By JEROME PUGMIRE – Japan Today
While his teammate Valtteri Bottas enjoyed his first win of the season at the Turkish Grand Prix, it was a frustrating Sunday for Lewis Hamilton as he missed out on a podium spot and also lost the overall championship lead to Max Verstappen.
Hamilton started 11th because of a 10-place grid penalty, drove his way to third, but wound up a disappointing fifth after his team ordered a late-race tire change. The Mercedes strategy allowed Verstappen to swing the championship race from down two points to Hamilton to now leading by six with six races remaining.
“It was frustrating at the time, because I could see second (place) and then I’m back in fifth,” Hamilton said about Mercedes’ decision. “In that moment I only have a certain amount of information and the team has other information. It’s hard to want to give something up when you don’t know the whole picture.”
But Hamilton, the winner of a record 100 F1 races, also reflected on what might have happened.
“Could we have stayed out? Who knows. If you look at a couple of other drivers that did, they dropped off massively and lost positions, so it was a risk either way,” he said. “If I’d stayed out you don’t know if I’d held position, but I’m a risk-taker so I would have wanted to take that risk.”
F1 now leaves Europe, and next up is the U.S. GP on Oct. 24.
“With the (six) points it’s not going to be easy. We’ll see in Austin how it’s going to go,” Verstappen said. “I think some tracks can be a bit better (for us).”
Sergio Perez capped a strong day for Red Bull by finishing third.
Hamilton was fastest in Saturday qualifying but wasn’t credited with the pole because of an engine change by his Mercedes team. He seemed headed for a podium finish but Mercedes called him in for the tire change over Hamilton’s objections.
The call may have given Verstappen a bigger gap in the championship.
Hamilton finally came in for new tires on Lap 51 but did not agree with the decision.
“Why did you give up that place?” a frustrated Hamilton barked on team radio using an expletive.
Hamilton was getting increasingly agitated after his pit stop as he lost ground to Charles Leclerc and had Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri gaining on him.
“Just leave it alone,” he snapped to his race engineer when informed of Gasly’s gap.
Leclerc pitted earlier than Hamilton and finished fourth, missing out on a 14th career podium. Gasly finished sixth ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren.
Carlos Sainz Jr. drove his Ferrari from the back to a strong eighth-place finish, both he and Daniel Ricciardo of McLaren started from the back after complete engine changes.
Sainz Jr. was voted the day’s best driver, to his surprise when told about it.
Bottas locked up his first win of the year when he passed Leclerc with about a dozen laps left. It was the first win for Bottas since the Russian GP in September last year.
“It’s been a while” he said. “Probably one of my best races ever in Formula One, everything was under control.”
His 10th career win was a much-needed one during a frustrating last season with Mercedes before joining Alfa Romeo next year. He clocked the fastest lap on the 5.3-kilometer (3.3-mile) Istanbul Park circuit beneath a grey sky amid persistent drizzle.
Bottas made a better start than Verstappen, which has rarely been the case. The Finnish driver hit 100 kph (62 mph) in 3.09 seconds compared to 3.17 for Verstappen as spray kicked up from the wet track.
Starting fifth, Fernando Alonso made a move on the outside of Gasly, who clipped Alonso’s rear left tire and sent him spinning off. Back on track, Alonso also had contact with Haas driver Mick Schumacher. Gasly and Alonso both got five-second time penalties for the incidents.
Hamilton soon jumped from 11th to ninth on the start but had trouble getting past AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda with no DRS. Tsunoda blocked one attack well, but Hamilton overtook on the outside then caught Lance Stroll on the next lap, and Norris soon after.
Hamilton then clocked three straight fastest laps as he chased down Gasly in fifth. He got him, too, on Lap 15 but his relentlessly high speed was wearing down his tires.
As Sainz Jr. carved his way through the field, fastest laps switched between Bottas, Verstappen, Hamilton again, and Leclerc. Drivers waited for the track to dry out more before changing tires. But the rain started falling again.
Mercedes told Hamilton to box for new tires on Lap 42.
“Why?” said Hamilton, and did not come in.
“OK, we’ll stay out one more lap,” his engineer told him.
Hamilton refused again, then finally accepted.