Sochi and excitement? That has not always been the combination at the previous Russian Grands Prix, but the eighth F1 race in Sochi provided so many twists and turns that it was hardly possible to understand each and every happening on the 5.8km track.
The 15th Round of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship was always going to bring some exciting moments with the grid penalty for championship leader Max Verstappen. The Dutchman was forced to start the race from the back of the grid for taking on his fourth Honda power unit. In addition, Ferrari also decided to swap Charles Leclerc’s engine for a new one which led to a Verstappen-Leclerc last row on the grid for the Russian Grand Prix.
The elimination of Verstappen pointed towards an easy weekend for Mercedes, the team which has won every single Russian Grand Prix since it joined the Formula One schedule back in 2014. After the opening day to the weekend, it looked like that the Anglo-German team’s W12 has a competitive advantage over its main rival just as it had at Monza two weeks ago, and the first part of yesterday's challenging wet qualifying session also saw Mercedes dictate the pace.
However, a drying track and a late switch to slick tyres, combined with Hamilton’s mistake at the pit entry saw Lando Norris claim his first ever F1 pole position ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Williams racer George Russell. Hamilton only took 4th while his team mate Valtteri Bottas only secured the 7th starting position.
Ahead of the race, Mercedes announced that they mounted a fifth engine in to Bottas’ car which saw the Finn drop back to P17 on the grid. There were suggestions that Mercedes, in desperation, wanted to compromise Verstappen’s attempt to go through the field by placing Bottas in front of the Dutchman.
The race then turned into a real thriller. While Carlos Sainz led the first part of the Sochi race, it was Lando Norris to take over the lead and hang on to it until a heavy shower arrived to spice things further up. In the end, Hamilton claimed his 100th Formula 1 victory which also meant that Mercedes remained undefeated in Russian Grand Prix history – they have won all 8 championship races, plus the pre-championship races in 1913 and 1914.
However, the real winner was Verstappen, who charged through the field to finish 2nd from last on the grid. In doing so, the Dutchman can now take a deep breath as he has the penalty for exceeding his allocation of power unit elements behind him and can now concentrate on the remainder of the season.
MercedesLewis Hamilton, 1st
"Wow... 100! It's taken a long time and I wasn't even sure the 100th would come! Going to bed last night I wasn't the happiest with the job I did yesterday. I watched the replay over and over again; they were subtle mistakes but I was so determined to put things right when I woke up this morning.
"Today was tough - I lost a lot of ground at the start, just trying to stay out of trouble. I was patient and at the end, when the rain came, I didn't want to let Lando go by boxing. Of course I didn't know what the rain was doing, it was just my feeling but I'm incredibly grateful to the strategy team for the job they did today. Getting anywhere near 100 victories wouldn't be possible without the hard work of the men and women here and back at the factory, I'm so grateful to them - it just feels so special.
"Lando did an amazing job today, he had incredible pace and he's doing such a great job for McLaren. It was bittersweet to see my old team ahead, they're doing so well powered by Mercedes and it's good to see them united again. Max did a good job to come up from second to last, the battle continues and we know we need to be on top form over the remaining races."Valtteri Bottas, 5th
"Firstly, congrats to Lewis on the win and his 100th victory. From my side, it was a difficult race and not an easy day, but the situation at the end with the rain saved it for me. Before that, I was struggling to progress through the field. It was much more difficult than I thought it would be, because I just couldn't follow through the corners - I was getting big understeer.
“I couldn't carry the speed and get close enough to overtake, and other cars were finding it easier to follow closely. Then the rain arrived, I wanted to stop one lap earlier but the team wasn't quite ready, but we were still one of the first cars to stop, which was good. I managed to climb up the order and score some good points, which is positive after a tricky day."
Red BullMax Verstappen, 2nd
“Wow, we will definitely take that result! Of course to come from last to second is very good and when I woke up this morning I definitely didn’t expect this result. To finish where we did with the penalty we had, we didn’t lose as many points as we could have so as a team we did a really good job. It was a crucial call to change to the inters, it was really slippery on track and we made a great decision with the timing and took the right lap to pit.
“A lot of things can happen when you’re starting from the back of the grid, especially on the first lap when other cars are fighting each other, but we stayed out of trouble, kept it clean, and managed our race very well. The race itself was not very easy, it was difficult to pass other cars and once you got stuck it was easy to damage your tyres but luckily in the end the rain helped us make the last jump in positions.”Sergio Perez, 9th
“We were on for a podium today so I decided to take the risk in staying out on the slicks instead of pitting for inters. In the first and third sector it was pretty dry and you could get temperature into the tyres, so if it then dried up those of us on the slicks would have made it work and those on the inters would have seen their race destroyed. In hindsight the slick wasn’t the right tyre and ultimately the timing of the rain in the race meant some people got lucky today and others didn’t.
