Explained: Why F1 Drivers Are Struggling for Grip at Istanbul Park Ahead of the Turkish Grand Prix

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Many F1 drivers were keen to get out onto the track ahead of this Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix. Little did they know, the track surface would almost be akin to driving on ice!

It took two free practice sessions to get some kind of grip on the track at Istanbul Park. Even at the end of it, no driver came even close to Juan Pablo Montoya’s lap record of 1:24:770, set in the year 2005.

Drivers will hope that the warmer weather influences the track temperature for better handling and grip. However, the question that really needs to be asked here is, why are they struggling in the first place?

F1 drivers found the Turkish Grand Prix track to be quite ‘slippery’

Understandably, many drivers were finding it hard to brake late and swiveled around the corners. A similar concern of gripping had occurred at Portimao, but Lewis Hamilton found the track at Istanbul to be “worse” than that.

Following the practice sessions, Hamilton stated, “The track – it’s worse than Portimao was, when we had the new surface there, so for us at least, the tyres aren’t working, and you see it, it’s like an ice rink out there.

“So you don’t get quite the enjoyment of the lap that you would normally get out of Istanbul. And I don’t see that changing.”

Lewis Hamilton during the F1 Turkish Grand Prix practice session
Formula One F1 – Turkish Grand Prix – Istanbul Park, Istanbul, Turkey – Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton during practice Pool via REUTERS/Clive Mason

The first free practice session also saw parts of the circuit with wet patches that created a blend of oil and water. Although the conditions improved later on in the second practice outing, the teams found Pirelli’s harder compound tires just unable to produce the effect they normally do.

Several drivers, including the likes of Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas, spun off the track in crucial sectors. The lap timings were inconsequential for the teams to determine what setups they should improve ahead of Saturday’s qualifying.

Lack of support races and newly resurfaced circuit – how are they affecting the track?

For one, F1 action has returned to Turkey after a period of nearly nine years. With no F2 and F3 racing to ‘rubber in the track,’ so to speak, the premier class cars are finding it tough to get their tires into specific desire temperature windows.

In addition, the new tarmac on the resurfaced track meant a lot more smoothness compared to the 2011 surface. The fact that that happened just a couple of weeks means that teams struggled to get the right amount of control on Friday.

Renault F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo during the Turkish Grand Prix practice
Formula One F1 – Turkish Grand Prix – Istanbul Park, Istanbul, Turkey – Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo during practice Pool via REUTERS/Kenan Asyali

Mario Isola from Pirelli said, “When we selected the tyres, we didn’t know about this idea of the circuit resurface, all the track, so the characteristics of the new tarmac are different from the old one. That means that we decided for the three hardest compounds we have in our range.”

Drivers and teams will now only pray for no rains to grace the Turkish Grand Prix. F1 neutrals, however, need to get ready for an exciting race that can spring up a surprise or two.

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