Max Verstappen was quickest in Formula 1’s return to Turkey in a shockingly slippery first practice at Istanbul Park.
The Dutchman took his Red Bull Racing car to the top of the time sheet in the final minutes of the morning session, his 1m35.077s a quarter of a second faster than teammate Alex Albon and 0.4s quicker than Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Lewis Hamilton, aiming to seal his seventh title this weekend, finished in 15th after completing only three laps, while his only title challenger, teammate Valtteri Bottas, finished ninth with four tours.
But times and lap counts were largely irrelevant in F1’s first timed session in Turkey since 2011 thanks to the treacherously slick conditions. Istanbul Park had completed a fresh resurfacing only this month in anticipation of the grand prix, but with so little time between finishing works and first practice, the circuit was extremely slippery from the oil and resin still rising to the surface.
Making matters worse were damp patches dotting the course that stubbornly refused to evaporate, making parts of the circuit virtually undriveable for the lack of grip.
With the ambient temperature stuck at 60 degrees and the track at 72 degrees, the opening practice session was dominated by wheelspin and hopeless spins as drivers lapped several seconds slower than expected and more than 10 seconds slower than pole in 2011.
“It’s like driving on ice,” Max Verstappen radioed on his first tour of the track, having almost immediately understeered off the road.
“Worse than ice,” Lando Norris seemed to reply. “I can’t even go flat down the straight.”
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Daniel Ricciardo reported back that conditions were 10 times worse than it had been in Portimao, which had similarly had its surface reworked before the Portuguese Grand Prix and which barely featured an improvement in grip over the three-day weekend.
As a result, the top 10 was separated by 3.3s. Pierre Gasly was fourth ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat. Norris, who turns 21 years old today, was seventh ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi and Bottas, with Esteban Ocon completing the top 10.
The grid in its entirety was spread over a substantial 14s. Had this been qualifying, the bottom four cars would not have met the 107 percent threshold to start the race.
Exacerbating the lack of grip was that the hard tire was the dominant compound of the session. Pirelli has brought an extra hard and one fewer soft owing to the lack of circuit data, and teams were keen to offload a set of the more durable rubber to focus on the grippier compounds in the more representative second practice session.
Only 11 drivers completed any running on a different compound, with all but one undertaking limited running on the medium compound.
George Russell was the only driver to try the soft compound, but the Williams driver isn’t expecting to figure substantially in qualifying owing to a grid drop for breaking his limit on power unit parts. He ended the session last.
Excepting some clumsy pirouettes, only Carlos Sainz ran into any serious trouble. The Spaniard was recalled to his garage on his installation lap with what the team suspected was a sensor problem, but upon his return to the track he was forced to stop by the side of the road with what he described as a power steering problem, eliminating him from the session in 19th.