“We were on for a great result with a podium through pure merit and despite a slow pit stop we still managed to come through the field to third but sometimes this is how racing is. The issue with the stop wasn’t a human error and I spoke with my pit crew after the race to check they were okay because we’re obviously all disappointed. As a team we still walk away with a lot of points today and yes, it is frustrating for me, but I feel like I got so much out of the car which is only promising going to Turkey in two weeks’ time.”
FerrariCharles Leclerc, 15th
"What a disappointing end to an otherwise extremely positive race! I had a good start, gaining a few positions. Everything looked really promising, I made lots of overtakes and my pace was strong.
"Things suddenly changed when it started to rain at the very end of the race. Carlos was ahead and decided to pit for Inters, while I still had some doubts. I tried to do another lap on slicks, hoping that the rain would decrease. But it started pouring down and it was just impossible to go on without pitting with two laps to go. That was basically the end of my race, which is a real shame. A good job from the team and Carlos to bring home a third place today."Carlos Sainz, 3rd
"This was a tricky but positive weekend for me, with a good quali and a strong race where I gave absolutely everything. We made a perfect start from the dirty side, braking late into turn 2 and risking it on the outside of Lando to get into the lead. Unfortunately we suffered from graining and couldn’t hold P1 for much longer and had to pit early.
"After the first stop, we had a very good stint, managing the Hard tyre in traffic and then pushing in clean air, on course for a reasonably comfortable P3 before the rain came and made everything a lot trickier. With the used Hard it was clear to me we needed to box for Inters and together with the team we made the right decision at the right moment, regaining P3!
"It’s a happy podium but I think as a team we need to keep analysing what we can do better to make sure next time a Ferrari is leading we are less vulnerable. We’ve got some time before the next race so we will keep pushing."
McLarenDaniel Ricciardo, 4th
“Pretty eventful race. Sometimes this track doesn’t provide that, but this weekend it did with both quali and the race. There was a lot that happened. I think my start was kinda too good! I had to pull out and then pull back in, so we lost a few positions there, but then made a few back over the first lap. So, there were some good moments. I defended pretty well in the first stint, then in the second stint made a few good passes, but then struggled towards the end of that Hard tyre.
“Then the rain came, and that’s when it all turned on its head. The in-lap was sketchy. I think Carlos [Sainz] went off in Turn Seven, then me, then Max [Verstappen]. I think Max saw both of us and just went off less and was able to pass there. Then we got out on the Inters and I could see Carlos ahead – the last couple of laps I felt like I was bringing him in a bit, but it was a little too late. I just missed the podium, but P4 is a solid result. Good points and, I think, for those tricky conditions, it’s always nice just to get out with your nose clean. There are definitely some positives and personally still a few things to work on, so we’ll keep our head down.”Lando Norris, 7th
"It wasn't the race or the result we wanted in the end. I made a good start and we had a good first stint. Right at the end when the rain started, we made the call not to box and that cost us everything. We made the decision that was right at the time for the conditions at the time.
“It was my call, along with the information from the team, and together we need to review what we could've done better. It's incredibly disappointing of course, because we've been strong all weekend and I felt comfortable with the pace and the car today. The team has done a great job and I want to thank them for all their hard work. Of course, the result is not a reflection of our weekend, but there are a lot of positive we can take, and now we need to analyse, reset and bounce back in Turkey.”
AlpineEsteban Ocon, 14th
“It was not a good race for us today and, in general, we haven’t had the pace all weekend. It’s disappointing, of course, not to score points, especially when there was an opportunity at the end with the wet conditions. We didn’t make the right decision at the end and it was a risk to stay out on track on dry tyres. It’s one of those days we have to forget, and we’ll move on, analyse what happened, and come back stronger for the next race.”Fernando Alonso, 6th
“We finished sixth, but I think third place is more of a true reflection of our finishing position today. It all came down to luck in the end with the rain coming so late on. It was like a flip of a coin. Some cars stopped one lap earlier and I was in third position when it really started to rain. It was impossible to predict. Nevertheless, sixth is a good result for us and we deserved it. We looked competitive throughout the race, so there are lots of positives to take away.”
