Formula One: Russian Grand Prix
Track: Sochi Autodrom
Sochi- A reminder of a simpler time of drugs being rife in sport.
The news has come flying in since Singapore last weekend- McLaren are reuniting with Mercedes for 2021, and Toro Rosso are probably changing their name to Alpha Tauri, in reference to Red Bull’s clothing company.
Then again, Benetton were an extension of a clothing company, and they went alright.
Remarkably, Mercedes-Benz have an unbeaten record in the former USSR- Winning the 1913 and 1914 race held in St Petersburg, and winning every edition since the Sochi race was added to the World Championship in 2014.
They’re the only Germans who can actually go into Russia and win.
Practice was dramatic, as Duncraig Dan hit the wall at Turn 10 during FP1, while Daniil Kvyat had an engine failure during FP3, confining him to the back of the grid, and Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly received 5-place grid drops due to replacing Power Unit components.
Red Bull’s headaches became a tad worse, when Alex Albon crashed out of Q1, after losing the rear at the increasingly notorious Turn 13.
Meanwhile, out in front, a story that has become reoccurring since the Summer break kept carrying on, as Charles LeClerc was once again on another level, with the sheer power of the Ferrari engine earning him another dominant pole position, with Hamilton having to pull out his usual massive lap just to get on the front row (Still 4 tenths back), with Vettel in 3rd, Verstappen 4th, and Bottas making an error on his last lap to qualify 5th.
Carlos Sainz led the F1.5 field and also won the McLaren vs Renault battle, qualifying in 6th from Hulkenberg, with Lando Norris, the HAAS of Grosjean and Dan The Man rounding out the Top 10- Of course, Bottas Sainz, Hulk, Grosjean and Norris all moved up a spot due to Verstappen’s penalty.
Leclerc is the first Ferrari driver since a certain Mr Schumacher to achieve 4 consecutive Pole Positions (2000-01), and the first Non-Mercedes driver since Vettel at Red Bull racked up 5 in a row during 2011.
The Mercs were supposedly losing 8 tenths because of the Ferrari horsepower advantage in Sectors 1 and 2.
That’s virtually unheard of.
It was interesting to note that as a result of their Q2 runs, Hamilton and Bottas were the only drivers in the Top 10 to start on Mediums, and Albon started from the pit lane, as Red Bull replaced everything short of his steering wheel.
At the start, LeClerc jumped superbly, but Vettel had a blinder, passing Hamilton before Turn 1, and then used the hole created by his teammate in front to pass him for the lead down the inside of Turn 2!
Further back, Sainz jumped Bottas and briefly got ahead of Hamilton, while Danny Ric went wide at Turn 2, and collided with Grosjean and Giovinazzi at Turn 4, causing a left rear puncture for the Renault, damaging the Alfa’s front wing, and sending Grosjean into the wall and out of the race.
I’m pretty sure that’s two weekends running that Dan has collided with Gio and suffered a puncture.
Instead of sending our protagonist to the end on Hard tyres, Renault went for the Mediums, because why not, they were screwed anyway with a damaged floor, which was seriously affecting the speed of the car.
Out in front, the Ferraris were clearly the fastest cars on track, but they arranged a classic Ferrari team orders agreement to get LeClerc ahead, despite Vettel being the faster car… which led to it being abandoned, as Seb gave them the theoretical finger, and built the lead past 2 seconds.
If there’s one thing Seb has shown he understands, it’s team orders.
Bottas was back ahead of Sainz on Lap 7, and Kimi Raikkonen was hit with a drive-through penalty for a jump start, and after that, it was back to the basic boring shit about tyres for a while, as Vettel continued to put a space on LeClerc, who quite simply wasn’t fast enough to enact those team orders.
Hulkenberg pitted on Lap 17, and in typical French fashion, Renault dropped him with 3 wheels attached, before quickly adjusting and costing him a good chunk of time.
Having to watch those morons screw up also helped us miss Verstappen passing Sainz into Turn 2 to claim 5th place.
LeClerc was the first of the lead runners to pit on Lap 22, and went on the Mediums, which gave the upper hand back to the Monegasque, as he set fastest laps, while Vettel audibly declared he was struggling on his Softs, but Ferrari decided to keep him out, as if it were some malicious compliance to that little agreement they had to get LeClerc ahead.
