Winners and Spinners - Russian Grand Prix
I'm sorry, did Sochi just provide us an entertaining race? Anyhow, let's see who's made the most of the changing conditions.
Lando Norris - After that, I don't even have the energy to start this off with a drawn-out expletive of discontent. I've just about stopped shaking. I shan't throw shade at him for not pitting earlier for inters. That's criticism coming through the lens of hindsight and is neither constructive nor clever. Up until that point, Lando had run an exceptional race. There is no other way of describing it. He didn't risk it all into turn two, defending enough to keep a competitive track position without running the risk of a flat spot or damage.
That's not smugness, that's pride on Lewis' face. It's clear he has so much respect for Lando and they were both fighting to stay out on track in those conditions.
While it all looked chaotic, it was in fact very well metered. He was able to hang on to the back of a surprisingly dominant Carlos for a good while, sticking to the clean air, maintaining his downforce and keeping his tyres in as good a condition as possible. No scrubbing, no sliding wide with aero-invoked understeer. Then as the pits happened around him he kept his position, his gaps, all this incredible work undone by a stroke of sheer bad luck. No one could have seen the rain come down as hard as it did, washing out the track in the blink of an eye.
Lewis got lucky in that regard with a well-timed pitstop he followed his team's call. A team that has been flying at the top so consistently, you'd be stupid to not follow their calls. McLaren and Lando both said they were undecided on what to do, neither wanted to make a call for the fear of it not paying off.
Yes, they could have pulled the trigger earlier and left Lewis to flounder in the wet. Both drivers were struggling to stay facing the right way, so it was bound to happen to one of them as they fought for position. They didn't and I'm sure Lando, Zak and Andreas will be sitting down with the rest of the team to figure out how to do it better next time. All in, this was a fantastic drive from Lando and a superb one to have in his folio to prove his worth, if he even still needs to.
Max Verstappen - I gave Valtteri a fantastic report last time out in Italy, a back to front drive of epic proportions, and a drive that Max has managed to replicate in changing conditions. Max had a blinder of a start and made up a lot of places early on, getting a lot of the work done while his tyres were still at their peak. Despite having to cut through a tightly packed and highly competitive grid, it wasn't long until he was hot on the tail of the points positions.
Only Seb springs to mind as a driver who's been able to drive from last to second. Has anyone done a last to first?
Some exceptional overtakes on the back half of the track saw Verstappen really come into his own and arguably this is one of his best drives of the season, if not the best. Before the end of lap one, Max had already made up three places to 17th. He was in the top 10 by lap 15, it was incredible. His appetite for passes was insatiable so much as to see him try and pass Charles and Seb in one move. A drive so stoked up and yet so under control, he even bailed on turn two, taking to the run-off area to avoid any damage. This is quite apt as this really was a damage limitation race for Red Bull. They just needed to collect some points to fend off the climb of Mercedes on the leaderboard. For Max, this was a race where it was all the more important to get some points and limit the lead Lewis was set to draw out.
Lewis Hamilton - Early on this weekend, it looked like it was going to be Lewis' weekend to walk away with, and then come the final part of qualifying and it all began to unravel. A crash coming into the pits for inters in Q3 hampering both his and his teammates' run time in the final session saw them both start way out of position. Facing an uphill battle through a mixed pack ahead Lewis faltered at the start. Slow off the line he caught up fast thanks to the slipstream, but so had all the drivers around him.
Could you get anymore cars abreast going into turn 2?
Going nearly four abreast into turn two, someone was going to lose out. Alonso ended up taking to the run-off, but it was Lewis who lost the most, stuck behind the Alpine of Fernando and the second McLaren of Ricciardo. The front running two managed to quickly draw out clean air as the drivers lower down the pack fought to get past a still on pace George Russell in his Williams. Had Lewis been able to have gotten through this pack earlier on in the race, it could well have been a duller race than we'd had with Lewis leading until the end.
One complaint I do have here is Mercedes and their 'dummy' pit stops. They get out and get ready, triggering other teams to pit off schedule to try and cover their moves, only for the driver to not pit. While, as far as I can read, this isn't illegal, it just seems to be bad form, but is there more to it than this? If you want to keep your options open through the race, it's not uncommon for the pit wall to tell a driver to do the opposite of a rival on track. If they come in, stay out and vice versa, and this does mean that you essentially need to be ready for your car to appear suddenly in the pitlane. The result is a seemingly 'dummy' stop. It just doesn't sit well with me.
Regardless, once up and running, this was a strong drive from Lewis, while it may seem like it wasn't his best, I feel if you come to that conclusion you're doing Lando a disservice somewhat. If you can drive to such a level that you're making it seem like Lewis was a bit off at a race weekend, then you're driving at an incredible level indeed.
