I tell you, the Monza podium is CURSED.
Case in point – Pierre Gasly, Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in that Italian Grand Prix.
All three drivers crashed out at Mugello the next weekend.
Aaaaaaand this weekend, Sainz and Stroll were both out by Turn 4 on the opening lap, while Gasly finished 8th.
Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix
Circuit: Sochi Autodrom
Let’s just say Sochi is not high on the list of people’s favourite tracks.
The overtaking is fairly limited, Mercedes’ massive advantage is even more pronounced with the lack of heavy braking zones, Turn 2 is a hotbed for chaos, and it’s almost always an extremely long one-stop procession.
In effect, everything mentioned in this classic piece of comedy from John Clarke & Bryan Dawe.
The key element is not racing, IT’S PARKING!
Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 10: Mercedes, unbeaten in Russia for 107 years
After a scenic red flag-filled tour of Italy, the F1 bubble hopped in a fleet of Cessnas and made haste for Black Sea and the seaside resort town of Sochi for the 7th running of the Russian Grand Prix, and it would’ve been a welcome sight to see fans filling the grandstands for a Grand Prix in the age of a pandemic, as some 30,000 fans were able to visit the track every day.
Mercedes have won all 6 previous editions of the race held at the Olympic precinct, and if you throw in the two Russian Grand Prix that were held just before World War I in 1913 and 1914 that Benz won, the German make has a 107-year winning streak in the Motherland.
The obvious key is not to visit during the Russian Winter.
Also, the Netflix crew were with Mercedes this weekend, filming Season 3 of Drive To Survive, and as everyone remembers, the last time Netflix were with Mercedes was Hockenheim last season, which ended with the dreaded Netflix Curse giving us one of greatest episodes of streamed television ever seen.
In some milestones of major note, Kimi Raikkonen tied Rubens Barrichello on 322 race starts, the most by any driver in F1 history, Sebastian Vettel celebrated his 250th race start, and still on the subject of Ferrari…
Former Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali will succeed Chase Carey as the President and CEO of the Formula 1 Group from 2021.
So we have Jean Todt as the President of the FIA, Ross Brawn is F1’s managing director for motorsport, Rob Smedley is the expert technical consultant, and Domenicali will become the chief of F1.
LOOKS LIKE FERRARI INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANCE IS BACK ON THE MENU, BOYS!
Lewis Hamilton had a lap time deleted in Q1 for exceeding track limits at Turn 2, and had another time deleted in Q2 for going wide at the final turn, leaving him the only driver yet to set a legal time after the opening runs.
Daniel Ricciardo had looked quick in practice, and the Aussie actually set the fastest time of Q2 (1.32.218), thanks to a Valtteri Bottas error on his qualifying lap, which was still good enough for 2nd on the yellow-banded tyre behind the Renault, but for those down the order, the session was thrown into chaos when Sebastian Vettel crashed into the barriers at Turn 4 with just on 2 minutes remaining, almost causing an unsighted Charles LeClerc to hit his teammate’s stricken Ferrari.
So every driver had to back off their lap with the red flag out, which threw a huge spanner in the works for Hamilton, who had to back off his lap at the penultimate corner when he was set to comfortably reach Q3, leaving him stuck in 15th with no legal time, and facing an uphill battle just to get track position to start his lap on the resumption!
That turned the end of Q2 into a mini-race just to get a lap in, as the queue formed at the end of the pit lane with Hamilton stuck at the back, although Lance Stroll was unable to set another lap due to an overheating engine, leaving him stuck in 13th.
Eventually, every driver got out and started a lap on cold tyres with seconds to spare, as Peter ‘Bono’ Bonnington screamed ‘NEED TO GO’ on the radio, Hamilton started his lap with only 1.25 seconds remaining, and despite playing with napalm, he comfortably got in to Q3 in terms of a lap time and dumped out LeClerc, although this meant Hamilton would start the race on Softs against Bottas on the Mediums, a clear advantage to the Finn.
Ferrari’s strategy of bringing out a red flag to stop Mercedes missed by *That* much.
In Q3, Bottas initially went fastest, only to be blasted out of the stratosphere by Hamilton, who went fastest by 0.793s with a record time of 1.31.391 as Ricciardo was nudged out of 3rd by Verstappen by only 4-thousandths of a second on their first runs.
