Conclusions From The Russian GP

Date published: May 2 2016

Daniil Kvyat sent Sebastian Vettel on an expletive-laden joyride and paid the price…

Two taps and a joyride
It would be hard to distinguish Super Mario Kart from onboard footage from Daniil Kvyat’s car at the 2016 Russian Grand Prix given the arcade mode that the Red Bull driver used to navigate T2 and T3 at Sochi.

Opening-lap incidents are to be expected in any formula, but most drivers would expect no more than a couple of tangles throughout an entire season.

Kvyat managed to hit Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel twice in two corners to create the weekend’s headline-grabbing story.

The German responded with a rant on team radio resplendent with F-bombs before visiting the Red Bull pitwall to further underscore his displeasure at Kvyat’s antics.

For Vettel, these outbursts will offer scant solace as he finds himself a monumental 67 points adrift of Nico Rosberg.

Vettel commandeered a scooter to take himself back to the pits after being spun out; a joyride that lasted longer than his race but which brought him little joy.

The other moment of levity was seeing Vettel scraping up the Ferrari’s battered front wing and in so doing become the world’s most expensive track marshal.

Paying the penalty
Although Kvyat’s 10-second stop-go penalty and three penalty points for his opening lap mayhem were warranted, Carlos Sainz lamented his sanction for illegally overtaking Jolyon Palmer in the eyes of the steward.

Over the race weekend, Vettel also received a penalty for a gearbox change and Esteban Gutierezz a (deserved) penalty for colliding with Nico Hulkenberg.

Kvyat may pay the ultimate penalty after his involvement in early-race shenanigans for a second consecutive race. With thanks to Mark Webber, the young Red Bull driver is building a reputation as a “first lap nutcase”.

But as Romain Grosjean has shown, however, drivers with a reckless streak can be reformed.

The first step, as Daniel Ricciardo said after the Chinese Grand Prix, is for the Russian to simply calm down.

The other noteworthy question to pose is if Kvyat continues to collect penalty points, which driver would Red Bull choose to replace him if he collects a one-race ban for accumulating 12 penalty points?

Nico notches up 100
Four races, four wins, and 100 points. It would not be an overstatement to say that Nico Rosberg is enjoying the perfect start to the season.

Much has been made of Lewis Hamilton’s “bad luck”, while Toto Wolff responded to what he calls “lunatic” conspiracists who have suggested that Mercedes is purposefully derailing the defending champion’s season.

But credit is due to Rosberg for his consistency and race craft.

And an exercise in counterfactual speculation might also prove valuable when assessing the German’s sensational start to the season.

If it were Hamilton who had claimed four straight victories and established a 43-point cushion, most analysts would be narrating the demise of Rosberg and saluting Hamilton’s unstoppable march to the title.

Of course it is true that Rosberg has yet to be tested in the truest sense, but Hamilton and Vettel best start in Spain because up until this point the German has looked unflappable.

Williams: winners or losers?
After starting in second and fourth, a fourth and fifth finish for Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa seems like a disappointment.

The team’s stellar pit stops (2.3 seconds for Bottas, which allowed him to jump Hamilton) show a commendable degree of professionalism but despite using the same power units as Mercedes and hanging around the top six for a few seasons now, Williams could have reached a plateau in performance.

Yet as Williams operate on a budget estimated to be around 40 per cent that of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, the two constructors that claimed the podiums in Sochi, the Grove-based outfit’s performances remain laudable.

Are McLaren finally on track – and what about Renault?
It took 11 races but Fernando Alonso finally broke his pointless streak in Russia (the double world champion’s last points came at Hungary in the summer of 2015).

With Jenson Button finishing tenth, the Sochi result replicated the double points finish that McLaren secured in Britain last year.

While Williams are unlikely to be fearing McLaren yet, it is clear that the team, together with Honda, has put the misery of the 2015 campaign behind them.

Kevin Magnussen’s assured drive to seventh on the Black Sea was just as impressive to secure the works Renault outfit its first points of the season.

There’s a way to go yet but both Woking and Enstone will be encouraged by their early season results.

Richard F Rose