Gripping Turkish GP adds to Formula 1 title race intrigue
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Johannesburg - This weekend, the battle for supremacy between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen continues in the Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul Park.
There are only two points separating the drivers in the world championship, making it one of the closest title fight in years – up there with 1994 between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill; 2006 between Fernando Alonso and Schumacher; 1988 between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost; Keke Rosberg versus Didier Pironi in 1982; and the famous battle between Niki Lauda and James Hunt in 1976.
Here, Morgan Bolton looks at five factors of another Grand Prix that could change the outcome of the championship.
A damp Turkey
Rain is expected for one of the most challenging races of the year.
As seen in Russia a fortnight ago, the weather can play absolute havoc on teams’ strategies; the biggest victim then was McLaren’s Lando Norris, who came desperately close to winning his first Grand Prix, only to make the wrong call and fluff his chances.
Wet weather will certainly open up the field in qualifying and at the start of the race. If it comes or goes during the race, then chaos can be unleashed as teams make a mad dash to the pits, and pray to the motoring gods that they get their calls right.
Last year, in wet conditions, Hamilton stayed on his intermediate tyres for an astonishing 50 of the 58 laps to win the race. He called the experience “terrifying”.
The grip at the recently resurfaced track is a concern. Efforts have been made this year to ensure it will improve, but if it rains, one should expect an ice rink.
... and speaking of Norris
The young Brit has been one of the stars this season, but his loss in Sochi could have a major impact on his confidence.
Norris has been on the podium four times this season, and has only finished twice outside the top 10 in 15 races. He is an exceptional talent, but it remains to be seen where he is mentally after his failure in Russia.
He no doubt will have gained immense experience from that race, but will he be able to bounce back?
Aston Martin shaken, not stirred
Earlier this season, Aston Martin showed signs of competitiveness, but in recent races they have fallen off the pace.
They managed to string together top 10 finishes in Monza, Azerbaijan, France and the Styrian Grand Prix in Austria, but have since lacked consistency.
In the following six races, they have only been able to secure three of those feats, excluding the disqualified podium-place finish of Sebastian Vettel in Hungary, and always only with one driver.
Lance Stroll captured his first pole in Turkey last year, and the team will hope that the conditions will again favour a similar outcome ... They desperately need it.
Prancing with more horses
Charles Leclerc installed a new engine in Russia to exceed his quota for the season, forcing him to start at the back of the grid, but also giving him an advantage as the season comes to a close.
There were signs in Russia that the new power-unit had some kick to it, and now with the opportunity to use it without any repercussions, Leclerc and Ferrari will be able to take the fight to McLaren again.
Fourth-placed Ferrari are 17.5 points behind their great rivals, so they have a massive incentive to make the best of the remaining races.
These mortal engines
Red Bull’s Verstappen also took a full grid penalty in Russia a fortnight ago, also for installing a new power unit, pretty much gifting Hamilton the race.
The Dutchman did brilliantly to fight back and secure second place, ensuring a high degree of damage limitation.
This concern is now very much in Mercedes’ court.
Hamilton has also used the season’s three allocated power units, meaning that his team must now also make a decision.
Keeping the engine for the rest of the season is out of the question – he will lose too much power, while there is a chance of engine failure, and then also a resulting grid penalty as well during any of the remaining seven races.
It is expected that he will be forced to make the change now to limit the immediate damage to the title race, and will therefore start the Turkish Grand Prix at the back of the grid.
This is compounded by the fact that the next event, the United States Grand Prix, is seen as a Mercedes race, while the following Mexican Grand Prix is for Red Bull.