Bottas ended his chances of pole by bouncing over the Turn 2 kerbs, only improving to within 0.565, while Hamilton managed to find another 0.087s and set a new lap record of 1.31.304 to claim his 96th pole position, and just to cap off this latest reaming for poor old Valtteri, he inadvertently gave a tow to Max Verstappen on the pit straight, and the Dutchman managed to fire in a lap good enough to bump Bottas off the front row, denying Mercedes another 1-2!
In the ever-entertaining scrap for the minors, Sergio Perez in his Racing Point managed to drop Ricciardo to 5th, leaving the No.3 Renault to start alongside Carlos Sainz on the 3rd Row, followed by Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris, with the transplanted Red Bull punching bags of Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon completing the Top 10, although Albon (With Nicholas Latifi in 19th) would be dropped to 15th after changing his gearbox on Saturday evening.
After the great high of a maiden podium at Mugello, it was seemingly business as usual again for Alex, a mere 1.2 seconds off Max.
Hamilton was investigated by the stewards for not rejoining through the Turn 2 boards when he had his Q1 time deleted, which earned him a reprimand, although all drivers were now warned by race director Michael Masi….
Such an indiscretion on Sunday would be met with a 5-second time penalty.
That fact was important, considering what would happen to a certain Australian driver.
Race (53 Laps)
The moment that would decide the race occurred before the cars had even arrived at the grid, when it announced that Hamilton was being investigated for performing a practice start outside of the designated area in the pit lane.
In the race directors notes, drivers were required to perform practice starts just after the pit exit lights – For some reason, Hamilton performed his where the pit lane rejoins the racetrack.
Some had said the only person alive who could defeat Lewis Hamilton is Lewis Hamilton – Turns out Mercedes can also defeat Lewis Hamilton.
The start at Sochi seems to favour everyone except the polesitter due to the slipstreaming into Turn 2, and at the start, Bottas jumped the best and was up challenging Hamilton into Turn 2, before braking too deep after a bee hit his helmet, Ricciardo jumped Perez and was up challenging Verstappen for 3rd, which he claimed after Verstappen had to redress through the orange boards, while Sainz had to go through the boards after going wide at Turn 2, but unfortunately the Spaniard clouted the protruding concrete wall, thanks to a combination of his approach angle and carrying too much speed trying to avoid losing a buckload of positions.
A few seconds later, Stroll, who had gone from 12th to 7th, was hit by LeClerc and sent into the barrier at Turn 4, becoming the second Lap 1 retirement, Verstappen had reclaimed 3rd from Ricciardo at Turn 5, which also allowed Esteban Ocon to sneak up the inside and take over as the leading Renault when Daniel was forced wide, and the Safety Car was called into action because of the debris and crashed cars.
Somehow, despite blatantly under-steering straight into another car and taking them out on Lap 1, which Alex Albon was punished for in Britain, LeClerc got away with what was deemed as a racing incident.
Then again, LeClerc wasn’t even punished for driving with disengaged seatbelts for 2 laps in Barcelona.
Something something Ferrari International Assistance.
In the carnage, Albon fell to 17th, Norris was last after barely avoiding his teammate’s accident, and it was hard to believe, but Kevin Magnussen in the Haas WAS UP FROM 18TH TO 9TH!
He barely even got off the line for the formation lap!
Albon, Norris and George Russell all pitted for the Hard tyre at the end of Lap 1, meaning they technically didn’t have to stop again, at the potential cost of having no grip at the end of the race.
The SC period ended on Lap 5, which was the moment everyone got the news we were expecting.
Hamilton was handed a 5-second time penalty for that practice start, but on top of that, he was given ANOTHER penalty for a second breach of the practice start guidelines, making it a 10-second penalty!
Hamilton let his feelings about the decision be known for the rest of the afternoon.
Meantime, the 3 early-stoppers were engaging in some great wheel-to-wheel racing – Norris had passed Albon and had passed Russell at the last corner, but that Mercedes-powered Williams sprouted wings with the DRS + Slipstream and cleared them both.
