NASCAR Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: Tires & the Turkish Grand Prix; Underwhelming Aston Martin

With Formula 1 returning to action this weekend after a rest weekend, there are a number of topics to consider as the teams turn laps in Turkey. The main focus for the weekend will no doubt center on the driver’s championship and the close race between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen (246.5 points – 244.5).

Hamilton’s win at the Russian GP placed him atop the standings once again, but it is a precarious place for the seven-time champion. Last year in Istanbul, Mercedes failed to show much pace with Hamilton qualifying sixth and nearly five seconds off the pole.

Lance Stroll took the pole in a car that was roundly considered to be a sister to the Mercedes car, making the results look all the more bizarre. Verstappen, however, started second and was less than one second behind Stroll’s effort.

The Mercedes engineers explained that the team suffered in getting their tires up to temperature. The result was that the drivers — Valtteri Botas qualified ninth — could never deliver the pace that the car had been showing throughout the season.

The key difference this time around is that the race is being held over a full month earlier in the calendar year. The 2020 iteration came on Nov. 15, with this one early in October. The seasonal changes may be just what Mercedes needs to manage the tire temperatures better and to try and keep pace with Red Bull.

But Red Bull is hot, and Verstappen is starting the race with a new power unit and will be feeling confident after starting last in Russia and making his way to the second step of the podium. The team has every reason to believe that Verstappen will be leading the standings after this event.

– Mercedes was not the only team to struggle with racing at the Istanbul Park Circuit last year. Because of the numerous complaints about the track and its lack of grip, the surface was water-blasted in preparation for F1’s return in 2021.

As the track had not been part of the F1 schedule since 2011, it had been somewhat forgotten about. But when it emerged as a site in the peculiar 2020 season, the track went through a resurfacing project.

The problem came with the timing. While the work had finished on time, it was completed only a few weeks before the cars began laying down laps. Because it had yet to weather in, the grip level was chaotically low.

Thus Turkey was a double whammy for some teams — they could neither get their tires up to temperature nor could they find grip on the smooth new surface. The return this year should provide a challenge to both engineers and drivers as they try to figure out these new conditions.

– What is going on at Aston Martin?

Sitting seventh in the standings, the team has seemed out of sorts all year. For a team that finished fourth and just seven points behind McLaren last year, their position of seventh looks absolutely woeful.

The team scored 195 points last year, but with seven races to go has accounted for just 59. The team did lose second-place points when Sebastian Vettel’s work at the Hungarian GP became null and void.

Consider that Vettel scored second in Baku but has just three other finishes in the points for the season — and he has retired only once. What brings further consternation is that Vettel has, at times, been driving very well and has already grabbed as many points this year as he did when driving for Ferrari in 2020.

As for Stroll, he has, statistically, been the better driver, earning points in seven grand prix, but he is still behind his teammate in the standings. So the statistics are questionable. That the team is a little lost this year seems to grow with each race, and perhaps they are heavily invested in the new 2022 car.

That should not omit the fact that A-M have been outscored 23-11 by Wiliams(!) over the past flve races. In fact, Williams is starting to show as a decent team to fight for positions in the back half of the top 10, and George Russell has earned points in four of those five races.

For a four-time champion, Vettel must be confused or dismayed by what is happening. The team has certainly struggled with their high-rake car in this year’s regulations and have never found the balance they had last year. But with their funding, they should be running higher in the order.

Perhaps the pressure is getting to the drivers and that is making their on-track lives more difficult. In an effort to secure the best results, they are getting disappointing ones. In fact, in the last two races, Vettel and Stroll have clanged into each other, ensuring that they not only fail to earn vital points but making them look like fools in the process.

Aston Martin will not be challenging McLaren for third or fourth place this year, but if they want to maintain seventh, the team looks like it needs to get together and have a chat. Perhaps having former McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh join the team will right things and provide the necessary leadership moving forward.

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