Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
The inaugural running of the Russian GP resembled at times nothing more than a massive political advert for Putin, occasionally interrupted by a race. From the drivers being required to stand to attention after a moment of silence for Bianchi whilst the Russian anthem was played, completely usurping the solemnity of the moment to glam shots of Putin macking on Bernie any pretense that F1 could claim to be “apolitical” were laid bare for the world to see.
Though Sky carried it in full, NBC artfully cut away to glossy pics of Putin in an F1 car and chumming about with Ecclestone during the playing of the anthem prior to the formation lap.
Prophetically asked at the post Quali interview how this race would not be boring like Valencia, Hamilton compared the two circuits and promised it had a better chance of not being a sleeper. Sadly, Rosberg’s lockup into T1 spoiled any chance of a long fight at the front and after a few good laps of sorting out the race settled down into the sort of grim affair that adequately reflected the concrete vistas that surrounded the Olympic park. Rosberg redeemed himself by strapping on a pair of his magic tyres at the end of lap 1 and making them last all the way to P2 at the end of the race clinching the World Constructor’s Championship for Mercedes with his recovery drive. Despite Lowe’s claiming of full credit, the pundits were not swayed and talked about how the car was really a second win for Brawn. One of the few interesting facts to come out was the fact that Benz (no Merc at the time) had actually one a pair of Russian GP’s in 1913 and 1914, effectively making today’s win a Hundred Year Hat Trick. Hamilton also tied Mansell for wins today.
Hamilton extended his lead to 17 points over Rosberg whilst McLaren came good with 4th and 5th (Button and Magnussen respectively) swinging the pendulum massively and permanently in their favor in their Constructor’s battle with Force India. Mallya once more reaping the bitter harvest of yet again failing to invest in development, much to the chagrin of the team no doubt.
Williams claimed another podium for Bottas, though the performance difference to Mercedes became brutally apparent throughout the race, though at a circuit with more degradation the story might have ended differently. Chilton and Kobayashi retired, with Kamui being the big mystery of the race as he reported no issues with the car and the team told him nothing about what the suspected problem might be. Speculation was that they were just trying to save on cost since Caterham do run the Renault engine and the mileage was likely to be high on that PU. Despite Sutil’s vain attempt, spinning after contact with Grosjean, surprisingly the Safety Car was not deployed, ensuring a one stopper for all but a few. Alonso’s pit stop was a potential disaster, with the front jack man stepping back in front of his car as he departed the box. The stop had already gone long and fortunately in his mind, no doubt the damage was done, leading to a lackadaisical launch which gave him time to maneuver round the errant mechanic.
Blue skies and sunny temperatures greeted the grid as they assembled for a moment of silence in honour of Bianchi. Then they stayed put as the crushing chorus of the Russian anthem reverberated through the concrete canyons, the requirement being a new one as far as any of the pundits could remember. It will be interesting to see if the same is required as the Circus moves round the rest of the world.
The long run to T1 no doubt loomed large in Lewis’ mind as the lights took an eternity to go red. With a spry Williams directly behind and Rosberg talking up his recent spate of good starts at the presser yesterday the start promised the only guaranteed excitement of the whole race in the minds of many. And it did not fail to disappoint as by the entry of T1 Rosberg had caught up Hamilton and taken the inside line. Unfortunately, the only way he managed to get there was by carrying far too much speed into the braking zone as his epic lockup confirmed. Sliding right across the apex and off the track into the voluminous runoff, directly in front of his bemused colleague, Rosberg kept his foot in it and carried on, emerging in front of Hamilton.
Immediately, the team was on the radio to tell him to give the place back as he had gained an undeniable advantage, but Nico returned the grim news that his tyres were gone and with a massive vibration he would need to box and take on new tyres. Responding to the situation Merc threw on a pair of magic mediums and sent Rosberg back out to gamble on a 51 lap stint to repair his race, emerging P20 on lap 2.