Daniel Ricciardo - Daniel Ricciardo is still back baby! Last weekend he made it look easy, this weekend he's proved he still knows how to fight for a position and control a pack once more. He played a sterling team game, maintaining the pack speed behind Lando for a while, something that required him to make some strong passes to get to the head of that DRS train. He held off Alonso and Hamilton for a good while, two drivers who this season we've seen at their very best. Overwhelmingly, yet quietly, competent, he made up two places in the final few laps and came home best of the rest, nothing to be sniffed at. While on the surface it wasn't as stunning a drive as Monza, but it was a key drive in the fight for third in the Constructor's champs.
Carlos Sainz - Sainz really is proving that he's been so heavily underrated all this time. He currently outscores Charles in the standings, which likely isn't what anyone was expecting at the start of the season when he was bought in. His performance in qualifying through the changing conditions was exemplary, as was his performance through the race where he was able to pass Lando using the tow through T1 and then balance out the performance of his tyres from there. What seemed like an unnecessarily early pitstop from the mediums to the hards ended up paying dividends as when the rain fell, it gave him chance to ditch the burnt-out white-rimmed slicks for a set of piping hot inters. His mastery of the SF21 in the wet allowed him to retain his podium position and bring home some much-needed points for the Scuderia, keeping the fight for third place alive and kicking.
Three eras of Ferrari drivers. One with a world championship, one without, and one yet to get.
Kimi Räikkönen - This was a truly typical Kimi performance. Quiet and understated, with a poor qualifying, we had another blinder of an opening few laps from the Ice Man as he made his way through the jumbled pack. Soon he was running well into the points and managed to hold this strong position as the track conditions changed through the latter part of the race. While we never saw a great deal of action from him on track, his finishing position suggests he had a suitably competent race. The changing conditions proved that nothing can faze Kimi at this point. Peak cool.
Pierre Gasly - This wasn't a strong weekend for Pierre after a traffic hampered qualifying session he was out of position on the grid. The Alpha Tauri seemed highly uncompetitive as well this weekend, unable to find any pace akin to the Alpine or Aston Martin. Whether anything can be taken from this weekend is a question they will no doubt be asking back at Faenza. Much the same can be said for...
Yuki Tsunoda - After making it through to Q2 I had some hope that on a quieter track, Yuki would be able to extract a decent grid position in his AT02. Like Pierre, this was not to be. Arguably this was going to happen to the team at some point, with a grid this competitive with such a span of tracks on the calendar, there is going to be a flat race for each team, especially in the midfield. All it takes is for your chassis to not be adapted for one course and you'll be snapped up by the competition. Hopefully, Turkey will offer a better battle for the Red Bull sister team.
Nikita Mazepin - Lord he was off the pace this weekend. He failed to make the 107% time in qualifying and was nowhere near the speed of the rest of the field. Given the tricky conditions that presented themselves across the weekend, it's a miracle he didn't suffer one of his typical accidents. His start seemed to go well with him running well from the off, but by the end of the race, he'd lost all that position he'd built up and was over a lap down on the rest of the paddock, taking the chequered flag he was two laps down on the race winner. His fastest lap of the race was a ponderous 1:41.713, a dismal attempt compared to his teammate's 1:40.276 in the race. The argument as to whether he belongs in the sport has yet another feather in its cap against him.
Aston Martin - Lance and Seb had a strong enough qualifying with the young-gun showing up his World Champ teammate. But from there it all went a bit wobbly in a way. The Aston Martin was unable to put up a fight with Alonso's Alpine or fend off the attacking pace of the cars behind. Stuck in a series of DRS trains the two fell away from the pack and soon found themselves tangling together, literally. In the foray to change from slicks to inters the team was unable to make up any track positions. The biggest loser here has to be Lance who was right up at the spicy end of the pack at the start. He seemed to have his car hooked up and working well, but then it all unwound. Add in a penalty for spinning Pierre as well and this just wasn't a weekend to write home about for A shame, but hopefully, we'll see another smasher of a session from him next time out in Turkey.
Antonio Giovinazzi - With that second Alfa Romeo seat still up for grabs and Zhou still being a hot shoe in despite Fred Vasseur calling it b******t. Alpine have said they wouldn't stand in the way of getting their junior driver into the big leagues even if it's at another team for a season. All this serves to do is pile the pressure onto Gio. And this weekend was not a good one for him, although this wasn't really his fault. You see, he had no radio the entire race. No coms with his team apart from his pit board. This was made all the worse when he was hit on track and lost all his hard work climbing up the grid. So while it wasn't his strongest performance ever, it wasn't his weakest, but there are circumstances behind it all. So kudos for battling through that.
