergio Pérez Racing Point-Mercedes 1m31.104s +2.774s
12 Esteban Ocon Renault 1m31.38s +3.05s
13 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m31.493s +3.163s
14 Carlos Sainz McLaren-Renault 1m31.498s +3.168s
15 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1m31.66s +3.33s
16 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m31.932s +3.602s
17 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1m32.302s +3.972s
18 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m32.57s +4.24s
19 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m32.807s +4.477s
20 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1m33.488s +5.158s
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