The Formula 1 circus will come to Turkey next weekend. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the circuit that disappeared from the calendar after 2011 returned to the program last year. Time to take a closer look at the country, the city and the circuit.
A unique country: Turkey
In order to be well prepared for the upcoming race, it might be nice to first learn something about culture-rich Turkey, a country where we as Dutch people are only too happy to go on a holiday in the sun. Modern Turkey as we know it was designed by Mustafa Kemal, later also known as Atatürk. He became Turkey’s first elected president and modernized the country. For example, he abolished inequality among the Turks. Today, the country is headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He first served as the country’s prime minister, but has been president of Turkey since 2014. The president is often under fire in the media because he does not always follow Western norms and values.
Turkey is located in both Europe and Asia, a separate phenomenon, which among other things contributes to the rich culture of the country. Geographically, the vast majority of Turkey is in Asia, namely 97 percent. Yet many Turks feel European and there is therefore a Western tendency in the country. The majority of the population, over 98 percent, is Muslim. The capital of the gigantic country (Turkey has an area of 783,562 km²) has been Ankara since 1923. Nearly six million people live in Ankara, but that does not make it the largest city in the country. That honor belongs to Istanbul, which, with a gigantic 15 million inhabitants, exceeds that in terms of population.
The entire circus of Formula 1 will therefore descend this weekend in a gigantic, cultural metropolis. The city used to be called ‘Constantinople’ and at that time Istanbul served as the capital of many great empires in history, including the Roman Empire. The city is unique in its kind and partly falls in Europe, while the other part belongs to Asia. This makes it one of the few cities in the world that is located on two continents. The distinction between these two parts is made by the Bosphorus River.
Istanbul was named one of the three European Capitals of Culture in 2010, and for good reason. The city has a rich source of culture and is therefore definitely worth a visit. You will find The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, one of the first and largest covered shopping centers in the world, the Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge that connect Europe and Asia by water and you can of course enjoy the many beautiful mosques and other church buildings. Oh yes, we would almost forget: the beautiful circuit of Istanbul Park. That’s what it’s all about of course!
Time to talk about Formula 1 again. Istanbul Park is a delightful circuit that first appeared on the calendar in 2005. During the launch of the track, the then incumbent Formula 1 foreman Bernie Ecclestone spoke jubilantly about his new gem on the calendar. Ecclestone called Istanbul Park ‘the best track in the world’ and the race was well received on the calendar. Especially Felipe Massa will keep warm memories of the Turkish asphalt. He won three of the seven races from 2005 to 2011, until Istanbul Park disappeared from the calendar after failed negotiations. The remaining races in the meantime were won by Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
The circuit, designed by Hermann Tilke, offers the necessary challenge for the drivers, as it is certainly not an easy track. The challenge is mainly in turn number eight, also known as the Diabolica. Several short turns follow each other there, but due to the sloping position it is easy to lose control. Turn one, the Turkish Corkscrew, is also a tricky one. After a sharp bend you dive straight down on the track of Istanbul Park, which is one of the few circuits in the world that runs against the direction, just like the Abu Dhabi and Interlagos races. It returned to the calendar in 2020 due to the corona pandemic, much to the delight of F1 fans.
What would a lesson in Turkey and Istanbul Park be without taking in the legendary and memorable moments of the circuit? The most important moment that immediately comes to Formula 1 fans is the controversial crash between Red Bull Racing teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. The latter started in 2010 from pole position in the Turkish metropolis. Despite repeated attempts to stop Vettel from attempting to overtake his teammate and title competitor, the young German took the risk, with all the consequences that entailed.
Vettel went ahead of the Australian and made a steering movement to the right as he passed, causing the Red Bull ruffs to hit each other. Vettel dropped out and Webber was able to continue his journey, but in the end only finished third. The incident sparked emotions in the Red Bull stable and Vettel’s hilarious blast on the board radio spoke volumes: “What the **** are we doing here!? What a stupid move! I’m going home , **** you!” It is hoped that the drivers, especially those at Red Bull, can calm down eleven years later.
The 2020 race, the comeback on the calendar, also became one for the books. Lance Stroll started the race from pole position, but it was not a ‘walk in the park’ on the slippery track. A few days before the race a new asphalt layer was laid and to make matters worse, it also started to rain in Turkey. The track turned into an ice rink, so we saw driver after driver crash, spin, and go off track. For example, Max Verstappen spun behind the car of his current teammate Sergio Perez and his teammate at the time, Alex Albon, also flew off the track. Lewis Hamilton also won the race, securing his seventh world title.
Back to the present
With this culture and history lesson in our pocket, we can look forward to next weekend. It promises to be a thrilling race in Turkey, in which Red Bull, looking at the circuit, should be the parent. Lovers of last year’s race should pay attention: a wet GP of Turkey is also lurking this year. For the time being, a chance of precipitation of between 50 and 60 percent is expected for Sunday. We say: come on!