Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 26° Track 41° Humidity 32% Wind 1.0 m/s
Well Well Well, apparently it was time for a new (old) engine for Wunder Max, he of the Red bull miracle. Unfortunately for the wunderkind, a subsequent water leak has seen his car still in the garage being fiendishly tended too and his start somewhat in doubt. A rather dour Christian Horner was attempting to put the brave face on, however it was less than convincing, as they lacked the time to pull the engine and fix it properly. Instead, the mechanics were busy trying to bodge it together so as to make the start as time ran short.
Slightly better news is that an engine fired up during the interview and it was loud. Yeah not V10 loud, but still it was a fierce sound.
Crystalline sky and blazing sun, the boring weather no doubt was a relief to the strategists and engineers, but unless Mercedes could steal an early march on Ferrari, a potentially straitforward 1 stopper lurked in the corners. The excitement amongst tifosi would likely overcome a lack of fireworks, and grumblers at Mercedes are already pointing at Barcelona and saying that Sochi “not a representative track”. That may be true, but it’s still part of the championship and points will be awarded.
Sky ran a lengthy interview with Sean Bratches, who bailed on ESPN just in time, judging by the recent Saturday night massacre at that august institution. amongst other revelations, 30 circuits reached out and they want to create a broadband cloud over circuits so social media can be posted by fans in real time. Brundle adjudged afterwards that Liberty was bringing a proper professionalism to the paddock and an end to “playground politics”. That may be, but the recent announcement that F1 was being investigated by the serious fraud unit in UK regarding the 2013 deal between FOM and FiA had more than a few wags thinking that the chairman emeritus might be dealing a few jokers from the bottom of the deck.
30 minutes to lights out and Verstappen wailed out of the garage, Band Aid firmly applied and breath held. Brutal T2 single file carnage from last year was splashed onto the screen. With luck Kvyat remained mercifully ignorant of this as seeing that again would make the strongest minded of persons weak in the knees.
JT himself was on the grid, but sadly Sky failed to ask him about the latest investigation, instead choosing to dwell on the seemingly important topic of the band that played at the organiser’s event last night.
AS the cars prepped for the formation lap, a rather grumpy Alonso suggested to his race engineer, that having tried something 3 times already, that perhaps the engineer should “try it yourself”. FOM getting better and better at finding these jewels. Dead ERS for Alonso and seemed quite likely he’d be in the air on the way to Europe before the winner hit the line. And then double yellows for Alonso as he pulled off the track and bailed.
And as a result a second formation lap resulted, bollixing all that fancy math the teams had done to optimise the start for one formation lap, and team radios crackled to life with new instructions for the drivers as they attempted to maintain a host of parameters in a very narrow window on the fly.
Lights out!!! Brilliant getaway from Hamilton gets Raikkonen and Ricciardo and then Bottas takes the lead from Vettel and it was race on. Stroll spun his Williams, but it was contact between Palmer and Grosjean that brought out the Safety Car. It was a classic with Palmer taking the apex that was mostly occupied by the optimistic Grosjean. Palmer rebounded from the contact and punted Grosjean directly into the inside wall. Grosjean blamed Palmer but the pundits were a bit more neutral.
Circling on lap 3 as they got ready for the restart it was Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen and Hamilton leading the way as the Finn ultimately got the better of the battle for P3.
Cracking from Bottas as the track went green and it was Verstappen the big winner, up to P5. Purple sectors for the Mercedes of Bottas. The closest battle was Perez and Ricciardo and the reason for that was the Aussie’s rear brakes were on fire and that was going to be the quick and merciless end for the Red Bull man.
Slightly further back only Sainz and Hulkenberg looked to be DRS worthy, running P9 and P11 respectively. Stroll too was making a push in P13, with plenty of potential yet to be extracted by the rookie.
Lap 7 and the gaps between the top runners were stabilising around 2s each. Hamilton radioed in that he was getting cutouts in power from the engine, possibly a result of incorrect engine map selection as is often the case.
The following lap saw Bottas again splashing purple all over the timing screens as Verstappen was told to rock his brake bias as far forward as possible, which was going to to naught for the handling of the car.
