Istanbul Park, originally on the F1 calendar from 2005 to 2011, made a surprise return to the schedule in 2020 and 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Built at a cost of over $200 million, and initially known as Istanbul Otodrom, the Istanbul Park circuit was designed by Herman Tilke. It’s considered to be one of his best works and was declared “the best race track in the world” by former Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone, who would go on to owned the managing rights to the circuit from 2007 to 2011. The circuit, Llocated 45km east of Istanbul, Istanbul Park was constructed between 2003 and 2005 and held, with the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix taking place in August 2005.
The circuit makes use of the undulating landscape on which it is built. The downhill Turn 1 in particular has caught many drivers out on the opening lap of the race. Perhaps the highlight of the 5.3km track is the multi-apex Turn 8. This sweeping bend – the entry to which is taken at over 260km/h – has formed the basis for many of Tilke’s more recent circuits– most notably, Turns 17 and 18 at the Circuit of the Americas and the Turn 3 complex at Sochi Autodrom.
Falling spectator numbers
The Turkish Grand Prix attracted a large crowd when it was first held. Sadly, high ticket prices meant that the 125,000 capacity venue was never full in the following years. Promoters struggled to gain much interest in the race and even Ecclestone’s purchase of the circuit could not help turn the tide. Upon his purchase of the circuit in April 2007, Ecclestone said “I can guarantee F1 will race in Istanbul until 2021”. But, despite Ecclestone’s deal – rumoured to be worth around €115 million – the circuit remained on the calendar for only four more seasons. The Turkish Grand Prix was discontinued after the 2011 event following a dispute over the hosting fee.
In 2012, the circuit was purchased by Turkish car rental firm Intercity, who have since utilised the site as a car dealership. In addition to Formula 1, Istanbul Park has also hosted MotoGP (2005-2007), DTM (2005) and the World Touring Car Championship (2005-2006). The World Rallycross Championship, held in 2014 and 2015, was the last major event at the circuit until 2020.
Turkey’s shock return
In August 2020, Formula 1 made the surprise announcement that the Turkish Grand Prix would be one of four races forming the final part of the coronavirus-affected 2020 calendar. The 2020 Turkish Grand Prix was held in November and drivers struggled for grip throughout the race weekend on the freshly resurfaced track as low temperatures made the going even harder. In qualifying, Lance Stroll recorded his maiden pole position, while the race saw Lewis Hamilton crowned World Champion for the seventh time.
Unfortunately, fans were not able to attend the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix due to a rise in coronavirus cases in the country. Tickets for the race had sold well, with 40,000 tickets being sold within hours of being available.
The last hurrah?
In April 2021, it was announced that the Turkish Grand Prix would join the calendar once more, this time as a replacement for the cancelled Canadian Grand Prix. The June date for the Istanbul Park race was later scrapped due to travel restrictions. Following the cancellation of the Singapore Grand Prix, F1 confirmed that the Turkish Grand Prix had been re-added to the schedule, this time in an October slot.
Fans were in attendance at the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix, with tickets having gone on sale three months before the scheduled race. The future of the event beyond 2021 is uncertain, but it would be a shame for F1 not to come back to a track which usually delivers compelling races. In 2020, Intercity boss Vural Ak commented that the circuit was keen on pursuing a long-term deal for the Turkish Grand Prix to remain on the calendar.
Turkish Grand Prix: Fast Facts
- Lance Stroll recorded the first pole position of his career at Istanbul Park in 2020. Felipe Massa is the only other driver to record his maiden pole here, doing so in 2006. Massa also took his first win at the track that weekend, the first of three consecutive wins for the Brazilian at the circuit.
- Sebastian Vettel finished in third place at the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, having started eleventh on the grid. That’s the furthest back grid slot from which a podium finish has been recorded at Istanbul Park.
- Felipe Massa and Sebastian Vettel are the only drivers to have taken multiple pole positions in Turkey.
- In the nine Istanbul Park races held so far, 2011 is the only year in which the Turkish Grand Prix polesitter has gone on to win the title in the same year. Sebastian Vettel took pole position for the event in 2011 and went on to be crowned World Champion for a second time later that year.
- The famous, multi-apex Turn 8 corner of the track has been nicknamed “Diabolica”.
- Winning from sixth on the grid in 2020, Lewis Hamilton became the first driver to take victory in the Turkish Grand Prix having not started from the front row of the grid.
- There were 82 pit stops made in the 2011 Turkish Grand Prix – a record for the most pit stops in any dry race in Formula 1 history.
- Sebastian Vettel made his first F1 weekend appearance at the Turkish Grand Prix in 2006, where he drove for BMW Sauber in Free Practice. He picked up a $1,000 fine just seconds into his career for speeding in the pit lane!
- Rubens Barrichello set a new record for most Grand Prix starts at the 2008 Turkish Grand Prix, making his 257th start. That figure has since been equalled by seven other drivers: Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa.
Memorable Moments at the Turkish Grand Prix
2006 – Hamilton’s charge through the GP2 field: One of the most outstanding drives at Istanbul Park came not in a Formula 1 race, but in the GP2 support race in 2006. In his sole season in F1’s support series, Lewis Hamilton started the Sprint Race at the Turkish round of the championship from seventh place. A spin on the second lap saw him fall to the back of the field – but what followed was a masterful comeback drive to second place. Hamilton’s drive at Istanbul Park certainly caught the eyes of the F1 paddock. He went on to seal the GP2 title two weeks later at Monza, where he was subsequently announced as a McLaren F1 driver for the 2007 season.
2006 – Massa’s maiden win: Felipe Massa joined Ferrari at the start of the 2006 season and it’s fair to say that his time at the team didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts. From the opening nine races of the year, the Brazilian scored only one podium finish. Before the summer break, however, thing began to pick up, with Massa taking a string of three consecutive top three results. Massa’s maiden win still proved elusive though – until the Turkish Grand Prix weekend. Massa dominated proceedings, taking his maiden pole on Saturday and his first race win on Sunday. Istanbul Park proved to be one of Massa’ s most successful circuits in F1. He claimed three of his 11 Grand Prix victories in Turkey!
2010 – Red Bull team-mates collide: Tensions ran high at Red Bull at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, with the team’s two drivers colliding during the race. Eighteen laps from the end of the race, Red Bull were leading, with Mark Webber first and Sebastian Vettel just behind. Vettel pulled alongside his team-mate on the approach to Turn 12, but the pair made contact. The German was sent into a spin and was immediately out of the race, furiously walking away from his car. Webber was able to continue and finished in third place – but their antics meant that McLaren were handed a 1-2 finish.
2020 – Hamilton’s seventh title: At the first Turkish Grand Prix weekend in nine years, Lewis Hamilton claimed his seventh World Championship. Hamilton started from sixth on the grid following a wet qualifying session – and the track was similarly damp for the race. The Mercedes driver made a great start, getting up to third place. A wide moment saw him fall back to sixth, but as others around him made mistakes Hamilton remained on the tarmac. A good strategy aided him in taking the lead from Sergio Perez twenty laps from the end of the race. With team-mate Valtteri Bottas struggling to keep his car pointing in the right direction and finishing outside of the points, Hamilton’s win was enough to see him crowned World Champion. He equalled Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles and became only the fourth driver to win four titles in four consecutive years.
Turkish Grand Prix Facts
|Intercity Istanbul Park
|Race first held
|5.338km (14 turns)
|58 laps (309.396 km)
|1:24.770, Juan Pablo Montoya (McLaren, 2005)
|1st Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 1:31:04.103
|2nd Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +14.584s
|3rd Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +33.741s