Unfortunately, Russell locked up hard at the end of the back straight, flat-spotting the left front and allowing Albon through, and Norris didn’t waste a second invitation to pass his compatriot.
By Lap 12, Bottas was keeping Hamilton honest at 1.5 seconds, with Verstappen only 1.5 seconds behind Bottas, then further bheind them came Ocon, Ricciardo and Perez, who had all held position since the restart.
Needing to build a gap, Hamilton unofficially deployed Hammertime on the advice of Bono, as the Mercedes pit crew were getting ready to bring in the 6-time champion on Lap 14, although Lewis vetoed the move, and that was a good call, because Hamilton set a pair of personal bests in the time he stayed out, negating the drop that was coming with his penalty.
Perez had been closing on Ricciardo for several laps, and the Mexican made his move to start Lap 15, forcing Ricciardo to back off after tracking wide through Turn 3, and that was the incentive for Renault to get Ricciardo off the Soft tyre at the end of the lap, although the Aussie did lose time due to a slow right rear change.
Hamilton peeled in on Lap 16, and served his 10-second penalty, still definitely in a state of Not Happy Jan, and despite fears he might rejoin behind Ricciardo, the former race leader rejoined in 11th ahead of the Aussie, giving him plenty of room to recover a podium.
Ocon and Gasly pitted on Lap 19, with neither emerging ahead of Hamilton, who had just cleared the Ferrari of Vettel, who was about to become a serious problem for the sister Renault driver.
Ricciardo was behind Raikkonen after peeling out, but finally got the DRS and flew past on Lap 20.
Perez was the last of the Soft-starters to pit on Lap 21, and Racing Point got their strategy correct, and the Racing Point jumped Ocon into an effective 4th place, a position he would maintain for the rest of the afternoon.
Vettel was becoming a major problem for Ocon, who had lost some 6 seconds to Perez in a handful of laps by being unable to clear the Ferrari, which was also bringing Ricciardo back into the fold.
Renault decided to let Ricciardo through on Ocon on Lap 25, but it was a bungled change when Ocon waited until the braking zone for Turn 2 to let the Aussie by, and Ricciardo made an unforced error by locking up and running wide behind the sausage kerbs without doing an ‘escape drill’, leaving Dan The Man in hot water.
My initial thought – Classic Renault.
With the cards finally falling his way, Bottas stayed out until Lap 26 for his set of Hard tyres, rejoining with not a single car in sight, and with his teammate out of contention, it was looking very good for a Finnish victory at his favourite circuit.
Ricciardo finally got through on Vettel on Lap 27, just before he was handed the inevitable 5-second penalty for ignoring the Race Director’s instructions.
For some reason, Albon stopped again for Mediums on Lap 26, dropping him back down the order, while LeClerc stayed out until Lap 28, managing to split the Renaults in an effective 6th place, almost certainly thanks to the work his senior teammate accomplished.
Daniil Kvyat had started the race on the Hard tyre in 11th, and starting on what was the ideal race tyre worked well for the local favourite, who rejoined on the Medium tyre in 8th place – A fair old net gain.
Meantime, Ricciardo was finally informed of his penalty when he had a 2.8 second lead to LeClerc, but instead of getting irate, his response was classic Daniel.
Renault: “You have a 5-second penalty for the Turn 2 incident.”
DR: “Okay, I’ll drive faster.”
And drive faster he did.
Getting stuck behind Seb had ruined Ocon’s race, and the Frenchman was now getting out-paced by LeClerc on the Hard tyre, and looked in serious danger of being swallowed by Kvyat, although Ocon did respond, setting up a scrap that lasted right up to the chequered flag.
By Lap 40, Bottas had an 11 second lead to Verstappen, who was 10 seconds ahead of Hamilton and comfortably matching the Mercedes, Perez was on his own island in 4th, and in Ricciardo penalty watch, he had a 6.5 second lead over LeClerc, and was comfortably faster than the overachieving Ferrari.
On Lap 42, Vettel made a pass on Grosjean for 14th, as Grosjean realised that he’d gone behind the sausage kerbs after the move, so he b-lined for the ‘escape route’, and ended up driving straight into the boards before carrying on.
Go slightly wide and don’t go through the escape route = 5-second penalty.
Go slightly wide and drive straight into the bollards = Well, at least you tried.