Vandoorne and Magnussen got dinged for track limits, 5s each and the call from Mercedes to Lewis was to cool the car on the straights. Tech heads might recall updates that reduced cooling for this race from Merc. Apparently not conducive for running in traffic.
Lap 10 and no one in DRS with 42 laps to go. The following lap saw Hamilton purple S1 and Vettel S2 but Sebastian was still losing out to Bottas over the full lap. Sky mentioned a floor issue for Lewis that they thought was solved, but regardless he was making little progress on the bright red target ahead of him as his car continued to flirt with overheating.
Lap 14 and the cars still running 1:39’s at the front with only Raikkonen dipping into the 1:38’s. No sign of pit stops on the horizon and as this was being billed as a 1 stopper, no real surprise at that.
Strategy at pits looked to be interesting as Mercedes would normally pit Bottas first but would also like to undercut Raikkonen. That would leave Bottas potentially at risk though at 5 seconds on lap 16 the chances were rapidly receding down the track.
Despite being 4 seconds back, Hamilton was still overheating, which was not good news. Helpfully his engineer told him he was not the only one suffering, which would not have done much to help his mood, TBH. Perez lingered 38s back just in the window for a pit stop. Despite the overheating, again Lewis put in a purple S1, though it was the other Mercedes, that of Bottas that took fast lap on lap 18 as the wheel guns began to be fired up.
And purple for Lewis as he took that honour away from his teammate on lap 19 and rocked up to 2s back of Raikkonen’s gearbox.
Vettel meanwhile, was struggling at a deficit of about 0.5s a lap, as Mercedes admitted they had got the cooling wrong for this one, saying Bottas in free air was having similar issues.
Lap 21 and Wehrlein was in as teams all cast a wary ey e to the timing screens to gauge the effect on his laptimes. Sky posit it was done for clearing blue flags as Massa was in for a proper stop and emerged P10 lap 23. Kvyat was next and he jumped Magnussen due to the 5s penalty.
Vettel was pushing and added a new name to the purple roll of honour as Mercedes told Lewis that the temps were coming to them. Blisters now were appearing on Hamilton’s front tyre as well, adding to the joy of his opening stint.
At lap 25 it was Verstappen holding up the works as a stop by Bottas would chunk him out behind the Red Bull, a bad idea given the exceedingly processional nature of the contest.
Vettel continued to lurk, but the time was dropping as Bottas was well into traffic. Lap 27 it was down to 2.5s between the top 2 and it could be a strategic move to pit when he caught traffic.
Ocon was in lap 27, having demanded a pit stop immediately over the radio. And then it was Bottas, with Vettel staying out and keeping the lead. Quick stop but Vettel with a gap to Stroll ahead into which he could drive.
Perez was in and out as the timing screens again held far more interest than the actual racing at this point. Lap 29 and Vettel was faster than Bottas. Raikkonen complained of his rears going and it was Bottas bringing the heat on his 2nd full lap on the new tyres as they rocked up to temperature.
Lap 30 Raikkonen in and Vettel out. 0.7s to the good on that round for Bottas as the order was Vettel Hamilton Bottas Raikkonen with Verstappen into the pits and out ahead of Hulkenberg, still on his first stint.
Lewis was in lap 31 and Vettel cranked his pace up and matched Bottas as Lewis emerged behind Raikkonen, Mercedes having bet its hand on Lewis getting by Raikkonen on track. The state of his front left was most instructive, suggesting there was little choice left in this instance.
Kimi took a full second out of Bottas, into the 1:37’s and it now looked like Ferrari might be trying a strategic pincer, forcing Bottas to respond and use up his tyres or overheat his car and then bringing Vettel in to sink the knife in deep.
Kimi continued turning 1:37’s as Vettel was called in lap 35 with Bottas trapped in traffic. Slow stop at 3.4 and back out 4.5s back with the front left being the problem. 7 lap differential on tyres as Kvyat lapped between the top 2, waiting for Vettel to close and the inevitable blue flags.
Mercedes told Lewis to keep Verstappen clear of his Safety Car window as the 14s gap to Raikkonen meant his podium chances were done like a dinner. Up the road, Vettel was kicking off 0.3s per lap and with 15 laps left in the race it was potentially a small chance of an actual battle before the checkers flew that kept the cognescenti glued to their screens.