Further back, Bottas was forced to fend off pressure from behind before settling in to second where he would shadow Lewis very effectively through the whole early part of the race. Starts will no doubt be looked at by Williams as an area in which they can make some progress prior to season’s end. Liberal use of the runoffs throughout the first lap saw Kvyat being the biggest loser (outside Rosberg) and Vergne the biggest winner, vaulting through the chaos to take his teammates P5 as he slipped back to P9. Back in the pack, Perez settled in for a nice long stint on the mediums as he was the first of the runners to try that strategy from P12. Hulkenberg, Sutil, Massa, Kobayashi, Chilton and Maldonado all were on a similar strategy. Not for long as Massa boxed at the end of the first lap as well, and would proceed to shadow Rosberg through the field until he hit the unyielding wall of Perez late in the race.
The early laps featured few surprises, the best of which for connoisseurs was Vettel getting himself ahead of Ricciardo on the new tyres he was allowed starting from P11. With no love lost between the team and him and certain to get the short end of the strategy stick, Vettel stretched the track limits to their very definitions in order to keep himself ahead of the Colgate Kid, effectively spoiling his race. This led to a rare instance of Ricciardo radioing the team to complain about losing time behind Sebastian, but no further word was heard until the team undercut Vettel, giving Ricciardo the position by default when they brought Seb in much later. Further ahead, by lap 3 Magnussen was nipping at the heels of Vergne and they displayed some very mature driving by going side by side several times before the brutal might of the Mercedes engine made itself known, leaving Vergne to slide back into Vettel’s clutches.
By lap 5 Vergne was down into 8th, more typical Toro Rosso territory but P5-10 continued to hover in DRS range, promising some action to come. At the back, Rosberg and Massa continued to thread their way through the field and Nico clearly relished the engineering challenge of running his car fast, but in a way that would deliver him to the end with fuel and tyres left.
Alonso tiptoed up to Button, who being told of the Spaniards silent approach informed his engineer not to give him the gap, thanks very much. Despite getting close for a moment by lap 10 Button was pulling a gap and Rosberg was closing in on Grosjean on P14 with Massa tailing behind him. At the front Bottas held onto a 3 second gap to Lewis, creating a shred of hope that some racing might occur at the front after Rosberg took himself out. Grizzled veterans of F1 started using words like “old school” meaning little overtaking except perhaps by strategy, and, for lack of a better word, boring.
Chilton became the first retirement on lap 11, thoughtlessly coming into the garage before the car stopped, leaving Maylander napping in his Merc. Kobayashi and his mysterious ailment followed along shortly, closing out the most likely of the reliability safety car options. Ricciardo pitted lap 12 as he was unable to find a way past Seb and emerged in P18, not his ideal strategy by a long shot. The Williams was slipping back a bit from Hamilton, but the pair had put nearly 15 seconds into Button, demonstrating starkly the performance differences between the technology Williams received compared to that of the McLaren.
Rosberg and Massa continued to creep up the field, with Massa completing his pass on Hulkenberg for 13th as lap 15 swung into view with Rosberg running in 12th. Kvyat began to look a bit racy on Raikkonen who had once again subsided into anonymity and the Mercedes-Williams pair continued to tick off the places as the rest of the race settled into a status quo, awaiting the Safety Car or the pit window, whichever came first. Coming onto lap 20 Rosberg got the warning to pick it up in order to clear Button’s pit window as he found the gearbox of Perez and the first of the championship points on offer. Hamilton swanned about 44 seconds up the road, nary a care in the world as Bottas was dropping off considerably as his rear tyres began to suffer the extra laps he put on them in qualifying.
Approaching the pit window Hamilton told the engineers his balance was good and tyres were fine. Rosberg, having just cleared Perez, began to sound ominous about his tyres making it all the way.
