En-plein for the Mercedes champion at the end of the first two free practice sessions at the Intercity Park in Istanbul.
Lewis Hamilton unbeaten … and apparently unbeatable on the day that opens the weekend of the sixteenth act of the World Championship: two practice sessions, two track records for the Black King but in the afternoon session to get on his trail (even in his wake) is Charles Leclerc, capable of going up to 166 thousandths from the summit before the “time attack” mode gave way to the simulation of the race pace. Problems with Max Vestappen which does not go beyond the fifth time behind Valtteri Bottas and – something completely unusual – of his teammate Sergio Perez.
635 thousandths of a second from Hamilton in the time attack, only in the final of FP2 (dedicated to the simulation of the rhythm-race in fact) Verstappen managed to straighten a not particularly brilliant turn. Beaten precisely in qualifying set-up also by his Mexican teammate (a very rare event this year), Max proved to be competitive in view of Sunday’s GP which – barring unforeseen events – nominates him for his return to the top of the drivers’ standings, since the replacement of the engine on Hamilton’s W12 will force the seven-time world champion to start probably halfway through the grid, serving the penalty of ten grid positions foreseen for the operation.
However, Hamilton proves to be very fast even in the second free practice session, at the conclusion of which the most interesting (and encouraging) data is the second time scored by Leclerc, who reaches only 166 thousandths and (also thinking of Hamilton’s penalty) the Rossa makes a shot at the traffic light from the second and perhaps even from the first row. Much will depend (for everyone, of course, not just for Ferrari) on the weather conditions in which qualifying will take place, given that on Saturday in Istanbul it could rain.
Behind Hamilton and Leclerc, the second practice session is lined up the other Mercedes of Bottas (+0.410) and precisely the two Red Bulls of Perez and Verstappen. Beyond the rarity of the result, the Mexican’s performance is good news for the Bulls. Net of the priority of the Dutch “cause” over the desire for redemption of “Checo”, the good performance of the latter should be read as further possibility for Red Bull itself to put an extra rival between Verstappen and Hamilton’s foreseeable comeback. Not really a human shield but in short … we are close! Especially bearing in mind Perez’s predilection for the curves of Istanbul and in particular the third time in qualifying and the second step of the podium in 2020 with Racing Point, otherwise known as “Pink Mercedes”!
The other Ferrari driver remains out of the top ten Carlos Sainz, twelfth but it is logical to think that the Spaniard, one second and 99 thousandths behind Hamilton, did a very different job with his engineers from that of his teammate. And this for the priority given to the development of the SF21 number 55 in race configuration. In fact, if Hamilton – penalized by ten positions on the grid – can and must still aim for the best possible qualification (thanks to a Mercedes perfectly at ease in the Turkish corners), the shot at the traffic light in last row for Carlos makes his work on qualifying quite marginal (not to say useless) and being able to devote himself immediately – and completely – to the race reinforces the chances in view of the comeback mission that Sainz has “launched” since the declarations on the eve as his imperative for the Turkish GP.
Returning to the medium-high quarters of the ranking, behind the Red Bull duo we find Lando Norris, sixth at 721 thousandths from Hamilton. The failed hero of Sochi clearly detaches his teammate Daniel Ricciardo (only fourteenth) while Alpine F1 Team strengthens its candidacy to the fourth row (and to the role of outsider in the case of a GP outside the box) with the seventh time of Fernando Alonso and the eighth of Esteban Ocon. Antonio Giovinazzi climbs up positions compared to the morning and closes the top ten (while Kimi Raikkonen stops at box 15 of the ranking), separating the two Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda.
The transition from shocking pink to “British Racin Green” seriously damages Aston Martin, great protagonist in Istanbul in 2020 (Stroll on pole, Perez second at the finish line of the GP) but disappointing today: the same Stroll 13esimo, Sebastian Vettel 16esimo. But it is only Friday and both have a good chance of climbing the rankings, while it is a derby between Williams and Haas for the last positions. Nicholas Latifi (17th) manages to precede despite a spin a so far “impalpable” George Russell. Mick Schumacher for his part “rules” Nikita Mazepin and turns to his usual challenge between the two rookies at the end of the group. In both cases, everything as expected. Or maybe not, since “Prince” George (in the sense of Russell) and the young Schumacher nin the latest releases they had succeeded in sowing internal competition. With much more striking results for Hamilton’s next teammate, of course!