Bottas fends off Vettel to take first Grand Prix victory at Sochi

By on
F1 Grand Prix, GP Russia, Sochi International Street Circuitru

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas has secured his first ever race win in Formula One at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. Sebastian Vettel finished a very close second. Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium for Ferrari.

Even before the race actually started, the fun was already over for Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard reported a lack of electric charge during the warm-up lap, and eventually parked his car on the pit entry. This meant that the subsequent planned start was postponed until the McLaren was removed. Hence another warm-up lap was required. Meanwhile, Alonso was clearly furious with his machinery and will certainly be looking forward to Wednesday, when he is set to test in America in preparation for his Indy 500 challenge.

When the race did get started for real, Bottas had a great one and made perfect use of Vettel's slipstream to get past both Ferrari's by the end of the straight. Hamilton was in a tense fight with Raikkonen but failed to get into the corner ahead of either Ferrari. Verstappen took 5th, followed by Massa, Ricciardo and both Force India cars.

Further back, Palmer was a bit optimistic on acceleration out of Turn 2, and eventually ended up T-boning Romain Grosjean's Haas. Both men were out, resulting in a safety car to clear the debris. Stroll also had a spin a few corners further, but he managed to get going again without any car damage.

After the restart, Ricciardo's race was over as well, as he reported a right rear brake fire. He initially tried to defend his position, but diligently backed off after his race engineer asked him to return to the pits slowly. Once there, fire extinguishers resolved the matter, but it was the end of the race for the Australian.

What followed was a stale race, with the first four slowly pulling away from each other, up to a point where each one was separated between 4 and 5 seconds from one another. After that, with pit stops approaching, the all pushed a bit more, with both Mercedes seemingly having a bit more pace left. Bottas continued to pull away from Vettel by half a second a lap, while a audibly worried Hamilton reduced his deficit to Raikkonen. Their relative performance differences were however mostly the result of managing and working through a tyre blistering phase.

As of lap 22, both Mercedes started to suffer fading pace with Vettel starting to chew chunks of of his gap to the leader. Hamilton dropped back again relative to Raikkonen.

On lap 27, Bottas pitted to change to a new set of supersofts. Raikkonen pitted one lap later, and Hamilton on lap 30. Vettel only pitted on lap 35, with his team changing their minds repeatedly until on lap 34, Bottas took 2 seconds out of Vettel's advantage.

When the stops were done, Bottas had 5s in hand over Vettel, and another extra 5s to Raikkonen. Hamilton meanwhile lost ground, and was 11s down on Raikkonen. Verstappen was another 25s further down, with Hulkenberg 6th at 9 seconds (he later pitted only on lap 40 to change from ultrasoft to supersoft tyres). Massa, Perez, Ocon and Sainz completed the top 10, with neither being in any sort of battle.

At the front, Ferrari didn't really sit on their laurels, and when Bottas was lucky to come away without car damage from a braking error, the Finn's advantage started to reduce rapidly. The near crash and big flat spot on his left front tyre must have badly impacted his mindset and ability to push, while Vettel's much fresher Pirelli tyres will have helped as well.

Vettel upped the pressure considerably towards the end of the race, sneaking into the DRS window of Bottas. For the final lap, they crossed the line 0.7 seconds apart, but then Bottas got his DRS open thanks to Massa while Vettel was clearly obstructed in passing the Brazilian Williams driver.

It effectively sealed Bottas' first race win, even though it was with a tiny margin and hard fought.

Results

Pos.No.DriverCarLapsTimePts
177Valtteri BottasMercedes AMG521:28:08.74325
25Sebastian VettelFerrari52+0.617s18
37Kimi RäikkönenFerrari52+11.000s15
444Lewis HamiltonMercedes AMG52+36.320s12
533Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing TAG Heuer52+60.416s10
611Sergio PerezForce India Mercedes52+86.788s8
731Esteban OconForce India Mercedes52+95.004s6
827Nico HulkenbergRenault52+96.188s4
919Felipe MassaWilliams Mercedes51+1 lap2
1055Carlos SainzToro Rosso51+1 lap1
1118Lance StrollWilliams Mercedes51+1 lap0
1226Daniil KvyatToro Rosso51+1 lap0
1320Kevin MagnussenHaas Ferrari51+1 lap0
142Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren Honda51+1 lap0
159Marcus EricssonSauber Ferrari51+1 lap0
1694Pascal WehrleinSauber Ferrari50+2 laps0
NC3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull Racing TAG Heuer5DNF0
NC30Jolyon PalmerRenault0DNF0
NC8Romain GrosjeanHaas Ferrari0DNF0
NC14Fernando AlonsoMcLaren Honda0DNS0