Ambient 16° Track 40° Humidity 73% Wind 3.2 m/s
Brilliant blue sky, scintillating with sunshine offset by large puff balls of clouds on the horizon set the stage for this year’s Russian Grand Prix. In addition to Lewis’ reliability woes and I quote here from my last review “Mercedes needs to get on top of reliability and I’m too tired to have tried to write this up” and aside from Brundle’s fixation with Button’s nipples, the main topic seemed to be Senna, this being the first time F1 has raced on May 1 since his death at Imola. On the topic of safety, Mr E. revealed himself to not be a fan of the new Red Bull windscreen, but happily enough was delighted that Lewis and Seb had implemented his plan for reverse type grids on their own. Conspiracy theorists start your engines!!! Verstappen reported issues with his engine and Lewis’ replaced the turbo, MGU_H, Energy Store and Control Electronics this morning, all without grid penalty since they are within his allotment of parts for the season. For the benefit of doubt from Article 34.2 of the Sporting Regs, teams are allowed to replace parts that are “similar in design, mass, inertia and function” with the approval of the FIA. Suspension and aero set up changes are expressly forbidden. Hulk, Gutierrez and Ericsson all start on the Soft tyre with the rest on the SuperSoft.
The Russian Grand Prix delivered everything we have come to expect from the 2016 version of Formula 1. GP3 driving standards on the first lap, no race for P1 at all, crap reliability for Mercedes and only 1 Ferrari finishing. Surprises include a double points finish for McLaren (Mc-WHO?) and points for Haas AND Renault and bizarre tyre strategy for Red Bull.
Almost all the action occurred on Lap 1, when Sebastian Vettel thoughtlessly brake checked Kvyat not once, but twice, with the second one sending the Ferrari man directly into the wall and out of the race. Kidding!!! In reality, Kvyat was apparently doing his best imitation of RoGro at Spa, bringing out the Safety Car for a couple of laps as the track was cleared. Though it does seem as if Vettel called this down on himself by slagging Kvyat off so bitterly in China. Given the rest of the race it was possibly worth losing Vettel for his post accident monologue (which was rather entertaining) and surely suggests he learned English by listening to sailors.
Hamilton benefited from a poor start this time round as it kept him well clear from the utter carnage and he wound up P5 once the safety car came round, choosing to go quite wide round the bollard on the T2 runoff and avoid all the stupid. On the restart once the Safety Car was in, he managed Lewis snagged P4 from Massa as Bottas retook the place he lost. Hamilton then went on to make a sweet, sweet overtake of Raikkonen up the inside when the IceMan was looking the other direction. IT was then a long slow slog behind Valterri till the Williams pitted on lap 17, effectively ending any realistic chance for Lewis to have a go at Rosberg.
Kvyat and Gutierrez led the penalty stakes early days, with both collecting stop and go’s for their poor driving, with Kvyat the big loser as he scored several own goals simultaneously, crashing Vettel, ruining his own race and billiarding Sebastian into Ricciardo ruining Danny Ric’s race as well. To cap it off, Red Bull elected to pit both cars and put them on the Medium tyre, which would frankly could have been put to better use for the mechanics rear ends and utterly doomed both cars to a pointsless and I guess pointless race.
Bottas went for the undercut on Lewis and was successful, temporarily, with Mercedes lagging 0.5s behind on the stop itself, which put the Williams just ahead as Lewis exited the pits. As Bottas came up to Alonso, Hamilton turned it on with his race at stake and managed to clear Valterri and Alonso in short order, leaving him 12 seconds behind Rosberg, a brutal gulf to cross given the parity between the cars.
Rosberg pitted 3 laps later as Lewis was already eating into his advantage Verstappen hung in longest on the Super Softs and just as Lewis reached Max he cleared the decks, diving for the pits and leaving nothing but clean air between the 2 Mercedes teammates.
Even though Rosberg was rocking 4 laps younger tyres, Lewis was still going to put in the effort and turn up the wick he did, marginally faster than Nico but nowhere near enough to catch him. At least until Rosberg hit traffic which slowed him and allowed Hamilton to start closing in.
Perez recovered from early disaster (a punctured tyre) and was keen to brag on his pace to his engineer, who sounded like possibly he’d heard that particular boast before. Meanwhile, Sainz continued the dodgy driving sweepstakes, collecting a stop and go for running a car off track. Nasr aslo joined the fun, missing the Lewis Hamilton Memorial bollard in the run off of T2 and also collecting a penalty for his efforts, both of which were added on to the finishing time as neither driver chose to pit before the end of the race.
After the first round of stops, Grosjean and Magnussen came upon a fairly defenseless Daniel Riciardo lap 29, just as Sainz towed Perez back up to the end of the 3 way battle. Lap 30 saw Ricciardo lose out on T4, with both Grosjean and Magnussen clearing him. Perez knocked off Sainz in the next laps and thus they would run to the end, only moving up a place when Verstappen’s 2015 Ferrari engine suddenly stopped running. Max smartly parked the car so that the Safety Car was not needed to recover him, a move that seemingly benefited Rosberg as Hamilton had taken nearly 4s off Nico in as many laps, once the frontrunner encountered traffic. Alas the epic battle was not to be as lap 39 saw Mercedes radio Hamilton to tell him there was a water pressure problem, effectively ending the race for P1 right there. This temporarily roused the nearly comatose Raikkonen, who put in an effort to catch Lewis, but such is the advantage of Mercedes right now Lewis could basically coast it in without any real threat. What was interesting, was that until that call and running at race pace, Hamilton managed to gain 10 seconds over 20 laps on Kimi, possibly the truest look at the race pace difference we’ve yet seen.
With the race effectively over Twitter beckoned as a great deal of fun was being had with Kvyat and Vettel, at least until Massa chose to pit from P5 on lap 47 for a new set of SuperSofts. Given his lead over P6 it cost him nothing and it quickly became apparent that he had become so bored he was going to give fast lap a go. Rosberg responded in kind and rapidly dialed in a nearly 1:39 even, which left the Brasilian shaking his head and the rest of us wondering if Toto rang up Smedley as a way to vaguely enliven the last laps of the race with Lewis hors de combat.
It did point up the stark difference of having no race at the front, with that lap time contrasting with the staid 1:41’s being run prior to Massa’s last stop. Entertaining too, was Alonso, who ran in the 1:41’s for a single lap, “just for fun”. It seems Macca/Honda have made a step, and were they allowed to burn unlimited fuel, might actually be giving Williams a bit of a bother.
Things worth noting, it is true that garage personnel were swapped between Lewis and Nico at the start of the season so have fun pursuing that. Of course, the biggest problems suffered by Lewis have come from Brixworth via the MGU-H. Also, of the races thus far, no race for P1 has survived lap 1 and that will not be helping ratings much. Wehrlein again looked racy to the limit of his car and bad news for Haryanto who didn’t get far before he retired. Good on Haas and McLaren for points and nice recovery by Perez for his finish, especially given Hulkenberg’s being taken out at the beginning. Oh yes, and special congrats to Sebastian Vettel for his mastery of English invective.
Thanks for stopping by and play nice in the comments!