Mick Schumacher - Suffering a hydraulics leak, Mick was forced to retire from the race on lap 32 which is a bit of a shame. I was looking forward to seeing how he'd cope in the changing conditions of the latter half of the race, to see what sort of a challenge he could put to Mazespin. That was not to be sadly.
Nicholas Latifi - Kudos to Nicholas for his weekend. A Q2 appearance, even if it was a little moot with his engine penalty, goes to show how far he's come as a driver. His improvements over this season have been substantial and largely unrewarded. His on-track pace was strong as well, at their fastest, Nicky was over half a second quicker than George. Sadly Latifi had to retire before the end of the race, caught out on ageing slicks at turn 7 he lost it and damaged his rear wing forcing his retirement on lap 47. Here's to next race week and another strong show.
George Russell - Mega congratulations for that call in qualifying and making it work. Wrangling the bucking bronco that was the FW43B in the wet on slicks and getting them into the zone and working to set a blinder of a lap. The difference between those who could get their tyres hooked up and those that couldn't, was a sizable gulf with a little over 2 seconds separating Norris from Hamilton. George himself still had a full second and a bit over Lewis, his one-lap pace and tyre control was exceptional and paid dividends.
While the race pace of that Williams still isn't as strong as the rest of the pack, George's ability to defend his strong qualifyings is starting to pay dividends. It gave Williams the chance to gamble with the pits and again, like Carlos, pitting early and then being lucky to get to bin the burnt second set of tyres for inters paid off. And through the transition period as the track dealt with the rain, George was able to keep the car hooked up and facing the right way. I should have liked to have seen a higher finishing position to properly reflect his qualifying, but again, that solitary point sees Williams inch closer to Aston Martin. There's still a big gap, but George could well surpass Yuki by the end of the season, the rookie on 18 points and George only on 16 behind him. It could happen.
Sergio Perez - I think Perez got lucky this weekend. His qualifying was average, to say the least. His pace was on par with Esteban Ocon in the Alpine behind, which isn't a car that's anywhere near as competitive as the Red Bull. With his teammate starting from the back, the pressure was on to keep the remaining Mercedes ahead under control. But he wasn't close enough to do that. Lewis struggles ahead made it a bit easier to stay close and his pace picked up nicely through the race but was still about a second off of Max's pace through the race. He was on the podium until the rain fell and it all went a bit skewiff and he lost out in the pits and could only make it 9th place by the chequered flag. I'll give him some benefit of the doubt for the pit stops hampering his chances, but before then, I wasn't blown away with his performance.
Alpine - Both Alonso and Esteban made it into Q3, they were showing decent race pace, with Alonso playing with the front runners from the off. It wasn't a shabby weekend at all for the French outfit. The car still doesn't have the pace of those ahead of it, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see them come home comfortably in fifth by the end of the season. Ocon's pace wasn't there in the race this weekend sadly, but with a competitive grid on a track that proved to be exciting for once, add in the changing conditions, it's fair to give some leeway for a slip in his performance.
Valtteri Bottas - This is an almost Winners entry. Almost. Bottas has proved he can master the back-to-front drive. And on a circuit where we know he and Mercedes are dominant, it'd be fair to expect a similar drive to what we'd witnessed in Monza. But no. Max tore past Valtteri early on and from there it was a steady plod up the grid. Despite being in arguably the best car for the track, he made none of the progress we saw from Max or even Charles when the track was dry. Before the rain came he wasn't even in the points, but fortunately, he was able to pit, and pit early for his inters, coming in on lap 47 and then make up his final glut of places on his inters. The finish was good and strong, but he got lucky there. Had it not been for that rain, Lando would have romped home a victory and he would have been left without a point, a result that'd see him ten points behind Lando. In short, while he did well enough, he could have done better and we're only saying he did well is because he got lucky.
Charles Leclerc - From what was looking to be a promising race with a decent chance of points on the way to none at all. LeClerc was powering through and in 8th and then befell the same problem as Lando when the rain properly came and he extended by a lap too many on the slicks in the worsening conditions. The result, he not lost out to others in the pits but lost out on track before pitting. A mistake was made here by either Charles or the team in coordinating their pit strategy for the inters, Carlos pitted on lap 48 and made it work, why didn't Charles come in a lap later? Must be that Ferrari master plan...
And as usual, my Foodtribe plug
Go check out my ongoing Foodtribe series, Formula Food. This time we find out that the Russian's have their own version of ravioli. Legit!