Turkey Is Back On The Menu!

Race Start for the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix

Istanbul Park returns to the F1 calendar for 2021, replacing the Singapore GP.  To celebrate this brilliant news, we thought we’d throw back to the insanity of the 2010 race to remind you of how good this track can be!

Remember the days when 5 drivers from 3 teams had a genuine title fight for the entirety of a season? Remember the days when the championship fight went down to the last race of the season? Remember the days when the eventual Champion didn’t lead the standings once until he’d actually won the title? Remember the days when for an entire season, no driver would win a race while leading the Championship? 

Well if you’ve only become an F1 fan in the past 10 years, I’m not surprised that your answer to all of these questions would be a resounding “no”. Even those of us who’ve been following the sport for longer, struggle to remember those days. The most we can hope for these days is that Max can continue to fight Lewis for the whole 2021 season. 

Thankfully, we have races like the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix (and the 2010 season as a whole, for that matter) to dream about after some of the boring modern races like Spain 2021. Eleven years ago, by the time the F1 circus arrived in Istanbul in late-May for the 7th round of 19 that season, there had already been 4 different winners of the first 6 races: Alonso, Button x2, Vettel, and Webber x2. Lewis Hamilton would go on to make it 5 different winners in 7 by the end of this race, but the story of how he got there was fascinating.

Bulls on a Charge

Red Bull gave us early signs of the dominance that was to come over the following 3 seasons, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber sharing the spoils of pole positions for each of the first 7 races. Webber’s 1:26:95 on Saturday was enough to take his 4th pole of the season ahead of the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton and his teammate Vettel in 3rd. The Bulls were stunningly quick over 1 lap, with 2010 being the first true example of the Blown Diffusers that would catapult them to dominance in 2011; but the revolutionary F-Duct in the McLaren (a pre-curser of sorts to DRS) meant the McLaren’s were able to keep the Red Bulls honest in the races. And of course, Fernando Alonso kept Ferrari in the fight from the get go, capitalising on Vettel’s broken engine at the first race in Bahrain to give himself a dream debut in Ferrari. 

As the early races wore on, it seemed clear that then 21 year old Vettel was already becoming a bit frustrated with his much older teammate beating him to pole positions, and multiple race wins, when it was widely accepted that, even in these early days, Vettel was the driver Red Bull preferred for the title fight. So to see “number 2 driver” Webber start so strong seemed to affect Vettel (the first of multiple similarities with 2014 and 2019 for the German).

Webber arrived in Turkey leading the Championship, having stormed to back-to-back pole positions and wins in Spain and Monaco, becoming the first driver of the season to win 2 races on the bounce. He continued his form with pole in Turkey and was odds-on favourite to win 3 in a row.

Vettel vs Webber, Round 1

If you haven’t seen the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, but did happen to catch the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix, then you’ve already seen where this is going. Brazil 2019 was almost a shot-for-shot remake of Turkey 2010, only with a red filter. Not even the bizarre French-Canadian “iteration” of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is as close a remake as Brazil was to Turkey. (Google that one, trust me). 

Webber lead from pole and kept ahead of Hamilton, just, until a mistake by the McLaren pit-crew dropped the Brit down to 4th, giving Webber a bit of breathing room out front, with only his teammate behind. Assuming the team would enforce team orders (despite officially being banned in 2010), Webber asked the team to tell Vettel to slow down, as he, Webber, needed to save a bit of fuel. The team denied the request, claiming the McLarens were too close and too much of a threat to tell Seb to slow down. Webber had no choice but to enter into fuel-saving mode regardless, something Vettel had already been doing for several laps and thus was now able to run in a higher engine mode, while Webber was slower. It all came to a head down the back-straight, that isn’t completely straight, as Vettel closed right up behind Webber, pulled out and…BOOM!
Vettel swerved back in front of Webber far too early, collided with his team-mate’s front tyre, and sent both of them spinning wildly off the track. 

The aftermath of Vettel turning in too early on Webber left both Bulls liming in the run-off area at the end of the back straight.

This was to be the first of many “moments” between the Red Bulls over the following 4 seasons. Incredible memories (if you’re a neutral looking on) such as “not bad for a number 2 driver” and “Multi 21, Seb…Multi 21” would further wedge the 2 teammates apart, but this was where it all started. 

Did you spot the comparison with Brazil 2019? While the commentators would never say it, and both Red Bull and Ferrari didn’t have the balls to lay the blame squarely at Vettel’s feet both times, where it belonged; any impartial F1 fan could clearly see that both of these crashes were 100% Seb’s fault. 

