A charging Valtteri Bottas, an underperforming Lewis Hamilton and the mesmerizing speed of Ferrari’s 2017 challenger. The Russian GP did not fail to impress this year as the race victory was decided in a rather fierce battle between Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
159 laps. That is the number of laps which was completed during the first three Russian GPs. Every single of that was led by Mercedes. The Anglo-German team’s three years dominant form was even more evident on the Sochi race track which features a seemingly never-ending start-finish straight, a full-throttle corner and heavy acceleration zones.
Therefore, this weekend was a real test for Ferrari’s resurgence which the Italian team has showed so far on four different race tracks including Barcelona, the venue of winter testing. Ferrari did not fail to show the upturn in its form. The SF70-H conquered the front row on the starting grid which was the team’s first front row lock-out since the 2008 French GP. The race saw the first triumph of Valtteri Bottas who completed a flattering first sequence of laps before Ferrari came alive and showed its incredible race pace in the second half of the 53-lap-long race.Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel’s one-lap performance was rather difficult to understand. The SF70-H was nicely balanced from the get-go on Friday which enabled to the German to set a track record of 1:34.120. He then went on to top the time-sheet with a 1:34.001 in the final free practice session when he set a 27,3 in the last sector. He was charging in the first qualifying segment with a 1:34.5 on the supersofts, but he seemingly struggled to squeeze out the last drop of performance from his car in the next two qualifying sessions on the ultrasofts and he could not improve his third sector time of the third practice in the all-important qualifying.Mercedes
Mercedes was always going to enjoy every bit of the Sochi track as it was the place where its utterly dominant pace was the most demoralizing over the last years. However, the team’s triple world champion Lewis Hamilton had a tough time over the whole weekend as he played a secondary role to his new team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Ferrari is rumoured to have closed the gap completely regarding the engine performance. The Sochi race track showed what the Bahrain International Circuit showed a fortnight ago. Ferrari are almost on pair with Mercedes when the normal race engine mode is deployed, but Mercedes’ special qualifying mode delivers a peak power which is still mesmerizing. FOM released a graphic which showed how much Ferrari lost on the start-finish straight in the qualifying session to Mercedes. This qualifying mode is also used in the starting minutes of the races. That is why Bottas could easily overtake the Ferrari duo. The Italians claimed it was down to the wind and the slipstream the SF70-H provided to Mercedes, but in fact Mercedes straight-line speed advantage was also evident in Bahrain. Both in the desert and in Sochi, that gave an advantage of around three tenths of a second to Mercedes in the first sector.Red Bull
Red Bull completed a lonely race with Max Verstappen. The Dutchman was left alone after his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was sidelined by braking issues. The 19-year-old finished the race 60,4 seconds behind the race winner Bottas without encountering any technical issues. That did not come, however, as a surprise as Red Bull was always going to struggle on the power-sensitive track of Sochi. In fact, Red Bull’s performance was not promising in the closing sector. In qualifying, both drivers set a 27,3 which was around six tenth down on the best of Ferrari and Mercedes and was beaten by Nico Hülkenberg’s 27,8 time.
Over the weekend, Verstappen was rumoured to be in a negotiating process with Ferrari over a possible race seat in the coming season. The Dutchman is tied to Red Bull for 2018, but performance clauses often overwrite the validity of contracts. However, Red Bull’s driver manager Helmut Marko denied that Verstappen’s contract would include that. “There is no performance clause in Verstappen’s contract.”
Red Bull is very much looking forward to its B-spec car. It is very unusual these days to introduce such a radical upgrade package due to the lack of in-season testing. However, Red Bull’S Helmut Marko and the team’s lack of updates in the first GP weekends indicate that they will really launch a very much B-spec aerodynamic package after the correlation problems between the track and the computer simulations.Renault
The Russian GP was always going to pose a real test for Renault’s progress. Its car has been performing incredibly strong in qualifying, but the car lost its pace in race relatively to the other machineries. During the Bahrain post-race testing, the Enstone/Viry-based squad worked on that matter. Hülkenberg completed a very long, exhausting first stint un the ultrasofts. The car was better than its current rivals Haas and Toro Rosso and was pretty close to Force India, so the German driver was delighted with the improvement of the race pace.
Jolyon Palmer endured another rather woeful weekend. On Friday, a broken exhaust pipe meant that hot gases escaped from it and burnt parts of the chassis. The team had to replace it overnight. In the third and final practice session, Palmer’s power unit failed which the team replaced over a quite impressive time. The Briton than crashed his car into the barriers in the qualifying session and was then tangled in an incident with Romain Grosjean at turn two after the start.Williams
Felipe Massa stormed into the sixth place in a what could be considered as a normal qualifying session. The Brazilian overtook Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in terms of one-lap pace. In the race, he was around six tenths slower than the Dutchman, but was cruising safely in the sixth position after Daniel Ricciardo’s early exit from the race. However, a slow puncture meant he was forced to complete an unscheduled pit stop which ruined his race. In his second stint he was lapping at high 1:39s, he could improve his pace to low 1:38s on the new tyres, but with the Sochi race track’s low tyre wear Massa could not regain the lost time anymore.
Lance Stroll completed his first full race distance in Sochi. After he experiences a series of woes in the first three races, two crashes in China and Bahrain, he went on to see the chequered flag in his fourth race. However, the race wasn’t straightforward to him as he went a bit too aggressively over the kerb right after the start which forced him to make a nice spin. The Canadian was lagging behind in qualifying compared to his team-mate, he was 9 tenths of a second slower than Massa from which he missed four tenths in the technical second and third sector. He acknowledged that the way the tyres need to be treated to get them in the right window was difficult to find. On an interesting note, the former F3 champion was not prepared for his first race finish as he did not what to do, where to park, which procedures to follow after the chequered flag, his race engineers had to guide him.McLaren-Honda
McLaren-Honda endured another woeful race weekend in Russland. The Sochi track was always going to pose a big challenge to the British-Japanese cooperation with its power-sensitive nature.
Fernando Alonso qualified 15th 3,2 seconds off the Sebastian Vettel’s pole time. Stoffel Vandoorne was seven tenths of a second slower than his team-mate, but the Belgian solely focused on race setup during the free practices since his multiple power unit component changes meant he was always going to start the race from behind.
The gap to the leaders and to the team’s current rivals was in the power-sensitive first and second sector the most evident. Alonso was 16th fastest in the opening sector and 17th quickest in the middle part of the track. However, his 28,166 split time in the closing sector was the 12th fastest and was only only three tenths of a second Nico Hülkenberg’s split time who said the fifth best time in that particular sector. It shows that the McLaren performed pretty well in the technical last sector where kinematics and balance come into play. The Spaniard praised the behaviour of his machinery in qualifying. However, his race was curtailed and ended before it could start as his power unit shut down on the formation lap.