(Nico Rosberg leads Lewis Hamilton into the first corner in Sochi)
Lewis Hamilton left Russia with the world championship virtually in his grasp, having taken a routine victory whilst Nico Rosberg suffered his second DNF of the season, his race ruined early on due to a problem with his throttle. Second place for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the race moved him up to second in the championship – 66 points behind Hamilton with a maximum of 100 points available. Rosberg is 73 points behind Hamilton, and both Germans are relying on Hamilton having problems or making mistakes in the final four races.
The race itself was a lot better than last year’s offering, with Pirelli going for the quicker yet more vulnerable combination of soft and supersoft tyres for Russia. The effect of this meant the soft tyres were put through their paces harder than last year, whilst the supersofts gave good short term pace but there was no way to sustain it.
At the start, Rosberg held off Hamilton, having taken his second consecutive pole position, and as they neared the end of lap one Rosberg was still leading, but an early safety car (thanks to a collision between Sauber’s Ericsson and Force India’s Hulkenburg) kept the pack grouped up.
(to be honest, I’m still not quite sure what happened here!)
Shortly after the race resumed Rosberg began reporting throttle problems and began to slow, allowing the pursuing cars by, and ultimately retiring to virtually end his title hopes.
Behind him, Bottas had managed to get ahead of the Ferraris (who almost collided at one stage) and was chugging along quite nicely. Vettel began to close in and Williams decided to haul Bottas in to put him on fresh boots, but Bottas emerged back on track in traffic, including the Red Bull of Ricciardo, who had already pitted and was in no mood to yield to Bottas.
(Vettel tries to squeeze down the inside of Raikkonen, who afforded his teammate virtually no space)
Ferrari were able to get Vettel in and out of the pits ahead of Bottas, but Raikkonen was stuck behind the Williams. It took several laps, but ultimately both Finns did find their way past Ricciardo, and set off chasing the Force India of Sergio Perez, who had taken advantage of the second safety car spell to put himself into third.
Spare a thought for Romain Grosjean. The Lotus driver triggered a second safety car period on lap 12, following a heavy crash when he lost control at turn three, smashing hard into the barriers. Grosjean was unhurt, but his race was over, and the safety car triggered a wave of pit stops that would impact the race later.
Also spare a thought for Carlos Sainz. The young Toro Rosso driver had been involved in a huge smash in FP3, one that saw him taken to hospital as a precaution. Come race day, he returned to the grid, albeit having to start from the back (having naturally missed qualifying). He would work his way up to seventh, only to retire due to brake failure on lap 45. Ricciardo would retire two laps later owing to suspension problems, as the field seemingly dropped like flies.
As the race drew toward its conclusion, Perez, who was struggling on old tyres, was trying bravely to fend off the chasing Bottas and Raikkonen, but with only a couple of laps remaining, he could fight no more, passed by both Finns in as many corners. There was however, one more twist in that particular tale.
(Raikkonen clips Bottas on the final lap)
The final lap collision between Raikkonen and Bottas ruined Bottas’ chance of a podium, and also ended Raikkonen’s hopes, whilst handing third back to Perez. The incident meant Raikkonen received a 30-second time penalty, that demoted him from fifth to eighth, a move that also secured the constructor’s championship for Mercedes, for the second year running – and for the second time in a row in Russia no less!
Drive of the Day
Perez did well to keep his Force India as high up the order as he did, for as long as he did, on tyres that had done considerable mileage. Max Verstappen fell to the back of the pack after a puncture sustained during the chaos of the Ericsson/Hulkenberg accident, and fought his way back into the points (albeit only taking a point after Alonso was given a time penalty for cutting track limits), but for me, the drive of the race belongs to Carlos Sainz. He started last, and yes, was aided by numerous retirements, but to battle back into seventh was a remarkable achievement, and had his brakes not given out, those points would have been well-earned.
So, next up is the USA. Will Hamilton be crowned champion? I guess we’ll find out.