Istanbul, Novmeber 15: Lance Stroll took a sensational pole position for the Turkish Grand Prix, a race which could see Lewis Hamilton crowned F1 world champion for the seventh time.
Mercedes driver Hamilton leads Valtteri Bottas by 85 points with four rounds left and will equal Michael Schumacher's record of drivers' titles unless his team-mate scores at least eight points more than him on Sunday (November 15).
A thrilling wet qualifying session on Saturday (November 14) has set the stage for an unpredictable race, where cold conditions and a resurfaced track could continue to trouble the drivers, while further showers are possible.
Istanbul Park is hosting its first grand prix since 2011 and on the evidence of the race weekend so far, the long wait has been worth it.
WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING
After establishing himself as the man to beat on Friday (November 13), Max Verstappen looked superb again on Saturday, topping FP3, Q1 and Q2 despite extreme wet conditions and two red flags at the start of qualifying.
But Racing Point made the inspired early call to switch to intermediate tyres in Q3 and saw Sergio Perez move into provisional pole, prompting most of the top 10 to frantically change from the full wets.
Stroll then produced an even better time than his team-mate and, while a scrambling Verstappen nudged himself back above Perez, he was 0.290 seconds behind the Canadian, who claimed his country's first pole since Jacques Villeneuve 23 years ago.
Mercedes struggled and saw their hopes of claiming pole at every race this season ended. Hamilton was sixth, 4.795s off the pace, but in a positive for his title hopes Bottas was even further behind (5.493s) in ninth.
THE STARTING GRID
1. Lance Stroll (Racing Point), 2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
3. Sergio Perez (Racing Point), 4. Alex Albon (Red Bull)
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault), 6. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
7. Esteban Ocon (Renault), 8. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
9. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), 10. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
11. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), 12. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
13. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), 14. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
15. Lando Norris (McLaren), 16. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
17. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri),18. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
19. Nicholas Latifi (Williams), 20. George Russell (Williams)
ISTANBUL TALKING POINTS
Hamilton has cut a frustrated figure with his Mercedes struggling in icy Friday conditions and again in the wet Saturday sessions, but he looks to be in a strong position to get the title wrapped up this weekend.
Racing Point will be dreaming big after getting two drivers in the top three and will hope for further showers allow them to remain near the front.
Pole gave Stroll – who was relieved to keep the position after a nervous trip to the stewards – a remarkable boost after not scoring a point for five races, one of which he missed having contracted coronavirus.
But Verstappen has been the man to beat all weekend and, while initially frustrated after qualifying, he will realise he is in prime position to land a second win of the season that would give him big momentum going into 2021.
Struggled a lot to find grip on the intermediates 🌧 I’m disappointed that pole slipped through my fingers, but in the end I can’t complain with first row #KeepPushing #TurkishGP 🇹🇷 pic.twitter.com/eTFqPVkvEI— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) November 14, 2020
Under-pressure Albon has an opportunity to collect just his second podium, while in-form Ricciardo is eyeing his third top-three finish in the space of four grands prix.
A decade to the day of his first world title win in 2010, Vettel missed Q3 for the 10th straight occasion. Ferrari were disappointed in qualifying after looking particularly strong on Friday, but grid penalties for the two McLaren cars mean the German starts 11th with Leclerc in 12th, providing a chance for meaningful points.
WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID
Lance Stroll (pole): "It was such a crazy session – it's been a crazy day since this morning. I haven't scored a point since my podium in Monza, it's been a rough run just with incidents, COVID and so much going on. But to bounce back like this and put it on pole position is very special for me. I heard there was a chance of rain at the start of the race, so we'll see what happens. That could mix things up."
Max Verstappen (2nd): "This is the first time this year I sit here upset. I think that says it all. It was all going quite well on the wet tyres and in Q3 I was not very sure to go on inters because I felt really comfortable on the extreme [wet] tyres. The whole weekend we were first, it looked very comfortable, and then you lose out in Q3. So at the end of the day I don't care where the Mercedes is."
Sergio Perez (3rd): "I was unlucky with my final lap [and could have got pole] but it is a great result for the team and hopefully we can make it into a lot of points for us. I definitely prefer P3 [on the racing line] than P2 - at the start that will be a good difference."
Lewis Hamilton (6th): "We tried our hardest and did the best we could – that was the fastest we could go. The track feels terrible, it's just like driving on ice. I've got no idea what car I've got underneath me for Sunday. We made some set up changes [after Friday practice] and then it's been wet. If it's dry I have no idea how it's going to feel and if it's wet then I know it could feel as bad as Saturday."
Kimi Raikkonen (8th): "In the morning we struggled like crazy but we tried to make some changes and decided to do some laps in FP3 even if it was awful conditions and I think it helped a bit in the qualifying. In dry conditions we definitely wouldn't have been this high up [eighth and 10th]."
Charles Leclerc (12th): "I have no explanations, absolutely no explanations. With heavy rain in FP3 this morning, we were competitive – probably one of the fastest cars out on track. [In qualifying] we are not speaking a few tenths, we are six seconds off which is absolutely huge. I have no explanations for that. We need to understand what we are doing wrong in the rain. I hope it is going to be dry on Sunday."
Was feeling really good in the wet during FP3, but we couldn’t switch on the tyres in Qualifying for some reasons and it’s been a disaster. Disapointed about today but the race is tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/S84z4VrnX0— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) November 14, 2020
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 282
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 197
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 162
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) – 95
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 85
1. Mercedes – 479
2. Red Bull – 226
3. Renault – 135
4. McLaren – 134
5. Racing Point – 134 (after 15-point deduction)