Max Verstappen finishes P2 to retake the championship lead.
Valtteri Bottas put in an effortless drive in Istanbul to take his 10th career victory and the first in the 2021 season. Bottas didn’t face many challenges from anyone starting from pole and took a comfortable win in the end, 14 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Verstappen’s teammate completed the podium places with a brilliant drive to third place ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Lewis Hamilton’s late gamble to come in dropped him to fifth place, ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Lando Norris. Starting from the back of the grid, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz charged through the field to finish a solid eighth ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, who rounded off the points place.
Verstappen’s second place finish sees the Dutchman go six points clear of Hamilton, while Bottas’ first victory of the season sees him go 32 points clear of Lando Norris. Bottas’ win and Hamilton’s fifth place finish, though helps Mercedes keep their lead in the constructor’s championship, with the German team leading Red Bull by 36 points.
Formula One saw their second wet race in a row, with a slight rain ahead of the start of the race. Racing got underway on a wet track, and there was action from the first lap itself. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, who started in the top five for the first time since Japan 2014, spun out on turn one after AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly drove right into the left of the Spaniard. Gasly was handed a five second penalty while Alonso dropped right down the field to 15th. As the two time world champion tried to fight back, Alonso got into a tangle of his own and hit the Haas of Mick Schumacher, which saw the Spaniard get a five second time penalty himself. Upfront, Bottas got off well and Verstappen held off Leclerc. Bottas’ teammate Hamilton had a great start too, making up two places. By lap 7, Hamilton was right on Yuki Tsunoda’s tail, and while Hamilton’s start was great but the other engine penalty receiver Carlos Sainz was the one who had the most impressive start. Starting 19th, after McLaren’s late announcement to give Ricciardo a new power unit too, which saw the Australian start last, Ferrari’s Sainz was already up to 13th place by lap 8, showcasing that impressive Ferrari pace.
Hamilton managed to sweep past Tsunoda on lap eight and didn’t have any trouble going around Lance Stroll eight on the following lap, putting himself into seventh place. In contrast, his teammate up front had already built a two and a half seconds gap to Verstappen. Hamilton continued his charge, and on lap 11, he breezed past his compatriot Lando Norris to take sixth place, and it was becoming apparent that the Mercedes driver was on a mission to storm through for a podium or even a win! On lap 22, Daniel Ricciardo was the first to pit, rejoining in 16th place. His team hoped the new set would give him a significant pace advantage, but a few laps in on his new tyres, the Australian wasn’t improving on his previous lap times. Meanwhile, the rain returned during the 26th lap, with most teams communicating to do a one-stop although some were thinking of running to the end without any. By lap 30, Hamilton was hunting down Sergio Pérez for fourth place and was just a little over a second behind the Mexican. Both the drivers were involved in an intense battle, with both drivers going wheel-to-wheel and Hamilton even momentarily managed to sneak ahead of the second Red Bull, pushing him wide, almost into the pit lane. Pérez maintained his position and kept fourth spot, Hamilton knew that getting to Verstappen wasn’t going to be easy, given that the second Red Bull was putting up a strong defensive show. Further down the grid, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, who was holding on to the final points place, came in for his pit stop on lap 38, but the team decided to go for an opportunistic move in hopes that the track would dry up, released the German on a new set of mediums. The team immediately regretted that call as the German found no grip whatsoever on a still wet track, and Vettel had to use all of his experience to keep the car on track. Not surprisingly, the team called him in again to switch the tyres, but he rejoined in 18th place, with the hopes of any points dashed.
Upfront, Bottas’ pit stop meant Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was leading the race, and the Monegasque driver was busy on the team radio, trying to figure out whether he could finish the final 18 laps on the set of tyres he started with. His team initially gave him the green light to try to hold on to the P1 position, but Bottas on a new set took seven laps and by lap 47, Bottas retook the lead and Ferrari decided to call Leclerc in. With ten laps to go, although his team called him in, Hamilton decided to stay out and it looked like the seven time world champion was going to finish the race on the set of tyres he started on. The issue for Hamilton was he was beginning to lose time to Verstappen ahead and Leclerc and Pérez behind him was catching up to him. The team eventually pulled Hamilton in for his pit stop on lap 50, with the Brit rejoining in P5 and understandably upset with the call, given that he dropped two positions. Pérez didn’t take too long to dispatch Leclerc for third position, with the Ferrari driver struggling to get used to his new set. Bottas up front continued to build a lead to Verstappen and the Red Bull driver had no answer to Finn’s pace. Red Bull eventually did concede with Bottas taking the chequered flag on lap 58, and the Finn managed to take an additional point for the fastest lap of the race, too, right on the last lap. Verstappen was almost 15 seconds behind Bottas, with his teammate a further twenty behind; Leclerc managed to hold on to fourth while Hamilton held off a fast charging Pierre Gasly, who recovered brilliantly after taking an early time penalty. Lando Norris was the sole McLaren in the points, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz ended a solid race from the back of the grid to finish a solid eighth.
With the announcement being made that he will leave the team at the end of the season, Bottas would like to end his tenure with Mercedes on a high, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing since that announcement. After taking his first victory of the season, Bottas will be looking to add a few more points to his name. Given the intense championship battle going on between his teammate and Verstappen, he could play the perfect wingman to Hamilton if he keeps Verstappen away from the top step of the podium. The Finn’s victory reaffirms his position as one of the strongest drivers on the current grid, and he also makes sure that he won’t leave Mercedes with a winless season. His teammate, though, has a lot of work to do, given he has fallen back in the championship fight again and as we head to Texas in two weeks’ time, an epic conclusion to the championship battle awaits.