Race Report: Bottas wins his 1st Grand Prix in Russia

The Russian Grand Prix was a weekend would normally be something to look forward to for Mercedes AMG Petronas as the team had a 100% record at the venue in Sochi. Those good feelings were rattled on Saturday as Ferrari took the front row for the start of the race on Sunday.

Qualifying is one thing, the race is another and Mercedes was rejuvenated at the green flag with a dynamic start from Valtterin Bottas who took the lead from Sebastian Vettel and pulled out a comfortable gap leaving Vettel, Raikkonen and teammate Lewis Hamilton behind.

Bottas’s first stint was something he pulled out of his bag of tricks and was a key to his win. Sebastian Vettel said Bottas deserved to win because he drove better than anyone else on the day and the Finnish drivers does like this Sochi circuit.

Valtteri kept Mercedes’ 100% record for the Russian Grand Prix in tact with a superlative drive and brilliant first stint. It is Valtteri’s first grand prix victory in F1 and a deserving “Driver of the Race”.

Even after locking out the front row on Saturday and despite Lewis Hamilton’s struggles, Sebastian Vettel did make note of Bottas’ pace on long runs and foreshadowed what eventually materialized in the race, the Fin had the pace on long-run’s to win and he did just that. 

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Win

Regardless of how the race finished for Valtteri Bottas, his start was a real win taking the lead from both Ferraris and leading the race by 4.5s by the 16th lap. Bottas was doing exactly what the team wanted him to do which is be there and on pace when Lewis was struggling. Take the team lead and go for the win. Bottas’s first stint was something he pulled out of the bag of tricks and was key to his win…a big win for Valtteri Bottas. His first F1 win in fact.

Also a win for an outstanding re-start when the after the Safety Car period for Valtteri who stormed to a lead and gap that was unassailable for Ferrari in the first stint. 

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A win for both Force India drivers to score points once again in 6th and 7th giving the team a much-needed boost and some serious optimism about their coming upgrades in Spain.

A win for Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg who ran 41 laps on Ultra-soft tires to claim point sin 8th while his teammate is still foundering around with DNF’s and pointless races. Nico giving Renault confirmation that they made the right choice in hiring him.

A win for Marcus Ericsson to beat his teammate Pascal Wehrlein and for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne to actually finish the race ahead of both Saubers.

Fail

A fail for Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer who had miserable weekends even before the start of the race and then colluded to take each other out of the race at turn 2 on the first lap prompting the Safety Car. Neither team can afford to have their cars parked with no hope of points and yet both drivers seem to be weaving a similar season of frustration and DNF’s.

A fail for McLaren Honda for insuring a DNS for Fernando Alonso who parked his car at pit entry on the formation lap. Equally, a fail for Red Bull with an odd brake issue for Daniel Ricciardo that ended his race on lap 5. Intriguingly, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen experienced a DNF in Bahrain two weeks ago and now Ricciardo in Russia. Both were rear brake issues.

Ferrari’s strategy was a gamble and it seemed like running deep for Vettel might give him fresher tires in the final lap. It wasn’t a bad strategy because Bottas was driving extremely well but it may have been one of the few options Ferrari had to try to get by the Mercedes of Bottas due to traffic and put stop windows.

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A fail for Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen who was running in 10th early on but missed out on the points and possibly due to re-entering the track in an unsafe manner according to the stewards who penalized him for the action.

It wasn’t a particularly good race for Lance Stroll who was punted on the first lap and then sank to 11th just out of the points while Felipe Massa was delivering points for Williams F1 and they need Stroll to do so as well if they want to beat Force India in the constructor’s championship. Claire Williams seems happy to view this as just a learning curve for Lance so if she’s not worried about beating Force India, then I guess I’m not either. 

WTH

A head-scratcher for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton who had real struggles with car temperatures. It didn’t seem to be an issue for Bottas but Lewis seemed to struggle with oversteer and the car constantly on the limit regarding temperatures. The team said that both cars were struggling with the temps but we were only hearing from Lewis who was understandably concerned with his car’s health.

Who would have thought a car could go 41 laps on a set of Ultra-Soft tires? Sure, the Russian GP circuit is not abrasive but Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg ran the longest first stint of anyone and out of a 52-lap race, he did 41 laps of it on a set of Ultra-soft tires. That’s even better than the normally incredible Sergio Perez usually does.

I’m not quite sure how much time may have been lost by Vettel in trying to get around the lapped car of Felipe Massa but it wasn’t a bunch and while Mass might have done a better job of moving out of the way, it wasn’t really the key moment of the race as Sebastian was always around 1-1.5s off of Bottas in the waning laps.

A bit of a WTH moment as it always seems a bit odd how the post-race meet-and-greet goes with Vladamir Putin. It seems very nervous and in the green room, you couldn’t help but notice former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone with Vlad and new boss Chase Carey languishing in the doorway. 

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Russian GP Results:

Pos Driver Car Gap
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1h28m08.743s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.617s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 11.000s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 36.320s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m00.416s
6 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m26.788s
7 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m35.004s
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m36.188s
9 Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1 Lap
10 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso/Renault 1 Lap
11 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1 Lap
12 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso/Renault 1 Lap
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1 Lap
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Honda 1 Lap
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1 Lap
16 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber/Ferrari 2 Laps
Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault Brakes
Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari Collision
Fernando Alonso McLaren/Honda Not started
Jolyon Palmer Renault Collision

Drivers’ Championship Points:

Pos Driver Points
1 Sebastian Vettel 86
2 Lewis Hamilton 73
3 Valtteri Bottas 63
4 Kimi Raikkonen 49
5 Max Verstappen 35
6 Daniel Ricciardo 22
7 Sergio Perez 22
8 Felipe Massa 18
9 Carlos Sainz 11
10 Esteban Ocon 9
11 Nico Hulkenberg 6
12 Romain Grosjean 4
13 Kevin Magnussen 4
14 Daniil Kvyat 2
15 Pascal Wehrlein 0
16 Lance Stroll 0
17 Antonio Giovinazzi 0
18 Jolyon Palmer 0
19 Stoffel Vandoorne 0
20 Fernando Alonso 0
21 Marcus Ericsson 0

Constructors’ Championship Points:

Pos Constructor Points
1 Mercedes 136
2 Ferrari 135
3 Red Bull/Renault 57
4 Force India/Mercedes 31
5 Williams/Mercedes 18
6 Toro Rosso/Renault 13
7 Haas/Ferrari 8
8 Renault 6
9 Sauber/Ferrari 0
10 McLaren/Honda 0