Why Istanbul’s new surface caught Pirelli by surprise, and what it means for the race · RaceFans

by Nov 13, 20200 comments


Before practice started at Istanbul Park, most drivers talked up the challenge the track would present, particularly the dauntingly fast turn eight.

Several of them laughed off suggestions they might need extra padding around their cockpits to support their necks around the ultra-quick, quadruple left-hander. It turned out they were right – though not for the reasons they expected.

A few other drivers remarked on Thursday that the track surface was fresh and oily. Dirt had also accumulated on its surface, and when field took to the track on Friday, they found an alarming lack of grip. Even down the straights the cars were twitching.

Pirelli has brought its hardest tyre selection for this race. On the face of it this seemed a sensible move at the time – the track is known to be hard on tyres. But following the resurfacing lap times remain over three second shy of the 2011 pole position time, which current F1 cars were expected to easily beat.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Istanbul Park, 2020
Red Bull are already flat-out through turn eight

Pirelli’s head of motor sport and F1 Mario Isola admitted they would be better off with a softer tyre selection. He said they hadn’t been aware of the resurfacing until it was too late to change the tyre selection, despite Pirelli having a factory around half an hour’s drive from the track.

“I believe it was quite a late decision from the circuit,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “We are well connected with the FIA in normal situations and at tracks where we’re used to going, we have information in advance.

“This year it was a bit more difficult: New local promoters and maybe the information was not so clear. But the result is that I got the information that the plan was to have a new Tarmac I believe four weeks ago, just before the start of the work at the track.”

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In an ordinary season, in line with F1’s regulations, Pirelli declares its tyre compound choices nine week in advance for races held in Europe, and 15 weeks ahead for other rounds.

“Four weeks were not enough for us to change the allocation,” said Isola, pointing out that their F1 tyre production takes place not in Turkey but Romania. “We already produced the tyre and the tyres were travelling to Turkey.”

Pirelli’s presence near the circuit did allow them to inspect the near surface, which they discovered was very different to the old one.

“Our colleagues from our Turkish factory helped us to measure the Tarmac as soon as they finished resurfacing the circuit and it appeared that we had Tarmac that was very smooth,” said Isola.

“We measured it again yesterday and got slightly different numbers. But again, not a grained or aggressive asphalt like we used to have in Istanbul.”

It became clear the track no longer required the hardest rubber in Pirelli’s range. “Our decision on the allocation was based on the circuit layout and the severity of turn eight and also on the type of Tarmac and how the Tarmac is aggressive.

“So it is clear that the selection is a bit too hard for this circuit. In any case, everybody has the same tyres same allocations and number of sets so I don’t think there is a disadvantage for anybody.”

Drivers are likely to avoid the hard tyre in the race, which proved very hard to warm up on Friday. Graining appears to be a problem on the softer rubber, which may end up forcing teams to consider an approach other than the usual one-stopper.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Istanbul Park, 2020
Mercedes did not lead the way on Friday for once

“In our previous simulation we were assuming a one-stop strategy for the majority. Depending on the level of graining now, if we have graining also during the race on Sunday on the soft it’s possible that we have a two-stop strategy quicker than a one-stop strategy.

“The hard, I am not sure if it’s going to be a compound they will choose for the race. If they focus on medium and soft it is possible that we have a two-stop race.”

Obviously there was little which could be inferred from the lap times which were run. Interestingly, Red Bull were able to tackle turn eight flat-out, according to team principal Christian Horner. “They were flat,” he said. “Actually Alex was the first one to do it then closely followed by Max.”

They expect Mercedes will assert their usual supremacy on Saturday, and extend their unbeaten run in qualifying. But with track conditions this unpredictable nothing can be taken for granted about the race weekend ahead.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Combined practice times

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Sector times

Car number Driver Car Best lap Laps Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
33 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 88.33 37 32.743 31.116 24.471
16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 88.731 45 32.776 31.244 24.668
77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 88.905 42 33.03 31.323 24.552
44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 89.18 39 32.976 31.416 24.548
23 Alexander Albon Red Bull-Honda 89.363 42 33.117 31.379 24.867
26 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri-Honda 89.689 43 33.232 31.568 24.889
10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 89.944 43 33.378 31.579 24.987
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 90.022 41 33.238 31.616 25.002
18 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 90.297 38 33.382 31.903 25.012
4 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 90.907 39 33.408 31.538 24.865
11 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes 91.104 38 33.822 32.092 25.19
31 Esteban Ocon Renault 91.38 36 33.7 32.214 25.225
99 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 91.493 39 34.039 32.42 25.034
55 Carlos Sainz Jnr McLaren-Renault 91.498 40 33.938 32.003 25.257
3 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 91.66 35 34.126 32.39 25.036
7 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 91.932 43 34.119 32.076 25.242
63 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 92.302 39 34.247 32.393 25.662
8 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 92.57 33 34.297 32.513 25.365
20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 92.807 37 34.333 32.757 25.615
6 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 93.488 40 34.919 32.839 25.57

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