Bottas, Red Bull Take Advantage of Hamilton’s Costly Mistake to Top Turkish Grand Prix


Bottas maintained his pole position amid damp conditions in Istanbul. (Courtesy of Twitter)

The 2021 Formula 1 season continued in Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix. Heading into the race, Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton were leading the constructors and driver’s standings with Red Bull and Max Verstappen hot on their heels. Hamilton had to change his internal combustion engine (ICE) and he was given a 10 place grid penalty since this surpassed his allotted amount of ICEs for the season.

The weather for the weekend once again forecasted rain and it started to fall during qualifying. However, it quickly dried out for Hamilton to light up the track and claim pole position followed by his teammate Valteri Bottas. Verstappen qualified in third with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in fourth. Due to Hamilton’s grid penalty, he was demoted to 11th, promoting Bottas to pole, Verstappen to second, and so on.

The sky opened up and the rain fell when it was time for the race, meaning that everyone started on intermediate tires. When the lights went out, Bottas and Verstappen both got away cleanly with Bottas immediately opening a gap. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez jumped into fourth from his starting position in sixth. Hamilton also moved into tenth after the end of the first lap as Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, sandwiched between Perez and Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, spun going into turn one.

Hamilton eventually ran into a roadblock in ninth and attempted to pass Gasly’s teammate Yuki Tsunoda. Hamilton kept on trying to overtake the rookie but was thwarted by some excellent defending, granting Verstappen a huge advantage in the early stages. Hamilton finally got past him on lap eight and continued his charge. After lap 15, he was up into fifth place and pursuing Leclerc and Perez.

The rain stopped at this point in the race and the biggest question was when to switch over to the slicks (dry tires). We saw this exact scenario last year. The intermediate tires were worn down to the point that they essentially became slicks due to the tire degradation. All of the drivers were in constant communication with their teams, consistently updating them on the conditions and if the track was dry enough for slicks. 

Another thing to consider was whether the drivers pit for another set of intermediates. That would be no-brainer were it to continue raining, but with the weather improving, the slicks could be the better option. A wrong choice could derail the race. If last year was any indication, if someone pitted for another set of intermediate tires, it was actually slower than the old tires due to the new ones not being at the optimal temperatures.

The top five stayed in the same order as the race rolled past the halfway point. On lap 31, Hamilton finally caught up to Perez and was within a second. Since the track was wet, the drag reduction system (DRS) was not enabled, making it harder for Hamilton to pass. Hamilton made his move through the final corners on lap 35 and became wheel-to-wheel with Perez. Hamilton actually appeared to force Perez off of the track and into the pitlane but Perez showed grit with the inside line for turn one and he remained in front of the seven-time champion. 

Verstappen pitted alongside Bottas on lap 37 with Perez pitting the lap after. Bottas emerged from the pits in second but ahead of Verstappen in third. Leclerc now led the race. 

During a normal race, a driver is required to race on at least two of the three dry tire compounds. However, due to the rain, only one type needed to be used. This meant that, theoretically, no pitstop was required and someone could go all the way to the end.

This was now a possibility for Leclerc in the lead and Hamilton considering his position. It all depended on if Perez could fire up the tires and get them into operating temperatures. If there was a time to pit Hamilton, it was now.

Hamilton stayed out despite multiple calls to pit by the Mercedes wall. Meanwhile, on lap 47, Bottas retook the lead with Leclerc immediately entering the pits for fresh rubber and reemerging in front of Perez. Now, Hamilton was in third but had a rapid Perez and Leclerc behind him. Hamilton might not even make it to the end with those tires, much less finish on the podium.

Hamilton finally entered the pits on lap 51, albeit fuming about the decision as he sat in no man’s land. He would have been fine if he had pitted with the rest of the leaders. Instead, his tires would have to go through a rough phase until he got the tires into the operating window. He emerged in fifth and was five seconds behind Leclerc and Perez. Perez then advanced into the final podium spot on lap 52. Hamilton was frustrated on the radio, asking why they pitted and gave up the podium place.

Bottas crossed the line six laps later to win the race with the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Perez rounding out the podium. Leclerc finished fourth and Hamilton in fifth. Mercedes later revealed that Hamilton could have fallen down to eighth place had they not pitted him when they did.

Verstappen now leads the drivers championship after 16 rounds while Mercedes stays atop the constructors. Only time will tell to see if Hamilton’s pitstop blunder costs them the championship. The next race is this weekend as F1 returns to the United States for the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas. With six races to go, expect this title battle to go all the way.