Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas on Sunday claimed his first checkered flag of the season to win the Turkish Grand Prix, as Max Verstappen reclaimed the lead in the title race.
The Red Bull driver finished second to take a six-point lead in the championship ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who finished fifth, voicing frustration with his Mercedes team’s strategy.
“From my side, probably one of the best races I’ve ever had,” said Bottas after his 11th career win.
Sergio Perez, in the other Red Bull, took third with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in fourth.
“It wasn’t easy today,” Verstappen said.
“The track was very greasy, we had to manage the tires the whole race, so couldn’t really push,” he said. “Just seemed Valtteri had a bit more pace, could look after the tires all race. Happy to finish second in these conditions; it’s easy to get it wrong so you drop back.”
Hamilton was quickest in qualifying, but had to start the race in 11th because of a grid penalty incurred for changing his engine. The seven-time champion gained two places on the opening lap before picking his way up to fifth where he was held up by Perez, the two of them dicing at the end of lap 35 in some classic wheel-to-wheel racing.
As the other cars came in to change their tires Hamilton stayed out, moving up to third and looking good for the podium.
Hamilton declined the initial call to come in for fresh tires, but finally acceded to the Mercedes team instructions, boxing eight laps from the end. It cost Hamilton two places, as Perez and Leclerc flew on ahead, and Hamilton did not hide his frustration over the radio.
“We shouldn’t have come in. Massive graining man. I told you,” Hamilton said to his team as he struggled to hold off Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri.
A disgruntled Hamilton later pointed out that Alpine’s Esteban Ocon made it round with one set of tires, intimating that he could have stayed out.
“When you come in with eight laps to go you don’t have time to go through the graining of that medium tire on a drying track, so I went through this sliding phase where I nearly lost more positions,” he said.
Although the rain eased by the start of the race, the wet conditions prevailed throughout, making the tactics around tires and the timing of pit stops all the more important. Bottas began from pole, avoiding a tangle between Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso on the opening lap, and led until pitting on the 38th lap of the 58-lap race.
That gave Leclerc the lead, but as his tires faded so did his pace, and the Finn soon reclaimed the lead, going on to take his 11th Grand Prix victory and his first win since Russia more than a year ago.
“It’s been a while. Feels good,” said Bottas, who is leaving Mercedes at the end of the season to join Alfa Romeo.
“It is not easy to choose the strategy here with these conditions and when to stop and which tire, but I’m glad everything went smooth for once for me.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who has recruited George Russell to replace Bottas next season, was thrilled with the performance of his current No. 2.
“Absolute dominant drive from him from the get go,” he said. “He had it absolutely under control. 10 out of 10 for me.”
Verstappen, who began the race two points behind Hamilton in the title race, made no attempt to challenge Bottas and focused on a damage limitation exercise, content to ease home second knowing that Hamilton was three places further back. There are six races left in the season.
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