What to look out for at this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix.

The 2021 Formula 1 Championship is shaping up to be the most exciting in years, if not decades. 15 rounds in, just two points separate title leader Lewis Hamilton and challenger Max Verstappen, making it the tightest driver's championship at this stage of a season since Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill were just a point apart in 1994. This weekend, the drivers and teams head to Turkey for the Istanbul Grand Prix, and ahead of the ninth running of the Turkish GP, we're taking a look at five things you should know before the lights go out on Sunday at Intercity Istanbul Park.

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Form

1. Better Track Conditions

The 2020 Turkish Grand Prix was terrible, thanks to track conditions at the Istanbul Park circuit. It was the first Grand Prix in Istanbul for nine years, so the circuit made a considerable effort to provide decent racing conditions. The owners completely resurfaced the track just for F1's return, which turned out to be a bad idea. There was a severe lack of grip thanks to the weather conditions and the bitumen washing away. The supporting acts tried to lay down some rubber, but it wasn't enough. The cars were sliding all over the place. This year the track is prepped and ready to go. Since the fresh tarmac was put in place, several races have been hosted there and the organizers have routinely water-blasted the surface to create a rougher, grippier surface. But while the extra grip will be welcome, it also means the track surface will be completely different to last year and any data previously collected will be almost entirely useless. Still, let's hope the guys stay on track this time. Rain is predicted for the weekend.

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2. Lando Norris Bouncing Back

McLaren's one-two finish at Monza was epic. McLaren even celebrated with a limited edition 720S. Initially, we thought McLaren's stellar effort was a one-off performance resulting from Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen both crashing out, but how wrong we were.

Due to some unexpected circumstances, qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix turned out to be epic.

Lando Norris ended up on pole, Carlos Sainz in second, and George Russel in third. The big names were locked out of the front row, and Max Verstappen was at the back of the grid due to an engine change.

Lando drove like a boss and was in first place for 90% of the race, but he made a poor last-minute decision when it started raining. He missed a braking zone on the second-last lap and eventually ended up in seventh place.

He was pretty hard on himself, but we think he learned a valuable lesson. That's not a mistake he'll ever repeat, and he's proven his race pace is up there with the best. We're hoping he'll have cleared his head in time to bounce back this weekend.

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3. Red Bull’s Honda Tribute Livery

Honda will no longer be an engine supplier at the end of the 2021 season. Its final Grand Prix was initially scheduled for this upcoming weekend in Japan, but the race was canceled and replaced with the Turkish Grand Prix.

Red Bull and AlphaTauri will race in special liveries to pay tribute to Red Bull Racing's engine partner. This livery is inspired by the Honda Honda RA 272, the first Japanese car to win a Grand Prix when driven by American driver Richie Ginther in Mexico, 1965.

Revealed last night, the new livery features Japanese script and is clearly influenced by the Japanese flag. “The livery chosen for our cars pays homage to Honda's remarkable F1 journey, and hopefully, we can give fans another victory in those legendary colors this weekend,” said Red Bull F1 boss Christian Horner. Together, the partnership has yielded 35 podiums and 11 victories, and could yet see Max Verstappen clinch a title this season.

The AlphaTauri cars will feature Japanese script on their rear wings reading 'arigato', or 'thank you'.


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4. Ferrari At The Back Of The Grid

Carlos Sainz Jr. also put in an excellent performance at Sochi, claiming the third position on the podium. This weekend he'll be starting from the back of the grid as Ferrari is making some upgrades to his car resulting in grid penalties. Fellow Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc took the penalty as Sochi but said he could feel the bump in power. Now that both Ferrari's are in optimal condition, they'll have their first opportunity to display the power bump in Istanbul. With Sainz taking the penalty, it will be up to Leclerc to use the new setup to set a decent qualifying time.

There's only a 17.5 point gap between McLaren and Ferrari in the constructor's championship, and the Italians desperately want to get back on the podium. If Sainz can replicate even half the drive Verstappen had from the back of the grid last time out, Ferrari will be pleased.

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5. Lewis Vs. Max, Again.

Lewis Hamilton is officially the first F1 driver to hit triple-digit wins. Many people are calling him F1's GOAT, but I'm afraid this writer has to disagree. While it is a stellar achievement, the driver of the day at the Russian Grand Prix was undoubtedly Max Verstappen. He started at the back of the grid and battled his way to second place.

Hamilton is currently in the lead in the 2021 driver standings. He's sitting on 246.5 points, while Verstappen has amassed 244.5 points. Just two points separate these drivers, and F1 fans are thrilled. One of these two men will be the world champion.

The question is, who is in a better state of mind? Hamilton must be riding a high after 100 wins, but Verstappen's performance in Sochi proved that the Brit couldn't afford to slack off for a second.

As we saw earlier this year, the Mercedes machine falls apart under pressure, and Verstappen's epic battle from last to second will be on Sir Hamilton's mind. None of the remaining circuits favors either car more than the other, so it will come down to team setup, strategy, and driver skill. The gloves will be off.

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