Lock up for Bottas lap 39 took a big chunk out of Bottas’ lead and Vettel was suddenly inside 3s. Game very much on!
Bottas reported a big flat spot from his adventure at T13 and it was 2.3s as lap 40 kicked off between the top 2.
Vettel could smell the blood in the water and it was 1.8 into lap 41 as Bottas inconveniently ran up to the back of Stroll. Hulkenberg finally pitted, promoting Massa to P6 as his teammate again awaited the ignominy of being lapped by the leaders.
Lap 42, 1.1s from Vettel to Bottas. Suddenly the intangible fear permeated the Mercedes garage as the advantage on the track seemed to tilt inexorably toward the relentless Ferrari of Vettel.
Massa surprised the hell out of everyone by pitting for a set of Ultras with 10 laps left in the race and confusing even the drivers, one of whom queried why exactly was Massa pitting, echoing the thoughts of many.
Bottas was told lap 44 to press the overtake a bit earlier on straights and he replied that he would prefer less talking as the pressure in his car increased.
Slow puncture for Massa turned out to be the cause of his stop, and with Vettel having cleared Sainz the gap was back out to 2s, the traffic having been advantage Mercedes this time around.
Immediately Vettel carved 0.2s off and the next laps loomed large for both drivers. Purple S1 for Bottas, S2 to Vettel by a bigger margin as both drivers were setting fastest sectors. S3 again to Vettel as that was Ferrari’s biggest advantage and at 1.3s DRS appeared inevitable at the end of the next lap as they circled for the 47th time.
S1 to Vettel, S2 to Vettel and then a loss on S3 kept Bottas alive for another lap.
Lap 48, purple for S1 advantage Vettel. S2 the same as just barely out of DRS less than a tenth hung the Ferrari as this was literally the closest contest on the track.
Lap 49 again Vettel carved a tenth in the first sector and into DRS approaching the detection point. Bang went the wing wide open down the back straight. Closer this time around for Vettel on lap 50 but traffic ahead will not be helping Bottas. Boom went the DRS again and under a second proper this time.
0.7s in the penultimate lap as Bottas looking slippery as Massa let
Bottas by and Vettel was trapped behind. Vettel forced his way past at T4 but it was damage done as Seb was out of DRS and Bottas swanned it home, rocking the checkers with his first ever Grand Prix victory.
Thus it was a slow puncture for Massa may have been the nail for which Ferrari’s kingdom was lost in Russia and by which Mercedes retained its PR worthy 100+ year winning streak in the country. Yes, in truth, it was highly unlikely that Vettel would’ve gotten past the Mercedes even had Massa not intervened, but it certainly will be fun to argue about.
Despite all the overtakes coming on the very 1st lap (save the penalty induced pit lane ones) the slow burn of the ending utterly saved the race from being a snoozefest, which was fortunate. Plenty of strategery to argue, biggest being perhaps pitting Lewis earlier given the pace of the Mercedes early on the Supersofts. Still, it was clear that he was not a serious contender for the podium on pure pace, suggesting Mercedes has some work to do to understand the why of it.
Great weekend for Force India as the tyre troubles for Williams saw Perez finish P6 with Ocon in P7, his best ever finish whilst Massa’s easily assured P6 became a P9. Verstappen’s glued together waterpump miraculously held on to take a P5, fortuitously given the flaming brake disaster suffered by Ricciardo and it was Sainz just sneaking into the points for P10, also with a good, if utterly unremarked drive.
EJ played for the lulz, demanding the Totonator sign a 3 year extension for Valterri from his podium interview spot, leaving the head of Mercedes looking uncharacteristically awkward in front of the camera. Of course, with Bottas and Raikkonen on the podium, naturally the drama was unbearable, but somehow entire sentences were uttered, the gist of which is Raikkonnen felt he had made a step forward with the car and Bottas being somewhat joyous about winning finally.
2 Ferrari’s on the podium means just 1 point between the constructors in the WCC, with it all to play for in Barcelona, where Mercedes answer awaits. Along with updates for a number of teams, Spain being the usual target for serious development by most of the teams.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
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