What happened at the Russian Grand Prix?

F1 welcomes a new first-time winner as Sochi plays host to a late-race thriller.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 4th, finished 4th. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 3rd, finished 1st.

Bottas used a quite brilliant start from third on the grid to take the lead by the time the field thundered into Turn 2, and controlled much of the race thereafter to take his first F1 victory, and become the 107th different winner in the sport’s history in the process. It was a close-run thing, though: after Vettel pitted with 18 laps to go, the Ferrari driver closed in on the Finn at a rate of knots, Bottas’ flat-spotted tyres from an ugly lock-up clearly hampering him. The German closed to within a second as the final lap began, but Bottas kept his cool and crossed the line six-tenths of a second ahead. His economically-worded and understated response was in keeping with his character – and his nationality …

Hamilton, by contrast, was absolutely nowhere in Sochi, much to the disappointment of a prominent English-language world TV feed that mixes in occasional commentary between its cheerleading for the three-time world champion. As Bottas scampered ahead, Hamilton was complaining about power delivery and overheating issues from as early as lap seven, and while the dominance Mercedes and Ferrari have over the rest meant he was always going to finish fourth if he made the chequered flag, finishing 25 seconds off the podium – and 36 seconds behind his race-winning teammate – was quite the surprise.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 5th, did not finish. Max Verstappen: qualified 7th, finished 5th.

Team principal Christian Horner said before the Russian weekend that Sochi would be “about damage limitation” for Red Bull, but that seemed an understatement after Ricciardo was out after five laps with his right-rear brakes on fire, and after Verstappen finished more than a minute behind Bottas. Ricciardo said in the lead-up to the race that “nothing’s missing in the driver” when asked where Red Bull’s problems were, and while he beat Verstappen again in qualifying, the gap to pole – 1.7 seconds – was akin to being in another category. He failed to score in Sochi for the second straight year, and after finishing every race in 2016, the Australian has two mechanical retirements in four races to start this season. Verstappen had a pre-race scare when a water leak saw the team frantically work on his car in the hour before lights out, and was all-but anonymous over 52 laps on the way to collecting 10 world championship points for a lonely Sunday drive. Spain – and Red Bull’s planned chassis update – can’t come soon enough.

Sebastian Vettel: qualified 1st, finished 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 2nd, finished 3rd.

Ferrari locked out the front row of the grid for the first time in a whopping 127 races (France 2008), but Vettel narrowly missed out on a third win in four races to start the season when he ran out of laps to pass Bottas on much fresher tyres. Vettel had rubber that was seven laps younger than the Finn’s in the final stages, and his stop on lap 34 came after he was called in and then told to stay on track as Ferrari frantically did its sums to give the world championship leader the best chance to overhaul the Silver Arrow up front. Vettel’s disappointment was tempered by the increase in his lead over Hamilton at the top of the standings to 13 points. Raikkonen topped opening practice on Friday, but Vettel had his measure thereafter. A tardy start in the race ensured Raikkonen never really figured in the fight for the win, benefitting from Hamilton’s off day to make the podium for the first time since last year’s Austrian Grand Prix, a span of 15 races.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 9th, finished 6th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 10th, finished 7th.

Force India kept up its perfect record of points-scoring finishes in 2017, with Ocon achieving a career-best qualifying performance and race finish on the same weekend. While the young Frenchman’s reputation continues to rise, Perez did what Perez does, bringing the car home in the points for the 14th race in a row. The Mexican finished eight seconds ahead of his teammate, but a mammoth 85 seconds behind Bottas as he joined Ricciardo on 22 world championship points.

Felipe Massa: qualified 6th, finished 9th. Lance Stroll: qualified 11th, finished 11th.

Massa drew Vettel’s ire on the final lap when the front-running duo came up to lap him, delaying the German momentarily to give his former Williams teammate a chance to escape and secure his win. Vettel – “what the hell was that?” – wasn’t thrilled, but Massa didn’t really have anywhere to go as the cars screamed through Sochi’s one signature corner, the flat-out never-ending left-hander of Turn 4. The Brazilian looked set for sixth place but had to make a second unscheduled pit stop for tyres when he picked up a puncture on lap 43, while teenage teammate Stroll finally saw the chequered flag after non-finishes in Australia, China and Bahrain, finishing just outside the points after a costly and clumsy spin behind the early-race safety car.

Fernando Alonso: qualified 15th, did not start. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 17th, finished 14th.

The good news for McLaren – if you can call it that – in Sochi was that Vandoorne made the end of the race and beat both Saubers. The bad was that he started from the back after taking a 15-place grid penalty for engine component changes that had exceeded their limit of four for the season in just the fourth race of said season … What was worse was watching Alonso walking down the pit lane as the field assembled for the start, the two-time world champion parking his car at the final corner on the warm-up lap with an energy recovery system failure. The Spaniard is now the only driver in the field not to finish a race this season, a horror stat that stings even more when you consider Barcelona plays host to the next race of the season in a fortnight’s time.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 12th, finished 12th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 13th, finished 10th.

Russia was a bit of an anonymous weekend for Toro Rosso, which wasn’t expected given Kvyat was the face of the race as the one local driver in it. The Russian finished where he started, while teammate Sainz recovered from a three-place grid penalty for taking Stroll out in Bahrain to sneak the final point on offer.

Romain Grosjean: qualified 20th, did not finish. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 14th, finished 13th.

The weekend couldn’t have been much worse for Grosjean, who couldn’t get his head around a car that he felt handled differently from lap to lap as he qualified dead last. His race lasted all of two corners, his coming-together with Palmer’s Renault leaving both cars in bits and with each driver pointing the finger at the other to apportion blame. Magnussen looked a chance to finish in the points after a much more convincing weekend, but paid the price for exceeding track limits at Turn 2, copping a five-second penalty at his pit stop which dropped him out of the top 10 for good despite his pleas to race director Charlie Whiting to reconsider.

Jolyon Palmer: qualified 16th, did not finish. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 8th, finished 8th.

The short version of Palmer’s wretched weekend; an exhaust fire burned his car on Friday, causing a chassis rebuild overnight, and then an engine failure left him stranded in final practice on Saturday. The team changed his engine in time for qualifying before he crashed at Turn 5, and he didn’t even make it that far in the race before his incident with Grosjean. Hulkenberg, on the other hand, qualified in the top 10 for the third race running, and used a marathon opening stint of 40 laps on the ultrasoft tyres to try to combat the pace advantage held by Force India through strategy, narrowly missing out on passing Ocon by finishing a second behind at the end.

Marcus Ericsson: qualified 19th, finished 15th. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 18th, finished 16th.

Second-last (Ericsson) and last (Wehrlein) was where Sauber ended up on Sunday afternoon, but few were talking about the Swiss team’s on-track results in Sochi after news broke that the team would end its eight-year association with Ferrari to run Honda engines in 2018. Having a manufacturer on board and a supply of current-spec engines is good news in theory; given McLaren’s freefall with Honda powerplants over the past three years, perhaps any joy should be muted for the time being.


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