Carlos Sainz says Friday practice at the Turkish Grand Prix was “the strangest session I think I’ve ever done in my life” as low-grip conditions made the Istanbul Park circuit like an ice rink.
After nine years away from Turkey, F1 returned with great anticipation among the drivers for a track that has a number of challenging corners and elevation changes. However, a new track surface, cool temperatures and regular track cleaning left grip conditions extremely low, with lap times in FP1 starting off over 20 seconds slower than the expected pace despite it being dry throughout, something Sainz says he has never experienced before.
“The strangest session I think I’ve done in my life, the strangest Friday,” Sainz said. “You need to think that we were expecting here a 1m23s or 1m22s lap times and this morning we were doing 1m45s. So you can imagine how difficult it was and how tricky it was. So very strange, but at the same time a good challenge for the drivers, for the engineers — a different challenge that I’m ready to embrace and see what happens.”
The Spaniard was not alone, with his teammate Lando Norris — celebrating his 21st birthday on Friday — saying it presented a unique challenge.
“It was a fun day!” Norris said. “It was drift school today — that was my birthday present and it was my first day of drift school ever! It was nice. Tricky in a Formula 1 car — a lot of power, a lot of downforce and big snaps. So most laps you’re crapping yourself a bit, especially the high-speed Turn 8 and so on; so it’s tricky but it’s also a lot of fun.
“It’s fun to push the car and be on the limit like that all the time, but it’s not so much you’re on the limit, it’s trying to build tire temperature and so on. Which is the difficulty of it — trying to get the tires into the window — but once they’re in the window things feel a bit better. It’s just very difficult to do that in the first place.
“We have to try and figure out what’s the best plan for tomorrow in terms of laps put on a set of tires versus to build the tire temperature and not taking the life out of the tire, but I’m sure everyone’s going to be thinking about that and how to do it. So a bit of homework to do tonight, but not a bad first day.”
Pierre Gasly was in the top seven in both practice sessions as AlphaTauri looked strong, but he admits the whole team was caught out by the situation on Friday.
“I must say this morning was quite shocking,” Gasly said. “I enjoyed it, it was really fun, but it felt more like rallycross than F1. But yeah, it does feel different to what we used to feel in general. It was a pretty fun way to discover this track — the grip came a little bit up this afternoon and also with the soft (tire), but generally a lot slower and a lot more slippery than expected. So I think we need to revise a bit what we want to do for qualifying and for the race with the car with the simulator we ran as we expected to be quite a lot faster than that.
“I can tell you it’s going to be spicy, that’s for sure; we just need to make sure we do our thing properly. The tire is playing a big factor — we can see it with the gaps a lot bigger than usual. If you get the tires in the right window you can really extract the performance and I think there’s quite a lot more things we need to understand but hopefully we can make another step forward tomorrow.”
Another driver to shine was Charles Leclerc, who ended up second fastest in FP2, and while many of his rivals were complaining, the Ferrari driver is enjoying the situation.
“At first I was really not convinced by the grip of the track and I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a very bad day,’ but after a few laps I actually really, really enjoyed it,” Leclerc said. “It was actually very fun to have such low grip. We need to understand why though, to be honest, because it’s probably not great to have a Friday like this — we don’t learn much — but in terms of driving it was very fun and we’ve been very competitive too.
“I don’t think it will improve much during the weekend so it’s good that we’ve done quite a lot of mileage today to understand the conditions, and hopefully we can maximize the result tomorrow.”
Leclerc agreed with Sainz that he has never had a similar experience at any point in his career.
“No, I’ve had the contrary in karting. One race we were rolling because there was too much grip, so that was crazy! Now it’s a bit the other way around, so I’ve never had that low grip with slick tires — it really feels like we are on ice. But as I said it was quite a fun day in the end.”