Star of the Race
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st
That’s four wins in a row now for Lewis Hamilton and as people keep saying, all the drivers who have ever won four races in a row have gone on to be World Champion. (Though they weren’t saying this a lot when Lewis won four races in a row earlier in the year). After he’d claimed pole on Saturday, and then worked out where to brake at Turn 2 on the opening lap with a full fuel load – something his team-mate demonstrably failed to do, then he was away. Valtteri Bottas kept him in sight in the opening laps, and by Lap 10 the gap was only 2.7 seconds. Then Lewis put in his latest of a sequence of Fastest Laps and the gap went out to 3.3 seconds. By Lap 20 it was 9.3 seconds.
This wasn’t Lewis at his ‘team-mate-nailed-to-his-gunsites’ best, this was Lewis in cruise mode at a holiday resort. Or, as Eddie Jordan elegantly described Sochi: “It’s more of a holiday and time-off time kind of place.”
At one stage it looked like Lewis was putting in one fast lap, then a steady lap, then another fast one. We got a new Fastest Lap on Laps 7, 9 and 11. In the closing stages he looked like he was drifting along preserving everything he could, turning the motor down, and just waiting for a much-predicted safety car that never came. He really did make winning look very easy. Just as Nico made recovering from last place to finish second look very easy.
Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 31: Nico Rosberg on Valtteri Bottas for P2
Given how well the tyres were lasting, it was crucial that Nico Rosberg got past Valtteri Bottas before the Williams worked out the perfect strategy for defending P2. After Vettel pitted at the end of Lap 30, Bottas no longer had the benefit of the DRS tow from the Red Bull and on the start/finish straight. Rosberg immediately launched an attack, and dived up the inside at the last minute into Turn 2. It caught Bottas off guard because he was already angling across for the apex and had to cut the corner in favour of the escape route to make it through. After the race Bottas admitted that he was surprised by the Mercedes W05’s sudden appearance, which only goes to show it was the perfect time. No skulking around today for Rosberg.
As for the race, Nico was incredibly fortunate to score the points he did. Had he badly flat-spotted the tyres at any other race venue and pitted for tyres on the opening lap, then he would have carried that one-extra-stop defecit through the race. To be told that he could pit on Lap 1 with almost full tanks and still aim to go to the finish on that set of tyres was incredible (as in not credible). And if Valtteri Bottas hadn’t got a shift on for Lap 53 to claim the Fastest Lap, then Rosberg would have put in the Fastest Lap of the race with his 1:41.360 on Lap 52 on 51-lap-old tyres. Again, utterly incredible.
Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 3rd
Bottas so nearly split the Mercedes on the grid after his heroics in Saturday Qualifying. The split-screen lap comparison with Hamilton showed that he was already fractionally behind Lewis before he got to the last two corners, but it was a mighty effort nonetheless. In the race he kept Lewis honest for the opening laps, even putting in a Fastest Lap of his own on Lap 4.
Jenson Button behind was never going to be a threat, but thanks to the generosity of the first DRS zone, along with the graphene-covered Pirelli tyres, Rosberg was able to close up and pass all the cars in his path to take P2 from him.
Jenson Button, McLaren, 4thJenson was pleased to have kept the Ferraris and the Red Bulls at bay, but the podium just eluded him, thanks to Rosberg’s remarkable recovery. Given that it’s a long time since he finished so close to the front you would have thought that Jenson would have been more upbeat after the race, but he wasn’t moany, just reflective and slightly regretful. Perhaps he’s missing Jon Button more than we realise, as McLaren strenuously deny that any new driver plan is in place.
Kevin Magnussen, McLaren 5th
Magnussen looked to have contributed to his own downfall on Saturday by straightlining the kerbs at Turn 2 and bouncing his gearbox into submission in final free practice. He made up for the five-place defecit with a scintillating opening lap, pulling off an audacious/foolhardy move up the inside into Turn 2. It’s audacious if you get away with it and it’s foolhardy if you lose your front wing. Watching the onboard footage with Eric Boullier afterwards you could see him wince at how close he came to being the lesser of the two.
He couldn’t match Jenson Button’s pace and finished 23 seconds shy of his team-mate. It would have been interesting if Fernando Alonso had come out in front of him after his pit-stop, to see if Kevin could do anything with the master tactician.
Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 6th
Not the greatest of days in the office, the F14T didn’t have the straightline speed to overtake, or the strategy opportunities for Fernando to do something different to his main rivals. He kept Ricciardo at bay in the latter stages, which he’s struggled to do in races past, but that’s probably not going to make its way onto his racing c.v.
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 7th
There was the tiniest hint of frustration of being held up by Sebastian Vettel, but the Red Bull just wasn’t competitive at the Sochi Autodrum.
Russian Grand Prix
The circuit at Sochi is a real success. The drivers say that it’s good to drive, it flows, and the frantic Q3 session showed that getting it absolutely right is not the easiest job in the world. We had an abundance of fans over the weekend including the visit of a prestigious waxwork towards the end of the race. Presumably no-one in the Kremlin had bothered to tell Vlad that the interesting bit is at the beginning. TV pictures showed him sitting in the grandstands talking at Bernie, and even with the new quieter hybrid engines Bernie was mouthing, “What?” So, congratulations to Mother Russia for their inaugural GP. Beetroot spritzers all round.
Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 14th
Kvyat paid the price for the glory of a stellar grid position, too much downforce which made him quick over a single lap, but led to problems in the race. Jean-Eric Vergne suffered too. P5 was his best ever gridlot, but he got mugged on the opening lap when it looked like all the Red Bull-sponsored cars were running in a pack and scrapping it out between themselves.
Felipe Massa, Williams, 11th
Felipe’s strategy of starting on the medium tyres then changing them for softs after the opening lap didn’t work out. Perez, who finished 10th just in front of him, also started on the medium tyres and brought his much-slower car home in the points. Given that the FW36 had the pace to set the fastest lap and that at one stage Massa was lapping faster than Rosberg just in front of him (admittedly on the softer compound) it was surprising that the Brazilain couldn’t get more out of the race.
The BBC reported that Pirelli hadn’t actually surveyed the track surface at Sochi before deciding the tyre allocation for the race. If that is the case, then it’s a major mistake because we were left with one of those old school grands prix where nothing happens and drivers go faster as the fuel load goes down.
Eddie Jordan talking about Alex Lynn’s chances of making it into the Toro Rosso team to replace Daniil ‘Danny’ Kvyat: “He’s vying for that place with Carlos Sainz’s son…another Carlos Sainz.”
Suzi Perry “Did the tyre evolvement catch you out…?”
Talking about the post-race downbeat Jenson Button
Eddie Jordan nodding at David Coulthard: “He’s very close to Jenson. They live together
David Coulthard: We don’t live together.
They live near each other.
Talking to Eric Boullier about McLaren’s recent upswing in form. Eddie Jordan: “Four races ago you weren’t competitive. What has you done to your car…?”