Damage limitation for Hamilton as the title lead swings again.
The Finn dominated throughout in tricky conditions and emphatically made amends for his 2020-turkish-grand-prix-report/">tricky day on a slippery Istanbul track last year, comfortably covering off the chasing Max Verstappen.
It was a lonely day for the Dutchman – during which he apparently struggled to stay awake – but one which saw him reclaim the championship lead as Hamilton could only recover to fifth after having taken a 10-place grid penalty for a new engine.
The seven-time world champion survived the potential first corner carnage in the middle of the field – unlike Fernando Alonso, who was spun by the understeering and sandwiched Pierre Gasly – and made fairly quick progress through the bottom half of the top 10.
Alphatauri/">AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda – perhaps predictably in the sister Red Bull team – put up the most convincing fight, but Hamilton eventually found his way past with a nice move around the outside of Turn 3 and then picked off Lance Stroll, Lando Norris and Gasly to find himself up to fifth by lap 15.
Sergio Pérez proved a far tougher challenge, though, and impressively kept car number 44 behind after a thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle through the end of lap 34, with Red Bull bringing in their other car for a new set of tyres shortly after.
Mercedes covered that off with Bottas and called Hamilton into the pits a few laps later, but their driver was unconvinced and elected to stay out – perhaps thinking of his successful call to do exactly that at last year’s grand prix – as did Ferrari‘s Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque had been running in an impressive third throughout but spotted a chance of an unlikely win.
It would ultimately prove to be the wrong call for both drivers.
Having lost the lead to Bottas with 11 laps to go, Leclerc admitted defeat and pitted, with Hamilton also doing so three laps later as his team informed him that it was his last chance to remain ahead of Gasly.
The two drivers struggled with graining issues on their new tyres. The other leading drivers had already passed through this phase and were now much faster, with Pérez passing Leclerc for the final podium spot and an unhappy Hamilton having to defend from Gasly.
Out front, it was plain sailing for Bottas, though, who secured his 10th F1 victory – and his first for over a year – with a commanding performance and reached the chequered flag with a gap of almost 15 seconds back to Verstappen.
Carlos Sainz earned Driver of the Day for his charge through the field from 19th to eighth and Esteban Ocon, who did run to the end on his original set of intermediate tyres, narrowly held on for the final points position.
Having taken the engine penalty, Hamilton and Mercedes likely would have settled for an eight-point swing in the title fight if it had been offered to them at the start of the weekend, but they will be aware that it could have been reduced further on the day with a better-executed strategy.
They will now head to the United States Grand Prix in a fortnight determined to wrestle back the championship lead with a win and will be hoping that the pace they showed in Turkey – where they had a few tenths on Red Bull throughout the weekend – is permanent rather than track-specific.
Strategy Woes for Hamilton
Hamilton and his team found themselves in a strategic no man’s land with a gamble that did not quite pay off on Sunday.
Ironically, the 36-year-old was perhaps a victim of his past successes. He is famed for his ability to preserve tyres and his decision to overrule the team at the same grand prix 12 months ago was inspired and earned him the victory which secured his seventh world title.
On this occasion, though, the team should have pulled rank far sooner.
With Hamilton behind Verstappen even after the Red Bull driver had pitted, the risk they chose to take outweighed the reward. The Briton only stood to gain a position on Pérez, who he was battling with before the pit window and surely would have passed given another 20 or laps.
In clean air, Hamilton was the fastest man on track despite having used more of his tyre life working his way through the field. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 but he likely would have secured a podium and perhaps even could have challenged Verstappen had he pitted earlier.
The tyres that came off the Mercedes on lap 50 – and Ocon’s plummet during the final laps on a tyre with a visible hole in – probably justified their decision not to allow Hamilton to risk going to the end, despite his initial frustrations. They, more so than Alpine, could not risk a disastrous blowout.
The team were hoping for another Hamilton tyre preservation miracle or the emergence of a dry line suitable for a late change to dry tyres, but Sebastian Vettel‘s failed experiment had already showed that was unlikely in the humid conditions and Mercedes were ultimately punished for their indecisiveness.
Answering the Burning Questions
With rain forecast over the weekend, will we get a repeat of last year’s thrilling race? The rain came but the thrills and spills were lacking, at least compared to last year and recent races.
How will Lewis Hamilton recover from, at best, 11th on the grid? It started well but the wheels came off – or rather did not – towards the end.
The Turkish Grand Prix in 60 Seconds
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