Resurface a Formula 1 circuit at your peril. A couple of years ago Silverstone got a serious dressing down for it. A few weeks ago, Algarve got lucky because there was no modern frame of reference, drivers were just a bit lost with not very much grip.
But in Istanbul, there’s no such goodwill towards the organisers. Several drivers including Lewis Hamilton feel like the magic of the track has been sucked out of it, a little bit like the bitumen/oil/nasty stuff that’s seeping from the newly laid surface and turned the track into an “ice rink”, at least in FP1.
Overnight rain has washed the track again to an extent, so FP3 should be another festival of slip-and-side action. Qualifying will probably result in constant track evolution, making progression a bit of a lottery – time your run right and you’ll proceed to the next stage. Drivers may well be adjusting to the track’s changing limits until the final lap of Sunday’s grand prix.
Good! Hamilton calls it “S*** with a capital S!” and others joined him in saying it was impossible at times, but that’s brilliant for anyone watching. I agree with them in one sense because the early moments of FP1 were too far. It was like watching the cars battle a wet track (and in some shots it looked exactly like that as the surface was so clean and shiny!). That’s over-the-top because the driver skill is in keep it on-track, not going quickly in low-grip conditions. Seeing some cars miss apexes and spin at very, very low speed even on outlaps was just a bit rubbish. It didn’t make F1 look good.
But by the end of Friday, what was the problem? OK, the track was a lot slower than expected, several seconds off the 2011 pole time and well behind the predictions for qualifying here. But the drivers could push. The cream rose to the top, it wasn’t a total lucky dip to see who was quickest.
Charles Leclerc even said he was finding it fun! Although, he’s a little biased given Ferrari’s been very good at maximising outlier weekends this season and looks really competitive here. The SF1000 seems to work nicely in low-grip or cold conditions.
The point is, the drivers aren’t completely lost just trying to keep the car pointing in the right direction. They are struggling to take the car to the limit. And that’s what F1 should be about. We’re all a little fed up of seeing onboards where the drivers look like they’re part of a Scalextric set, not wrestling a brute of a racing car. At least here they are having to work for it. And the performances of Max Verstappen and Leclerc, or even George Russell in the midfield, show that this low-grip track can be tamed to one degree or another.
If the rest of the weekend proceeds as a gradual evolution of FP2, I’m all for that. I think it’ll be fun. A challenge. And it’ll be unpredictable. For too long, and at too many tracks, F1 doesn’t look that way at all. This might be an unorthodox way of achieving it and, I reiterate, the scenes early in FP1 were certainly too far in the wrong direction. But as a one-off, this could be something pretty great. Imagine the opening laps of the Portuguese Grand Prix drawn out over the majority of the race – with a slightly jumbled up grid to begin with.
Sign me up!