ISTANBUL (AFP) – A frustrated Lewis Hamilton said he was baffled and terrified by the treacherous nature of the track after winding up fourth for Mercedes in Friday night’s opening practice for this weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix.
The 35-year-old Briton, who is seeking to seal a record-equalling seventh world title in tonight’s race, said his day’s practice had been “a little bit of a disaster” at the Istanbul Park circuit.
“This is such a fantastic circuit and I really don’t understand why they spend millions to do a re-surface of the track,” he said.
“I know it’s been sitting around for a long time, but maybe they could have just cleaned it instead of wasting all their money.”
The track has not been used for a Formula One (F1) race in nine years since the 2011 Turkish Grand Prix and in cool and damp conditions it offered very little grip.
“Now, it is worse than Portimao (Portugal) with its new surface so, for us, the tyres aren’t working and you can see it’s like an ice-rink out there.
“You don’t quite get the enjoyment of the lap as you would expect here at Istanbul and I don’t see that changing.”
He said every lap was a very challenging experience.
“It’s terrifying – the whole way round. There are wet patches all over. So, you’re on slicks, accelerating and it goes so fast.”
He explained that due to the cold his tyres were not working properly and, on such a smooth circuit, his problems were exacerbated by oil seeping from the new asphalt.
The new surface was only 10 days old and the surface of the circuit had been washed overnight before opening practice making it near-impossible to generate heat in the tyres.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who topped the times in both of the sessions, agreed with the six-time champion’s assessment.
“Well, it can’t get any worse basically,” he said.
“We’re still miles off and it’s like driving on ice. Worse by far than it was at Portimao. At the end of the day, it’s the same for everyone so we just have to adapt to it. I hope it’s not going to rain as it will be like proper driving on ice so maybe we will have to switch to spikes or something on the tyres. That would be quite interesting. So, let’s see.”
Charles Leclerc, who was second for Ferrari, was another who slithered and spun, but said he felt satisfied with a competitive showing to finish up ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.
“After a while, I really enjoyed it,” he said.
The Finn is the only driver who can stop Hamilton lifting his seventh title tonight and, drawing on his experience of winter rallies in Finland, he said he had enjoyed the change.
“At first, it was a long way from what we are normally used to in F1, but I enjoyed it. I was playing around a bit and it was fun.”
Bottas needs to out-score Hamilton by at least eight points to keep his title challenge alive.
Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate London-born Thai Alex Albon was fifth and admitted he was concerned about the slippery conditions.
“It’s bad,” he said. “I don’t know what we are going to do in qualifying. I don’t know if everyone’s going to go out in the green light and we all just drive around on softs the whole session with a flood of fuel in to do a race run.
“That’s what it feels like everybody is going to do.”