The Virtual Safety car was briefly enforced on Lap 43 to allow the track marshals to replace the boards at Turn 2, although Alpha Tauri made a slightly boneheaded move bringing in Gasly from 9th right as the VSC ended, making him drop down to 11th behind Norris and Albon, who was making a late charge on the Medium tyre.
They tried pulling a rabbit out of the hat, and ended up plucking a hair off their backside.
That kicked off a great scrap for the final points, as Norris defended for dear life driving on a set of chewed out Pirellis, as the faster Albon tried going around the outside at Turn 7, but that didn’t work out, and instead, it was Gasly who fired past and dumped the Red Bull out of the points!
Eventually, the Frenchman succeeded where Albon couldn’t and took 9th place into Turn 2 on Lap 47, and it looked like it would be Albon vs Norris Round 2, but the McLaren locked up heavily down the back straight, Albon strolled past, and after 45 laps on the same tyre, the British team conceded the jig was up and brought Norris in.
The final laps were defined by the leaders clearing the backmarkers, and Bottas reclaiming the fastest lap bonus point on his way to a second victory of 2020, despite some cheeky attempts from Verstappen and Russell.
So for the 6th time this year, it was a Bottas-Verstappen-Hamilton podium, with Max denying Mercedes a 1-2 finish, as Hamilton would have to wait until the Nurburgring to tie Michael Schumacher’s 91 wins.
Perez started 4th, fell to 6th, and worked his way back to finish a comfortable 4th, Ricciardo comfortably negated his penalty to finish 5th, the first time he’s ever finished inside the Top 5 in Sochi, LeClerc overachieved to take 6th, Ferrari’s best result since his Silverstone podium, and Kvyat made a huge attack at Ocon, but the Renault completed some 20+ laps of defending and finished 7th.
The importance of qualifying at Sochi – The Top 5 cars on the grid finished in the Top 5 places.
That 2nd placing was the first time Red Bull had finished on the podium in Russia in 7 attempts – It was the only ‘regular’ track on the calendar the Milton Keynes team had never claimed a podium at.
Back to the winner, and having reignited the Championship, Bottas gave a winning message that I recall he’d previously given at Australia 2019:
“I think again it’s a nice moment to thank my critics, and to whom it may concern, **** YOU!”
A winning message on a par with Jim Richards and the pack of arseholes.
Of course, Lewis made the claim that “They’re trying to stop me” before he met with the FIA stewards, who revised their original punishment of giving the championship leader another 2 penalty points on his superlicense, to instead fining Mercedes 25,000 Euros, on the basis that it was the team (Specifically Bono) who told Hamilton he could practice start outside of the designated area.
Mercedes would be relieved just to get a slap on the wrist, considering it would’ve left Hamilton with 10 penalty points, only 2 away from receiving an automatic race ban if he were to be punished again before November 17, when his points for spinning Alex Albon in Brazil last season will expire.
On another note, this race marked a couple of massive positives for Renault, on a day that nearly went completely pear-shaped for the French stalwarts.
They currently sit on 99 Constructors’ points after 10 races, passing their 2019 tally of 91, Ricciardo has 63 points, already passing his 2019 tally of 54, and with Norris and Stroll not scoring, it’s brought Dan The Man to within 2 points of 4th place in the Drivers’ Championship.
Norris is on 65 points, Albon has 64, and Ricciardo 63 – In fact, Perez in 9th, having missed 2 races, is only 9 points off 4th!
How’s this for hilarity – Hamilton, who races with #44, leads by 44 points, Verstappen, who races with #33, trails Bottas by 33 points, and the gap between Hamilton and Verstappen is 77 points – Bottas’ race number.
The battle for 3rd in the Constructors is also getting very interesting, because with McLaren going scoreless for the first time all season, Racing Point only getting Perez home, albeit in a great 4th, and Renault recording a double points finish, the gap between 3rd and 5th is now only 7 points.
McLaren have 106, Racing Point have 104 with their penalty, and Renault are on 99, as previously mentioned.
Of course, now begins the 4-race stretch of races added to the revised calendar, starting with a visit to the icehole in the Eifel Mountains.
Up next: The return to the Nurburgring in a fortnight!