No room for error in Hamilton v Verstappen F1 title fight
With just two points separating championship leader Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in a thrilling race for the Formula 1 title, neither can afford a slip in the remaining seven races.
Their competition resumes this Sunday at the Turkish Grand Prix. Both hope the Istanbul track is much more reliable than it was last year, when it had just been remade to host an F1 race for the first time since 2011 and was much too slippery.
Pilots complained throughout practice and qualifying about the unreliable surface on the 5.3 kilometer (3.3 mile) course.
Verstappen said it was like an ice rink and placed sixth in the race after qualifying second. Hamilton took advantage of the unpredictability of the race to move from sixth place on the grid to win a record-breaking seventh world title.
“Last year’s Turkish GP was not the best weekend, but I think the circumstances will be very different this year,” said Verstappen. “I hope the tarmac will be a bit more grippy. I can’t wait to see how competitive we are.
Verstappen could be even further behind in the standings given he started the Russian GP two weeks ago from the back of the grid. He exceeded his three-engine allowance for the season and took a grid penalty for using a fourth engine.
Although Hamilton won in Sochi to clinch a 100th F1 victory, a record, Verstappen limited the damage by finishing upset second as the rain fell and chaos ensued with a few laps to go.
Now Mercedes team manager Toto Wolff is deciding if it is risky to keep Hamilton on his third engine for too long. It could be Hamilton’s turn to take a grid shot for an engine swap, to avoid a potential breakdown at Istanbul Park.
“It’s a possibility,” Wolff said. “The most important thing is that you don’t give DNF (don’t finish) because of a reliability issue.”
Ferrari has given Carlos Sainz Jr. a new engine, which means he will start Sunday’s race from behind.
Verstappen is a major threat to Hamilton’s bid for an eighth world title to surpass Michael Schumacher and stand out among the greats of F1. He leads Hamilton 7-5 for wins this season and 7-3 for pole positions.
While the race for the drivers’ title is tight, Red Bull is lagging behind among the manufacturers and ahead of Mercedes by 33 points.
Part of this is due to bad luck, with Verstappen knocked out of the British GP by Hamilton and, in Hungary, off the track in the first lap after a poor start from Valtteri Bottas.
But it is also because his teammate Sergio Perez did not score enough points. The Mexican driver has competed in eight races without a podium since June, when he placed third in the French GP. In those races, he collected just 36 points compared to 84 in the first seven races of the campaign.
“I want to be back on the podium this weekend,” said Perez, who has two wins from 12 career podiums but accepts he needs to do better in qualifying. “I realize that we have to put the car where it deserves it on the grid.”
The Turkish GP took the place normally reserved for the Japanese GP at Suzuka. This race was canceled in August due to government concerns about coronaviruses.
Red Bull is powered by Honda engines, but the Japanese automaker is withdrawing from F1 in late 2021. Suzuka would have been Honda’s last race, so in honor of Honda, Red Bull and the AlphaTauri power team will have special liveries.
The Red Bulls will have a predominantly white livery, inspired by the Honda that American rider Richie Ginther propelled to victory at the 1965 Mexican GP.
House favorite Pierre Gasly and the AlphaTauris of Yuki Tsunoda will wear “Arigato” – Japanese for thank you – on the rear fenders.