Red Bull driver Max Verstappen was fastest in both practices for the Turkish Grand Prix on a slippery track compared to “an ice rink” by Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton on Friday.
Verstappen was .4 seconds quicker than Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and .58 ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in the second practice. Bottas’ teammate, Hamilton, was .85 back in fourth place on a resurfaced circuit low on grip and which last hosted a Formula One race in 2011.
“It was a little bit of a disaster today, to be honest … it’s like an ice rink out there,” said Hamilton, who felt organizers wasted “millions” needlessly resurfacing it.
“It’s terrifying the whole way around,” Hamilton said. “It’s almost like there are wet patches all over. So (when) you’re accelerating, it goes so fast. That’s because you’re way, way below the (tire) temperature window.”
But Bottas, who did off-season rally driving last winter back in Finland, appreciated the challenge.
“For sure it (rally driving) helped. It was quite far from the normal driving style we’re used to in Formula One. I had fun, actually,” he said. “It was pretty extreme the way the tarmac was.”
Hamilton is looking to secure his seventh F1 title and equal Michael Schumacher’s record. He is the runaway championship leader and needs to finish ahead of only Bottas on Sunday to win the title.
Verstappen’s best lap was 1 minute, 28.33 seconds, about seven seconds better than his fastest time in the first session.
But although times improved as tires got warmer in the afternoon, Verstappen’s leading mark was still three seconds slower than Sebastian Vettel’s pole position for Red Bull nine years ago.
Verstappen was even farther behind Juan Pablo Montoya’s track record of 1:24.77, when the inaugural race was held in 2005.
“We are all still about five seconds off where we should be on this track,” Verstappen said. He joked, “I hope it’s not going to rain (on Sunday) because then we may actually need spikes (on the tires).”
Several drivers had difficulties controlling their car during the second practice.
Williams driver George Russell slid sideways across the track and teammate Nicholas Latifi lost the rear of the car. So did AlphaTauri driver Daniil Kvyat and Alfa Romeo veteran Kimi Raikkonen, who won the inaugural race when he was 25.
Driving under a cloudy sky and cool temperatures in the first session, Verstappen finished ahead of teammate Alexander Albon and Leclerc, who skidded into a bollard at the pit lane entrance early on.
Hamilton took no risks and ended that practice run down in 15th place, while Bottas briefly lost control moments from the end but finished it without any trouble in ninth.
“The track will evolve a lot over the weekend,” Bottas said. “It’s really difficult now to make the right decision over strategy for the race.”
Vettel, who placed fifth in P1 and eighth in P2, is racing with a special helmet designed to promote diversity and inclusion. It has a rainbow stripe over the top and the words “No Borders, Just Horizons — Only Freedom” with a picture of a diverse crowd drawn underneath.
The race is being held without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic. This is the 14th race of the season and only three have been held with spectators.
A small number of healthcare workers will be allowed to attend the next two races in Bahrain as a reward for their efforts in fighting the spread of COVID-19.
The final race is at Abu Dhabi on Dec. 13.
Hamilton’s contract will be almost expired by then, but Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff remains confident he will sign a new deal.
“We would like him in the car and I think he wants to drive the Mercedes, because it’s competitive,” Wolff said. “I think there is a good balance.”