After Dan couldn’t pass George Russell for an eternity due to his damaged car, Renault ultimately gave up the losing fight on Lap 25, and Dan was retired from the race, ending another disastrous Sunday for the useless frogs.
Vettel finally pitted on Lap 27, and with a good outlap from LeClerc, combined with a slow stop for Vettel, Charles regained the lead, and Ferrari had their driver swap problem sorted.
For about 90 seconds.
Utterly amazingly, on the very next lap, Vettel lost the MGU-K, crawled to a stop, and retired from the race (His first retirement since Germany 2018), but for some reason, he pulled off very close to the racing line at Turn 15, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car, which utterly screwed LeClerc, as it pretty much gifted Hamilton the lead with a cheap pit stop.
Seb gave us one simple message after he pulled over:
Hell yes- I want to see those bastards chucking out 1500 bhp and half of them exploding during the race because they’re being revved well past their safe limit.
Stuff V6 turbos- Let’s have V12s punching it out with V10s and V10s again.
As if Vettel’s retirement wasn’t weird enough, a few short moments later, as the VSC ended, George Russell suffered a brake failure and went into the barrier at Turn 8, bringing out the physical Safety Car, and Williams decided to play it safe and end Kubica’s race, apparently to save parts… Even though he was perfectly fine to keep plodding along.
As a result of taking the lead, Hamilton broke the record for the most races led, at 143, breaking the tie with Schumacher.
Ferrari decided to bring in LeClerc during the Safety Car, and put him on a slightly used set of Soft tyres, to negate the tyre disadvantage to the Mercs, but it had the effect of dropping him to 3rd behind Bottas.
It led to a reshuffled order when the SC ended on Lap 33, as Verstappen found his way up to 4th, Sainz was 5th, and somehow and some way, Kevin Magnussen was 6th (Apparently he didn’t pit), with Albon also benefitting and jumping up to 7th.
The major focus on the restart was how would LeClerc get past Bottas and set off after Hamilton, but wouldn’t you know it, he just never got close enough down the pit straight to even pressure the Finn into Turn 2, and by Lap 37, the race was as good as done, as Bottas couldn’t close up on Hamilton, and as previously mentioned, LeClerc couldn’t pass Bottas.
Thanks to the work of the dickhead entrusted as the TV Race Director, the race seemed to turn into a procession with the incessant focus on the 2nd vs 3rd battle, with all the action coming from 5th and down, especially with Albon completing his fightback from a Pit Lane start to round up Magnussen and Sainz to move up to a superb 5th place.
Fortunately though, he/she did manage to capture the Toro Rossos nearly wiping each other out at Turn 2.
It made me remember just how much a Mercedes 1-2 is akin to a dementor that sucks away all the fun and joy from watching Formula One.
Hamilton was never touched after the Safety Car, and broke the lap record time and again, LeClerc fell away from Bottas, and like a warm and fuzzy feeling returning, Mercedes got a kiss on the arse, a race win, and a 1-2 to boot, thanks to the utter incompetence of Ferrari.
Despite completing half the race, Vettel was voted Driver of the Day, mainly for making most people agree about the V12 comment, while there were several other noteworthy results- As mentioned, Albon going from the Pit Lane to 5th, Perez into 7th, and the 6th and 8th finish for the McLarens Sainz and Norris moving the team’s points total past 100 for the first time since 2014- Their last season with Mercedes.
You see the smug, satisfied look on Lewis Hamilton’s face?
Are you being sent into a blind seething rage for no reason?
They played silly buggers with that deadshit team orders game not even 10 laps into a race, then kept Vettel out for 3 more laps after he reported his rear tyres being toast, just to get LeClerc ahead of him, and then Seb pays them out when his MGU-K went kaput, by stopping close enough to the racing line to bring out the VSC.
You could have had a 1-2 if you’d used common sense, but instead, all you have is a 3rd and two pissed off Continentals.
Hope it tastes nice.
All that goodwill from winning 3 in a row, gone.
Speaking of which, the FIA seriously need to do something about pit stops under the VSC…. the time gained from them compared a green flag or even a Safety Car stop is ridiculous.
As for Renault, if the news about McLaren dumping them made their long term prospects look bleak, then this race makes their short term prospects look even worse than a drug smuggler in a Balinese prison.
They are going to get absolutely murdered at downforce-focused tracks like Suzuka, which coincidentally, is the next race.
Next up: Back to the Far East in a fortnight, for Suzuka and the Japanese Grand Prix!