All season long, Mercedes has dominated qualifying. Scoring the pole in each of the first 13 races, come Turkey and the Mercedes cars seemed a little off.
Despite the earlier practice sessions having decent enough weather, Saturday’s qualifying was plagued by heavy rain showers. For some reason, the Mercedes cars didn’t have speed and their streak of 14 consecutive poles dating back to 2019 was snapped.
However, on top of the charts it wouldn’t be a Mercedes, a Red Bull, a Ferrari or even McLaren. It would be the Racing Point of Lance Stroll scoring his first even career Formula One pole award, edging out the dominant car of the session, Max Verstappen.
Setting a time of one minute, 47.765 seconds, Stroll beat out Verstappen by a slim margin of 0.290 seconds. Gambling during the wet weather conditions and taking intermediate tyres, Stroll and teammate Sergio Perez were able to put both Racing Point cars in the top three. Perez’s time would clock in at around one and half seconds slower than Stroll.
Alexander Albon came across the line in P4 with Daniel Ricciardo completing the top five. In what has to be his worst qualifying session in recent memory, Lewis Hamilton will start the Turkish Grand Prix sixth, his worst start of 2020.
Esteban Ocon will line up seventh on Sunday with the first of two Alfa Romeo cars in top 10 starting alongside, as Kimi Raikkonen used his past Istanbul experience to lock himself into P8. Valtteri Bottas needed a good qualifying effort if he had any chance of keeping the title fight alive, but Bottas lacked grip all session long and got a dreadful P9 for his troubles. Antonio Giovanazzi rounded out the top 10, giving Alfa-Romeo two cars in the top 10 for the first time since their old Sauber days.
For the first time since 2011, the drivers got on track at Turkey’s Intercity Istanbul Park. Different drivers and much different cars created a somewhat hellish experience for some of the drivers. With several drivers complaining of having no grip, almost every car went for at least one spin or slide during the free practice sessions.
At the end of FP1, Verstappen topped the charts with a time of 1:35.077. Albon was second with Leclerc in third.
Red Bull and Verstappen continued their dominance into FP2 and FP3. FP2 was a lot more of the same story with drivers spinning out and Verstappen topping the charts.
At the end of FP2, Verstappen set a time of 1:28.330 putting him under half a second ahead of Leclerc in second and a further tenth up on Bottas.
Finally, FP3 was where the rains came down. Soaking the track in heavy rain, Verstappen was once again able to top the charts. Logging a time of 1:48.485, Leclerc once again finished second almost one second back of the fastest time. Albon came home third one and a half seconds off of his teammate.
Q1 saw the heaviest of heavy rain showers, as drivers were slipping and sliding, leading to spins all over the place. Some went out on intermediates while most decided to go out on full wets. The rain lead to a red flag, delaying the session nearly 30 minutes. A second red flag was displayed less than two minutes after the session was resumed, as both Romain Grosjean and Nicholas Latifi beached their cars in the gravel failing to advance. George Russell, Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat also failed to advance.
At the end of Q1, Verstappen lead with a time of 1:57.485. Albon followed behind 2 seconds off, with Raikkonen in third.
Q2 saw the rains lift ever so slightly, as the Mercedes cars struggled the Racing Points gained speed. While most drivers opted to stay on the wets, the McLarens tried to gamble but failed to capitalize on intermediates.
All the drivers struggled for grip on the circuit, with Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly struggling the most. When the dust all settled, Verstappen once again topped the charts with a time of 1:50.293. Albon and Hamilton completed the top three.
Both Ferraris, both McLarens and Pierre Gasly would be eliminated after Q2.
In Q3, the rains lifted enough for most of the teams to try running intermediates. Only one team seemed to be successful running them: Racing Point.
First it was Perez shooting to the provisional pole, then he was edged out by Verstappen. In the final stages of Q3, it would be the Canadian’s time to shine. Stroll put in a blistering fast lap as Verstappen struggled to get grip on the intermediates. After suffering a crash at Mugello, a Covid diagnosis at the Nurburgring and DNFs at Russia and Portugal, Stroll did what no Canadian has done since 1997: score an F1 pole.
Edging Verstappen by a margin of roughly three tenths, Stroll will start P1 for the first time ever.
It was elation in the Racing Point camp, while a few stalls down at Red Bull it was frustration. After being so dominant in every session up until Q3, Verstappen expressed his disappointment but promised to win on race day.
Odds and Ends
- Mercedes pundits must’ve been over the moon after both drivers failed to lock out the front row for the first time since Brazil in 2019. In fact, this marks the first time in a very long time that neither Mercedes driver made the top five. While the weather seemed to play into the teams’ struggles, should Sunday be run in the dry it may swing tides back into Mercedes’ favour.
- For the first time since Jacques Villeneuve’s championship season in 1997, a Canadian will start on pole of an F1 race. To put the 23-year gap into perspective, Lance Stroll wasn’t even born yet when Villeneuve took his last career pole at Jerez. No Canadian has come close to a pole until today, with Stroll become the first pole-sitter to hail from the Americas since Brazil’s Felipe Massa scored the pole in 2014 at Austria. He also become the first non European pole-sitter since Australian Daniel Ricciardo scored the pole in Mexico in 2018.
The lights will go out for the Turkish Grand Prix at 1:10 pm local time. Viewers in Britain can catch the race at 10:10 am while in North America, it will be an early morning as the race is set to being at 5:10 am on the east coast and 2:10 am on the west coast.
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are the only two prior winners in the field, with Kimi Raikkonen the only other driver to have F1 experience at Istanbul. Depending on the weather, Sunday’s race will be a complete toss up.