Alfa RomeoKimi Raikkonen, 8th
“It was a good result we fought hard for. We could keep up with our rivals in the dry but passing them was not easy, especially in the DRS trains. In the end, we made the right call on the tyres: I thought it was getting too wet and we chose to box, which really helped us in the end. We did the best we could and we have some points to show for it.”Antonio Giovinazzi, 16th
“It was an eventful race with lots going on. I was hit in Turn 2 and I lost a few places there: in addition, I was without radio from the first lap, so it was impossible to communicate with the team. It has been a difficult afternoon, especially when the rain started at the end of the race and I couldn’t talk to the pits about the tyre change. I’m pleased for the team’s result, but I’m already looking forward to Turkey.”
"I thought we had a really strong race today. We held our own and made no silly mistakes and that was our Grand Prix throughout. We held third for the first 12 laps and it was quite fun fighting for this position, trying to keep cars like the McLaren, the Mercedes’, and the Aston Martin behind and we have to be proud of this.
“I struggled at the end on the intermediate tyre as I was on a used set having gone through all of our sets in qualifying yesterday. In the end, it is another point on the board so we will take it. It wasn’t the dream result but before the weekend if we’d have been offered 10th and another point, we would have taken it. Overall, I think it was a good race."
Nicholas Latifi, DNF
"Unfortunately, I got caught out on the slicks at the end of the race when it started raining and made a mistake. I couldn’t slow down so spun at Turn 7 and clipped the barrier which damaged the rear wing. At that point, there was nothing to play for and it made more sense to retire the car. It was a frustrating race because the car felt very nice to drive, possibly the nicest it’s felt, but I couldn’t make much progress at the beginning of the race or follow closely to the Haas in front during the key areas of the track. It’s unfortunate, because the prime tyre felt good and I think if we’d started higher up we could have maintained position and got a stronger result, but that’s how it goes sometimes."
“In the early part of the race it was not easy to make much progress in the train of cars, but when the rain came in the final few laps the race became a lottery. It felt like a 50/50 call as to whether we should pit for intermediate tyres. It felt like the rain would stay light, so we stayed out, but then it became much heavier and caught us out.
“So we had to pit in the end and fit intermediates, which dropped us down the order. When you have rain late in the race it can give you a big opportunity, but it did not go our way today. I think it was an entertaining race for the fans and I am happy for Lewis to have won his 100th Grand Prix: a huge achievement and well deserved today.”Lance Stroll, 11th
“It is a real shame that the change in weather cost us a strong chance of a good result and plenty of points. In hindsight, stopping one lap earlier for intermediates could have changed our race, but it is always hard to judge when the conditions are evolving. I made the call for us to stay out and try to make it to the end, so it is down to me. It is even more disappointing considering we made a great start and got up to fourth in what was a really enjoyable battle in the first few corners.
“We made the undercut on George [Russell] later on, which worked out nicely, but the second stint on the hard tyre was made more challenging by the DRS train of cars ahead, which always hurts the tyres, and then it rained. It became very slippery out there and I did not see Sebastian alongside me. We will learn from today and move on to Turkey in a few weeks’ time.”
AlphaTauriPierre Gasly, 13th
“It’s not been a great weekend for us really, we missed a big opportunity yesterday in qualifying and again today we made the wrong decision with the slicks, which unfortunately means we finished out of the points. The pace was strong here and I think we had a good first stint, but we just didn’t utilise all the opportunities given to us this weekend, which is a real shame. We need to review everything from today and work out how we make the most out of these conditions in the future. It’s a weekend to forget, but we’ve got a good team and I’m confident we can bounce back at the next one.”Yuki Tsunoda, 17th
“It’s obviously a disappointing day. I’ve struggled with the balance of the car all weekend and it was the same today in the race, especially on the first lap where it was hard to keep it on the track. I just need to reset after this weekend and work on my baseline performance, so I can start finishing in the points again.”
HaasMick Schumacher, DNF
“We obviously had an issue and we were trying to fix it out on track but didn’t manage. It is what it is, we live and we learn and it’s Formula 1 – so things can happen. It’s my first retirement this year and I was certainly hoping it would take some more time, or not happen at all this year but it’s a part of the game. We were very good in terms of pace and the car felt really good out there. We’ll take away the positives, analyse them and take them on to Turkey.”Nikita Mazepin, 18th
“It was a long race – loads of things happening. I had a very good first opening lap and then did my best to hold the faster cars behind using the battery cleverly, which I think I did well. Then after we boxed, came out on hard tyres, I still tried to keep the cars behind and obviously one overtook me, and then I had a lock-up and unfortunately for us when the hard tyres lock-up, they don’t ever come back.
“We as a team made a good call to go on to inters, I was one of the very first cars and gained quite a bit of time back. It was fun to overtake some cars that I would never be able to overtake. Nevertheless, we know where we stand and now eyes forward on to the next race.”