Valtteri Bottas scored his second win of the season at the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday (Sept. 27). The win continues the Mercedes success at the track as they are the only manufacturer to win at the Sochi Autodrom.
Max Verstappen finished where he started and collected the second-place trophy after retirements at the previous two races. Lewis Hamilton settled for third after he suffered a double penalty that dropped him through the field.
The battle of the day came from the drivers going after each other in spots eight through 11. Daniil Kvyat managed to celebrate an eighth-place finish at his home track as his teammate Pierre Gasly finished just behind in ninth.
Even with a five-second timed penalty for a track limits violation, Alex Albon notched the final points-paying position in tenth.
Bottas started the race in second, briefly took the lead on the opening lap, then watched as Lewis Hamilton sped away. But as the two Mercedes started to open a gap, with Verstappen and both Renaults behind, two accidents quickly slowed the procession.
Carlos Sainz misjudged the spacing between a bollard and the wall and racked the front left of his McLaren on the concrete, pretty much shearing the front tyre from his car.
Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc punted Lance Stroll, sending Stroll into a spin that saw him bounce off the wall. The two incidents brought out a safety car, which highlighted another trend at Sochi: there have been five safety car periods in the last six races.
The race resumed on lap 6, and Hamilton looked to be in control, with Bottas trailing him.
But rather than Bottas passing Hamilton on the track, he benefitted from the steward’s decision to punish Hamilton for the practice starts he made prior to the race. Hamilton made two starts that were outside of the accepted area and the stewards penalized him for both.
When he pitted, the crew held back for ten seconds before working on the car. Hamilton fell back in the top ten and never found a way back to the top.
Bottas took the opportunity granted to him, roared into the top spot and cruised from there. By the time he pitted for tyres, he’d built a ten-second lead over Verstappen. Verstappen could muster no challenge that might shake Bottas’ concentration, and the two came home in that order.
Hamilton may have quietly seethed in his helmet but he let very little of his emotions out during the race. Though he had checked with his team about the practice starts before doing them, and his team gave the go-ahead, neither foresaw the penalty coming.
– Daniel Ricciardo incurred a penalty when he drove off the track after hitting a curb and in attempting to return to the race came directly onto the track rather than around a bollard. The move earned him a five-second penalty.
When told about the punishment, Ricciardo responded by saying, “I’ll drive faster.” What a solid response. Ricciardo admitted his guilt and sought to atone for his mistake and said it with such aplomb.
– If the front of the field was another example of an expensive parade, then the final spots in the top ten was the real show. It looked like spots eight through 12 were always hounding each other and no one could get away.
That both AlphaTauris finished in the points – eighth and ninth – showcases the improvement that the team is having and backs up Pierre Gasly’s win at the Italian GP.
– What is it about the track that keeps bringing out safety car periods? At some point someone may have to look at the track configuration to see if it warrants modification to put on a better race.
– Leclerc made Ferrari look respectable with his sixth-place finish. But Sebastian Vettel never seemed to have much pace and finished 13th. Ferrari is going to have to start looking at how they call races and think about mixing up its strategy – perhaps starting on harder tyres to run the first stint latter to manage track position and put their soft tyres to better use.
Lewis Hamilton now holds a 44-point lead over Bottas and a 77-point lead over Verstappen.