In an interrupted yet thrilling season, could the Turkish GP be the race to top them all? Monza gave served a sheer thriller, a contest that upheld the triumph of the underdog, and above all – a hero in Pierre Gasly. Mugello gave us multiple red flags, sheer carnage, innumerable race-retirements, and a maiden podium for Alexnder Albon before serving us a reminder why Hammertime is not a product of FORMULA 1 jingoism that shines on social media; but a philosophy only Lewis Hamilton can epitomise.
Then came the daunting Nurburgring, ending rather enterprisingly with a Daniel Ricciardo smile as against fears of ‘what-might’ have happened given the venue’s dangerous past.
And soon after, Imola, marking the triumph of Senna’s biggest fan, amid the overwhelming emotions of racing where the unquestionable great of the sport breathed his last.
All of these contests have, at different intervals, enjoyed the status of being called the best F1 race of 2020.
Truly speaking, in a year where it once seemed a ten-race calendar was probable – if not more – may just have been enough given the season was truncated by the pandemic, having multiple contenders for the best F1 race of 2020 has been simply brilliant.
And guess what?
As the Turkish Grand Prix of 2020, that returned to the calendar, after missing out for nearly a decade (9 years to be precise), gave us a race that prompts the question rather than makes us reconfigure our choices:
Was the Turkish GP the best F1 race of 2020?
For starters, FORMULA 1 fans love wet races. You instantly think of the dominance of greats like Schumacher, Senna at events like the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix, Donnington Park, and the 1993 European Grand Prix, respectively.
The rains, the imposing challenge of mastering the wet and the thrill that comes along at expecting the unexpected.
The modern conception of FORMULA 1 has given us events like the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix where one truly saw Verstappen unfurl a Mad-Max run.
So while the Turkish Grand Prix of 2020 wasn’t fought amid blinding rains, it was nonetheless, an event that was contested amid unpredictable conditions and needless to mention, a sheer lack of grip for the drivers.
Moreover, anyone who saw one of 2020’s most exciting races in entirety could well slice it into two sequences, none of which had any particular bearing on the finality of the result.
For the first 36-laps, Lance Stroll, who had gathered a day ago, his maiden FORMULA 1 podium, led the proceedings.
Driving a controlled race with excellent tyre and pace management at the front, wasn’t this going to be the triumph of the youngsters, everyone wondered?
But that in the end, the now-famous remainder of the contest, saw Lewis Hamilton, who began from a lowly, even uncharacteristic sixth, win, made Turkey a strong contender for the best F1 race of 2020.
With a little over 20 laps remaining, Istanbul Park witnessed a dramatic change in the narrative that would, until the last lap crawled upon us like an unpredictable snake, altered the course of the Grand Prix.
Alex Albon, for starters became the more prominent Red Bull driver, not Max Verstappen.
Vettel, who had from the start shown himself to be the world champion material we’ve known him as continued to defend brilliantly from Hamilton, the eventual race-winner.
For a mighty fine surprise, Car #5 was holding well the hard-earned P4.
Leclerc, all this while, was fighting from the backend of the midfield into the higher end of the grid, showing pace and a desire to overtake.
Stroll, who had fallen back down to Ninth, having led for 36 laps was nowhere in sight of a place among the podiums, let alone a win.
But one man, through the course of it all, having at first failed to pass Sebastian Vettel for no fewer than 15-20 laps, kept fighting.
You know him as Lewis Carl Hamilton. Some call him the greatest driver on the sport. Some, despite his accomplishing a brilliant rarity- 7 world titles, derive fun from reviling him.
Many others hail the man from whom it seems loud and clear, every time he says: “Stil I Rise!”
It’s also the time to make a frank confession.
Perhaps no F1 pundit watching live proceedings seated atop the cozy comfort of the commentary box might have predicted Instanbul’s race-winner.
Was there even a chance?
At the initial failure to get past Sebastian Vettel’s staunch defences, the likes of which we hadn’t seen all year around, Hamilton even complained over team radio, “the front brakes are dying!”
Surely, predicting that Max Verstappen would end up somber, as the Dutchman went for the highly unlikely, and eventually self-capitulating dive on the inside of Perez (then P2) with just a handful of laps to go, was possible.
But anyone watching a struggling Lewis Hamilton, who was only just hanging on 5th and 6th for the better part of the race, may surely have never imagined the Mercedes driver with the win, an outcome that took the iconic driver to his #94th in the sport.
Equally unpredictable was the sheer margin with which Hamilton roared supreme in the end, akin to a valiant Khalifa who wins much to the delight of a kingdom comprising devotees.
A 31-second gap to second-placed Perez, who earned his best-race finish in 2020, was just the icing on the cake that Hamilton had the biggest piece of.
But make no mistake.
At the returning Turkish Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton made his own desert and had it too, but not before demonstrating excellent tyre management and race pace.
His move over the Mexican in the closing stages was impressive. But what was superb and perhaps the headlining material of Istanbul was the decision to not gor for that extra stop when he had all the time on his hands.
He was certain of what might have been a missed opportunity, circa 2007 World Championship.
But what truly makes Turkey a worthy contender for the best F1 race of 2020 is the fact that it returned another of the sport’s greats; a much-loved son to where he belongs: the front-end of the grid.
How heartening was Sebastian Vettel’s P3 in the end?
Perhaps just as strikingly good as the frame where, in the event of the race’s end, the German rushed to congratulate Lewis Hamilton, a worthy opponent and more than that, the man who bullied Ferrari but with sheer on-track brilliance minus shenanigans in the sport’s turbo-charged era!
That the Istanbul City Park became a garden of two titans, standing together victorious on the podium, Lewis the race winner and Vettel, with his defiant third lifted what may just have been another contest to a sublime one.
Even that’s not all.
After no fewer than fourteen Grands Prix, did Ferrari experience the magic of doing what was so treacherously taken away from the fans and the famous Italian team: the simple pleasures of seeing both drivers inside the points.
Vettel, with his P3, garnered 15 hard-fought points, while Leclerc, his younger teammate, who in the fighting final seconds saw his near-certain podium become a fourth in the end, grabbed 12.
But the tireless Monegasque, sad that hey may have been, took it, whilst Ferrari bagged 27 worthy points.
And with it, can you believe it, stand on 130 points; that’s 24 shy of Racing Point in third, 19 behind McLaren and only six behind Renault, who’re stacked on fifth.
For all this and more- wasn’t Turkey a truly unforgettable race?