Uralkali Haas F1 Team is heading to Intercity Istanbul Park, for another helping of Turkey, Round 16 of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
Formula 1 first visited Turkey in 2005, with the specially constructed Intercity Istanbul Park located in the Tuzla district on the fringes of the Istanbul metropolis. The culturally and historically diverse city is unique as it straddles multiple continents, with Europe and Asia separated by the commercially vital Bosporus Strait. Turkey’s first stint on Formula 1’s calendar ran through 2011, after which the popular venue was omitted, prior to returning in November 2020.
The 2020 grand prix was notable for its lack of surface grip, owing to its recent resurfacing, the weekend-long cold and wet weather, and the absence of support categories on the bill. Turkey was installed as a back-up venue for 2021 and the event has returned in a revised October date.
The 5.3km circuit is widely regarded as a classic of the 21st century new-build venues. The opening sequence of turns has drawn comparisons with Interlagos’ Senna S descent, but Intercity Istanbul Park’s iconic segment is undoubtedly Turn 8. The complex features a quadruple apex left-hander that sweeps downhill at increasing speed and is a demanding test of driver, car and tires.
For Uralkali Haas F1 Team drivers Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher it will be their first taste of Intercity Istanbul Park as they continue their rookie year in Formula 1.
Guenther Steiner, Team Principal of Uralkali Haas F1 Team
Can you give us your reflection please on what was a busy Russian Grand Prix for Nikita, both on and off track – with it being his home event, and Mick’s first retirement of his rookie season.
“Nikita having his home event and with Uralkali being our title sponsor, there was a lot going on. He did some filming before and after the event in Moscow, so he got the feeling of the reality of what it is to be a Formula 1 driver. The racing was the same, like every other Grand Prix, it’s about always finding in a short period of time the concentration coming from all these activities around it, but he coped with it pretty well. Mick had his first retirement, but he kept his head-up and didn’t get frustrated because up to now he had a pretty good run with no mechanical failures.”
Teamwork was truly highlighted towards the end of the Russian Grand Prix with drivers and teams making crucial calls on tire strategy in the closing laps. Were you pleased to see such decisive calls being made between Nikita and the pit-wall at Sochi?
“I was surprised myself how well he worked with his engineer Dom when they made the decision. There wasn’t a lot of going back and forth. We chose – I wouldn’t say the safe strategy, but the best strategy we felt in that moment in time – to take tires because our Team Manager had an eye on the weather radar, and he was predicting more rain, and it came. All in all, that worked very well and there was no moment of panic, just sheer action.”
Last year’s(2020) Turkish Grand Prix was notable for a lot of unpredictability – due to an absence of several years from the F1 calendar, the weather and the track surface. Returning for a second consecutive season, is the expectation for a more stable race weekend this time around and does having a rookie pairing impact this?
“On the track surface, what I hear is that they cleaned it up more so we should have more grip. On the weather, I can’t change that one, if it rains, it rains and there’s nothing we can do about it. The promoter and the owner of the track, they thought they could improve the conditions and they did, they tried to prepare the track as best as possible. About our rookie pairing, I think for them going to Istanbul, it’s just one of the new circuits of this year for them, there’s nothing different. They’ve been to circuits they’ve never run before and they’ve coped well so I’m pretty sure they’re getting prepared as good as they can.”
There’s a lot of talk around next season’s calendar with the upcoming FIA World Council meeting taking place following the Turkish Grand Prix. What are your hopes for the 2022 schedule.
We can have a stable calendar. If we have a stable calendar, even if there are some events back-to-back or triple-headers, if you know exactly what is coming you can plan a lot better than always having this uncertainty. FOM did a great job to get us through year with a lot of events for the fans. I really look forward myself to the calendar and look forward to next year anyway.”
We come to Round 16 of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the Turkish Grand Prix, and a circuit you haven’t raced at before. How does that change preparation ahead, especially following a string of races where you’ve known the track inside out?
“Turkey will be an interesting experience because I haven’t raced there yet. I probably won’t get the simulator time and it will be a steep learning curve experience but nevertheless, it’s nice to visit there. This is the track that I came to for my first ever grand prix as a child – my dad took me there when I was seven or eight years old. Memories will come to me and I’m looking forward to it.”
Although you haven’t raced around Istanbul Park, it’s a track that has garnered lots of admiration throughout the years, with many seeing similarities with Spa-Francorchamps and Interlagos. Along with Turn 8 – a very fast left-hander that has created lots of action – where else do you expect opportunities to climb the field?
“From what I know about Turkey, the grip level hasn’t been great, but Formula 1 cars have the tendency to improve that the more you use the track. I’m hoping it will be a fun place. Formula 1 tracks are so high level with Formula 1 and FIA at the moment, that it should be good to drive.”
Turkey borders both Asia and Europe, and this race marks the last time this season we are set to race in Europe before a tour of the Americas and the Middle East. How would you summarize this leg of the season and is there a different feel to flyaway races compared to when many drivers choose to stay in motorhomes close to the circuit?
“The first part of the season has been good. It’s been a learning curve but an upwards one which is a good thing. The way this season has unfolded, I think has been positive because as a racing driver, if you race in Europe first like you did in Formula 2, there are fewer things you need to acclimatize to and learn. I feel ready to move on and explore new tracks, explore the world, and start to get to proper work with time zones, heat acclimatization etc. so I’m looking forward to it.”
Can you talk us through a driver’s motorhome? What’s included, what atmosphere do you create, routine – bedtime? Hard to exercise without a gym?
“I’ve had the same motorhome since 2013. I’ve been in go-karts with it, so I’ve taken it everywhere! I’m very happy with it, I feel very comfy. We don’t have a proper gym as such, as that would be huge, but we have a little room where we can do some training. For me, it’s just nice to be able to sleep in my own bed, which in my motorhome it is.”