Conclusions from the Russian Grand Prix

Date published: October 1 2018 - Editor

Mercedes team orders dominate headlines, but the title race is all but run; Red Bull’s star sends a warning to the frontrunners; and Renault feel the pressure…

Quicksilver Hamilton gets a helping hand

Lewis Hamilton has one hand and four fingers on the title. The Brit has been irrepressible, whichever way you dissect the season. Six wins out of the last 10 grands prix; five of the last six; and three out of three since from Italy to Russia via Singapore.

Of course his victory at Sochi is heavily caveated: it’s unclear if Hamilton would’ve won had his team-mate Valtteri Bottas not been asked to move aside on lap 26.

Video: The moment Bottas let Hamilton through

But therein the difference between Mercedes and Ferrari. When the Scuderia have wavered, the Mercedes team has been quicksilver in both its decision making and execution. Hamilton’s overtake on Vettel, meanwhile, was an act of car control that defied gravity, and was a serious uppercut that landed square on Sebastian Vettel’s jaw.

Bottas does a Barrichello

The Finn has two pole positions in 2018 but zero victories. He had the legs to win in Sochi, as he did in 2017, but team orders were to end any hope he had of standing on the top step of the podium. Bottas was visibly upset after the race, yet he was utterly compliant in letting Hamilton through.

Given that Bottas’s future with the works Mercedes is far from assured, he has little scope but to follow the orders that he receives from Toto Wolff and co. At this stage of his career, Bottas looks to be little more than a foil to Hamilton, much as Rubens Barrichello was to Michael Schumacher during Ferrari’s greatest era.

What would Vettel give for a supporting act?

Vettel’s errors in 2018 have been well documented, and Sochi was no different. He ran wide on numerous occasions during the race and just wasn’t as sure-footed as Hamilton was — indeed as Hamilton has been through most of the grands prix since the summer.

At the same time, with Kimi Raikkonen off the pace, Vettel was left to take the fight to Mercedes by himself. All too often have his efforts been solitary in nature. Now 50 points adrift the title is all but lost; and Hamilton has just been the better driver – both faster and less error prone – than Vettel through the campaign.

Max makes his case (again)

Max Verstappen is 21-years-old. Just let that sink in. The Red Bull star is already a grand prix winner and, if presented with better machinery, would no doubt be troubling the likes of Hamilton at the front of the field. Grid penalties left the young Dutchman starting 19th in Sochi, but his progress was as swift as it was inexorable. Up to ninth on lap 3, seventh on lap 5, and into P5 by lap 8, Verstappen’s drive was a show-stopper that left Daniel Ricciardo in his wake.

Fans should be excited by the prospect of a Honda-powered Red Bull, though if it is fast and reliable there’ll be little excitement from Verstappen’s peers over the prospect of the damage he could cause – as he proved today he can impress from anywhere on the grid. Just ask Nico Hulkenberg who, when being lapped by the Red Bull, couldn’t understand how Verstappen had managed to get that far ahead.

Other observations

* Charles Leclerc underscored his credentials with a phenomenal drive to P7, to win the “best of the rest” behind the big three. And his overtaking move on Kevin Magnussen in the opening phase of the race is one for the highlights reel (Verstappen’s overtakes notwithstanding).

* Sergey Sirotkin has never had much luck at his home race – and it’s one of the few things that not even Vladimir Putin can influence. Sunday wasn’t much better for the Russian, who finished last.

* Renault’s offset strategy had little impact and P12 and P17 is another poor return. The French outfit are now just 11 points clear of Haas — with fourth in the Constructors’ seriously under threat due to form of Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.

Richard F Rose

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