Bottas Triumphs as Mercedes Dominance Continues
Valtteri Bottas closes his gap to Hamilton with victory in Sochi
Mercedes made it 7 wins in 7 races at the Sochi Autodrome in Russia, As Valtteri Bottas put in a flawless performance to take victory, ahead of Red Bulls’ Max Verstappen and team mate Lewis Hamilton in 3rd.
Hamilton took pole on Saturday, however that was not necessarily the best position to start from in Sochi, with just 2 previous winners starting from Pole – the kilometre long straight provides a unique opportunity for those behind to slipstream the polesitter and challenge in to turn 1. Bottas’ quick start from 3rd threatened to achieve just that as the Finn moved up to 2nd, but Hamilton did well to defend his position and maintain the lead in to the first corner.
The race would soon be neutralised as the safety car was deployed following 2 separate incidents, a mistake from McLaren’s Carlos Sainz saw him drive into the barriers as he took the escape route out of turn 1, whilst the Racing Point of Lance Stroll was tagged by Charles Leclerc and sent spinning in to the barriers and out of the race, both drivers recording their second DNF in 2 races.
A smart restart from Hamilton saw him drive away from Bottas, and the Brit looked set to race on to a record equalling 91st victory, but it wasn’t to be, as Hamilton was handed two separate 5 second penalties for undertaking his pre-race practice starts in the wrong location of the pit lane exit. Hamilton, starting on the red walled soft tyres following a frenetic qualifying that almost saw him out in Q2, knew that his race strategy was already less than optimal and called for his team not to pit him early, putting in a fastest lap on lap 15 as if to prove that there was still grip left in the tyres, but his pleas fell on deaf ears as his team bought him in 2 laps later to protect from the risk of an undercut by those behind him. Following the long stop as he served his penalty, the Hamilton came out in 11th place which, after the first and only round of pitstops was complete, saw the Mercedes man running in a lonely 3rd place. A fastest pitstop of the day of 1.9 seconds by Red Bull as they serviced Max Verstappen proved to be the most exciting moment of the race for the front runners, however there would be no complaints from Bottas as he took his 9th race victory in F1, and moved to 44 points of the championship lead.
If action was lacking at the front, the same could not be said for the rest of the grid. Alex Albon started the race in a lowly 15th, his poor qualifying record compounded by a 5 place penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change, but it did give the Thai driver an opportunity to battle against his 2 long time friends – Lando Norris in his McLaren who was caught out in the first corner drama which saw him drop from 8th to 18th following an unscheduled pitstop, and George Russell, much more accustomed to racing at the back of the grid in his underperforming Williams. A two lap battle ensued, but ultimately it was the Russell that lost out, as the stronger cars of his friends won out and saw them drive further up the grid. Following a second pitstop, Albon fought back up to finish 10th and secure just 1 point. Red Bulls patience in the youngster must surely be running thin, as he was yet again beaten by the man he replaced in AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. With his teammate Verstappen a mainstay on the podium, being beaten by both AlphaTauri’s will be yet another significant blow to Albon as he fights to maintain his seat at Red Bull. The result also means that despite falling back to finish 15th, Norris maintains 4th place in the championship fight, but the young Brit will be hoping to find himself back in the points quickly if he is to hold on to his spot, with 6 drivers separated by just 9 points in a fiercely contested midfield.
A quiet race for Perez saw him secure 4th for Racing Point to move the team to just 2 points behind McLaren in the standings, however the big movers were Renault, a 5th and 7th place for Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon respectively earning the team 16 more points as they close the gap to the teams ahead of them, now just 7 points behind McLaren in 3rd. Despite finishing where they qualified, it was not a straightforward race for the 2 Renault drivers, Ocon with an outstanding start was running as high as 4th, before becoming stuck behind the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel following his pitstop. The Frenchman was unable to find his way past the German, so team orders saw him lose his spot to his teammate Ricciardo, but a botched switch over saw the Aussie run wide, collecting a 5 second time penalty for failing to follow the escape road as instructed by the stewards. Ricciardo was gracious upon learning of his penalty, accepting fault before joking ‘Okay, I’ll drive faster’, before acting upon his word and opening up a significant gap, maintaining his fifth placed finish after the penalty was applied. It was the latest in a strong run of results for the Renault driver, who has not finished outside the top 6 in the last 4 races, and who has beaten his teammate in the last 5 appearances.
With the midfield battle set to rage on for the remainder of the season, another forgettable race for Ferrari sees them languishing in 6th and showing very little sign that they will be able to challenge those ahead of them. Vettel gained just 2 places to finish 13th, and will be longing for next season which will see him racing in the much more competitive Racing Point, rebranded as Aston Martin. A 6th place finish for Charles Leclerc represents the Scuderia’s best result for 5 races, but the Tifosi will not be cheering the result in what has been a dismal season for Formula 1s most successful team. Instead, they will be looking over their shoulders at Alpha Tauri – both drivers finished within the points and the air of confidence that surrounds the team still riding the high of their victory in Monza suggests the Red Bull sister team will be taking the fight to Ferrari, the Italian team just 15 points ahead and firmly within their sights.
It was a perfect drive by Bottas, and the kind of performance that the Finn needs to be producing on a more regular basis if he is to truly take the title fight to his rivals. Bottas voiced a strongly worded message to his critics over his radio as he celebrated his second win of the season, but will this prove to be the start of his title challenge, or yet another false dawn for the driver who’s underwhelming performances have so far been masked by the dominance of the car? We have 2 weeks to wait to find out, as Formula 1 returns to the Nurburgring on 11th October.
Winner: Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes
Driver of the Day: Max Verstappen – Red Bull
Fastest Lap: Valterri Bottas – Mercedes – 1.37.030
Pos Driver Team Time Pts
1 V. Bottas Mercedes 1:34:00.364 26
2 M. Verstappen Red Bull +7.729s 18
3 L. Hamilton Mercedes +22.729s 15
4 S. Pérez Racing Point +30.558s 12
5 D. Ricciardo Renault +52.065s 10
6 C. Leclerc Ferrari +62.186s 8
7 E. Ocon Renault +68.006s 6
8 D. Kvyat AlphaTauri +68.740s 4
9 P. Gasly AlphaTauri +89.766s 2
10 A. Albon Red Bull +97.860s 1
11 A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 Lap 0
12 K. Magnussen Haas +1 Lap 0
13 S. Vettel Ferrari +1 Lap 0
14 K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo +1 Lap 0
15 L. Norris McLaren +1 Lap 0
16 N. Latifi Williams +1 Lap 0
17 R. Grosjean Haas +1 Lap 0
18 G. Russell Williams +1 Lap 0
19 C. Sainz Jr. McLaren DNF 0
20 L. Stroll Racing Point DNF 0