Pit stops began in earnest lap 25 with Alonso stealing the show. Coming in, there was a problem with the front jack, a problem getting the left front off and then, just as he was leaving, crossed signals saw the front jack man step in front of the suddenly moving Ferrari. Alonso, having already consigned this race to the bin, was in no hurry to leave and expertly maneuvered round the errant mechanic. With the special 60kph speed limit, stops were an excruciating delta of 30 seconds and it was agonizing to see the cars hurtle past as Alonso chortled along in the slow lane. Desperate for excitement the stop was replayed as the grid reshuffled through the pits and Rosberg turned it up, finally driving into clear air as runners in front took on new tyres. By lap 27, when Lewis came in for his Mediums, Nico had ascended to P5 and Bottas, having stayed out late waiting for a Safety Car emerged behind a yet to stop Vettel who was temporarily running in P2.
A clean stop for Lewis saw him back out in the lead as Massa was forced in for the second time, his tyres unable to cope with the massive overtaking required due to his starting track position. For a moment, Sutil gave everyone a moment’s hope as a spin after contact with Grosjean looked likely to wake Bernd up, but he kept it out of the wall and got going again with little drama. It was to be the last point where the race might have actually gotten mixed up as clean driving and most teams being on the other side of their reliability issues meant that the rest of the runners would make it to the checkers.
Still there was some overtaking left so Vettel came in on lap 31, leaving Rosberg to make a dominating pass on Bottas into T2, effectively claiming P2 about 20 seconds back of his teammate.
Gutierrez astonished in P9, still running on his original tyres and would go on to run them all the way to lap 39 before coming in. The stewards, desperate for something to do, paused from chewing on the scenery long enough to issue a 5 second stop and go and 2 point to Grosjean for what was clearly a racing incident. They then went back to howling at the moon and gibbering at each other.
Ominously for Bottas, who was promised degradation, Rosberg radioed that his tyres were coming back, likely due to running in clear air and not being required to overtake. Then the fuel warnings began, mostly for Kvyat, but also for Sebastian who was told to obey his car’s beeping, the new radio regulations having reduced the formerly technical discourse of the radio to new lows of absurdity.
Massa, having found the back of Perez on the other side of his pit stop, trailed him through traffic, first a neat double pass on Kvyat, then, a few laps later, separately on Vergne. Hulkenberg shadowed the both of them, but got caught up in battling Kvyat. They traded places for a lap or two before Hulkenberg finally got it sorted and made it stick on lap 37, the Russian’s fuel critical status prohibiting further dueling. Perez too was being constantly warned on fuel and both Force Indias were concerned about making the post-race requirement of 1 litre of fuel for samples.
Lap 39 featured the non-racing highlight of Putin, dressed identically to Bernie, turning to Ecclestone and jamming his tongue deeply into Bernie’s mouth, the two gnawing passionately on each other as those seated around them pretended that this wasn’t going on. Actually, it was a typical Euro peck on the cheek, but one could hope for a moment as only flights of fancy were going to give anyone a reason to pay any attention to the race. Basically, the race was over by all intents and purposes by lap 40, with the only real drama the decision to keep Rosberg out or pit and let him charge. That didn’t take long and Nico stayed out to cross the line second, after Hamilton, with Bottas yo-yoing about 5 seconds behind. Button and Magnussen yawned their way home in 4th and 5th, with Alonso unlikely to have kept Magnussen at bay even with a decent pit stop, finishing 6th for a change of pace. Ricciardo, Vettel, Raikkonen and Perez rounded out the top 10.
With his win, Hamilton equaled Nigel Mansell’s record of 31 victories, kicking off a deep and abiding round of who’s better that will last at least the 3 weeks until the next race at COTA. He also extended his lead over his teammate to 17 points, just eking beyond needing a victory in the closer with it’s the double points looming large. Rosberg, apologizing for his first lap mistake, redeemed himself with his 51 lap stint and helped clinch the Constructors for Mercedes. McLaren took the lead from Force India in the Constructor’s and it was their best finish in quite some time, perhaps a glimmer of hope as Honda looms on the horizon.
Podium, 53 Laps, Russian GP Result
|7||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|8||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|
|10||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|12||Nico Hulkenburg||Force India|
|13||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso|
|14||Daniil Kyvat||Toro Rosso|