Turkey 2010 was a dark day for Red Bull, and while Vettel would go on to redeem himself by winning that year’s Title, and dominating the following year, winning by 8 seconds over Webber in Turkey 2011, Christian Horner will no doubt have a few nightmares and flashbacks to that fateful day, in the run-up to this year’s race. Especially bearing in mind that Max also spun in 2020, trying to overtake his now-teammate Sergio Perez.

“Is Jenson Going To Pass”

One of my all time favourite Xbox Achievements comes from the F1 2011 game. The challenge is to win the Turkish Grand Prix, driving as Lewis Hamilton. The title of the Achievement you get for completing this challenge is “Is Jenson going to pass or not”. A brilliant little easter egg which directly references the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix. 

After the Red Bulls had their moment, Vettel was out of the race entirely, while Webber managed to keep going, but conceded his position to the 2 McLaren’s; meaning that for the remaining 18 or so laps, Hamilton lead from Button. With Webber’s car limping and saving fuel, McLaren knew the threat from behind was gone, and a 1-2 finish for their cars was all but guaranteed. Both drivers were thus instructed to turn down their engines to save fuel and tyres, which were marginal all race thanks to the incredible quadruple-apex Turn 8 (hopefully we’ll get a dry qualifying this year to see the modern cars at full pelt around there). As mentioned, Team Orders were officially banned for 2010, so McLaren couldn’t officially tell Button not to attack Hamilton. The instruction that “both cars have been told to do the same” and conserve fuel, was a fairly obvious code to not race, hold positions, and bring the cars home 1-2. 

Despite the pressure from his teammate, Lewis Hamilton did manage to reach the chequered flag first.

Button, though, was still faster than Hamilton. And since he hadn’t ‘technically’ been told to not attack Lewis, attack Lewis he did! Lewis panicked. Asking on the radio why he had been told to slow his car down, when Jenson was very clearly closing in on him at a vast rate of knots. Lewis’s radio message showed his concern: “Jenson’s closing in on me guys. If I back off, is Jenson gonna pass me or not?”; to which the team replied: “No Lewis, no”. But pass Button did. For about 20 seconds.

After the Bulls collided, we very nearly saw a 2nd teammate collision as the McLaren’s went toe-to-toe through the final chicane, even lightly tapping each other in the penultimate corner. Button did pass Hamilton into the final corner, but Hamilton very quickly fought back, passing around the outside of the long, uphill right-hander of turn 2, to retake the lead and stay there for the remainder of the race. It was terrific racing between the 2 of them, and a model example to the Red Bulls of how teammates should fight on track without touching (a lesson Hamilton had clearly forgotten about when he hit Rosberg in Spain in 2016, but I digress).

What To Expect in 2021?

F1 is returning to Istanbul Park again this season, despite not originally being on the 2021 calendar. After Singapore dropped out for the 2nd year in a row, Turkey stepped up yet again. 

The return to Istanbul Park last season after 9 years away did not disappoint at all. A spectacular pole position for Lance Stroll in torrential rain on Saturday set up a mad race on Sunday. A drenched-to-bone-dry track throughout the race made for some very interesting strategy and tyre management. Hamilton wore his Intermediate tyres out so badly, they went beyond “the cliff” to the point where the grooves had fully worn off and they essentially morphed into Slick tyres – allowing Lewis to continue pumping in fast laps on the dry track, while everyone else pitted. 

Lewis Hamilton won the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, ahead of Sergio Pérez and Sebastian Vettel.

Charles Leclerc bottled a guaranteed podium at the final corner of the final lap and allowed Vettel through for his first podium in over a year. And while pole-sitter Stroll plummeted to a lowly 9th, his teammate Perez sealed 2nd place to cap off an overall brilliant weekend for the Pink Panthers.  

This year, it’s anyone’s guess. After the French Grand Prix, Christian Horner said of Red Bull vs Mercedes, “if we can beat them here, we can beat them anywhere”. He may have a point. France had traditionally been a 100% Mercedes track and, had it been on the calendar for the past few years, it’s quite hard to see anyone but Hamilton having won multiple Turkish GPs – he loves Istanbul Park. The “European Season” races throughout July & August – namely Austria, Silverstone and Netherlands – should give us more of an inkling as to who might come out on top in Istanbul. 

It’s exciting to see Turkey back on the calendar yet again. Ideally, like Portugal, it will become a more permanent fixture in future seasons – not just a Hulkenberg-esque reserve track. Istanbul Park is easily the best of all the Herman Tilke designed tracks, aka “Tilkedromes”.

We’re very excited about the return to Istanbul Park. Are you? Or would you have preferred Singapore to stay on the calendar? Let us know.