Flawless Bottas turns it around in Turkey

A year after his disastrous outing at Istanbul Park, Valtteri Bottas, now dropped by the Mercedes team for next year, produced one of the best performances of his career to end a year-long victory drought.

Drinking in: Race winner Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey at Intercity Istanbul Park in Istanbul, Turkey.   -  Getty Images

One year ago, Valtteri Bottas had a nightmare of an outing at Istanbul Park — the home of the Turkish GP — as he finished 14th while teammate Lewis Hamilton blitzed the field in a wet race.

To add insult to injury, Bottas was lapped by his teammate and his non-score that weekend ensured the seventh title for Hamilton as the duo battled for the drivers’ title.

One year later, the Finn, now dropped by the Mercedes team for next year, produced one of the best performances of his career to end a year-long victory drought.

Bottas controlled the race from the start and produced a near-flawless performance.

For Mercedes, it was a bitter-sweet moment as it won the race but not with its championship contender. Right from Friday, it was evident that Mercedes had the fastest car for the weekend even as Red Bull struggled to find the balance and was consistently a few tenths behind the pace.

On Saturday, Lewis Hamilton was the quickest in qualifying, more than one-tenth of a second faster than Bottas. But the reigning champion had changed to a fourth internal combustion engine for the season ahead of this race and had to take a ten-place grid penalty and start 11th.

It meant Bottas started from pole position on Sunday ahead of Hamilton’s title rival Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

A bit of rain before the race meant the track was wet for the start of the race forcing all drivers to start the race on intermediate tyres. Bottas got away cleanly, followed by Verstappen and Leclerc.

In the initial stages of the race, the drivers drove within themselves to manage a wet-weather tyre on a drying track. A new track surface meant that it did not dry enough through the race to allow drivers to switch to dry tyres even as it stopped raining before the race started.

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It was tricky for the drivers to manage the tyres to ensure they remained in the optimum temperature range by not over-driving the car.

Starting 11th, Hamilton had some work to do to climb up the order and lost touch with the leaders when he was battling AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda. The time lost behind the Japanese driver cost Hamilton more than 10 seconds to the leading group. Once he moved past the rookie, he quickly passed cars ahead and got on to the tail of Sergio Perez’s Red Bull.

Hamilton and Perez produced some exciting wheel-to-wheel action and on lap 35, the former looked like he had got past the Mexican.

However, Perez fought back and re-took the place into turn one. It was evident Hamilton did not get his elbows out while battling Perez, knowing the Red Bull had little to lose even as he is locked in an intense battle for the title with Perez’s teammate this year.

The time lost in this battle allowed Verstappen to pit for fresh tyres and emerge ahead of Hamilton, now on old tyres.

This was a crucial period of the race that would determine how the next 20 laps unfolded. After Bottas and Perez too had stopped, Leclerc, who was running third, assumed the lead of the race.

Double delight: Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez celebrate on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey.   -  Getty Images

 

The Ferrari driver at that point decided to try and run the race without stopping, hoping to somehow finish the race on old tyres and go for the win. On lap 41, Mercedes called Hamilton in but the driver refused, opting to go till the end like Leclerc.

But Leclerc soon ran out of tyres with Bottas re-taking the lead and the Ferrari driver was forced to pit by lap 47. Later, he was passed by Perez for the final podium position.

With Perez and Leclerc now on fresher tyres, they soon started catching up to Hamilton. Mercedes finally stopped the latter on lap 50 after it saw signs that his tyre might not last the distance.

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Hamilton was furious with the decision at the time, questioning the call to stop as he fell behind Perez and Leclerc.

The team felt Hamilton would have lost the place to the two drivers had he stayed out on track and felt by stopping they avoided a non-finish as that would have lost him 18 points to Verstappen instead of the eight he eventually lost.

For the second race in succession, Verstappen and Red Bull were on the back foot but managed to re-take the championship lead thanks to Hamilton's troubles and would hope they can be competitive in the remaining six rounds.

Even as his teammate won the race comfortably, Hamilton was left to fight for minor placings because of the penalty despite being quickest in qualifying and will have to dig deep again to overturn the six-point deficit when the F1 circus gathers in Austin for the US GP.