As Formula 1 returns to Istanbul for the first Turkish Grand Prix since 2011, The Race’s Global Head of Motorsport Andrew van de Burgt remembers Lewis Hamilton’s 2006 GP2 heroics there – which proved exactly why the circuit is so special and so deserving of its fan-favourite status.
Such was Lewis Hamilton’s crushing performance in fighting back from a lap two spin in the 2006 GP2 race at Istanbul Park that rival team owners started to openly question the legality of his ART machine.
But in reality, what had happened was a perfect coming together of circumstances. A hyper-talented driver with the bit between his teeth, battling title protagonists holding each other up and a track design that showcased the racing capabilities of the 2006 GP2 Dallara magnificently.
Hamilton got greedy as he hooked his right front over the kerb at the Turn 4 right-hander on lap two. He was incredibly lucky not to be taken out and he spin-turned back onto the track in 17th place and was equally fortunate to survive a wheel-rubbing moment with Ernesto Viso as he tried to get back up to speed as quickly as possible.
Once back into his racing rhythm, Hamilton began producing one of those performances that made the onlooking F1 team bosses stand up at take notice.
Adrian Valles was the first to fall, the Spaniard powerless to resist as Hamilton dived down the inside into the tight Turn 9 left-hander. Turn 8 at Istanbul Park generated the headlines, but it was the track’s combination of long flowing corners into long straights, followed by slow corners with wide entries that allowed Hamilton to produce his masterclass.
The 2006-spec GP2 car was also a fantastic machine. With the season one Bridgestone grooved tyres ditched in favour of their excellent slicks, the car’s phenomenal raceability came to the fore. It had a perfect balance between simple aero, aided by a dollop of ground effect, which meant the cars could follow closely through those many apexes of Turn 8 and use the tow down the straight to set up a move into Turn 9.
In fact, as the battle royale was waging through the field, on the TV comms Gareth Rees was moved to state: “this is what Formula 1 should be, they should look at this and be embarrassed”.
A three-way crash between Giorgio Pantano, Luca Filippi and Clivio Piccione as they proved you cannot go three-wide through the tight Turn 1 left-hander gained Hamilton three more places, while local hero Jason Tahinci was dispatched into the final corner as Hamilton’s charge gained pace.
The track design of Turn 12/13/14 is genius. The long-run into 12 creates a huge tow. The entry is so wide that if you cover the inside, your rival will go around the outside, which becomes the inside for T13 as the track switches back, but then the outside for T14 and the run onto the pit straight.
In fact, it was the obdurate defence by Timo Glock, which also allowed Hamilton’s title rival Nelson Piquet Jr to repass the Brit, through T12/13/14 that meant this was a recovery drive to second and not the win.
The three laps it took Hamilton to pass the German, which also included a side-by-side run through Turn 1, the long flowing uphill T2, and the Turns 3 and 4 switchbacks, meant that by the time he’d worked his way through, Andreas Zuber was too far up the road to be caught.
It was the way Hamilton surged by Adam Carroll for second on the final lap that caused the incredulity in the paddock, but they were unaware at the time that the Brit had lost top gear in his Racing Engineering entry, and was thus powerless to resist Hamilton as he blasted by on the run into Turn 12 to cap a memorable performance that showcased the best that Istanbul Park and GP2 had to offer.