After a disappointing last few races for Mercedes, the team had cause to celebrate at Sochi with Lewis Hamilton clinching victory and teammate Valtteri Bottas coming home second in a Mercedes one-two at the Russian Grand Prix. Hamilton also scored a valuable extra point for fastest lap. Charles Leclerc took the final podium spot in his Ferrari, having clinched his fourth consecutive pole position in yesterday’s qualifying.
Early indications were that Ferrari would again perform better than Mercedes in the race, but in the space of a very short time all bets were off and winning the race seemed unlikely for the Italian team, as Lewis Hamilton seized the advantage after a virtual safety car that cost Leclerc the lead and gave Hamilton his first win since the summer break. It also brings him much closer to his sixth world championship title.
However, the main story of this year’s Russian Grand Prix centred around Sebastian Vettel disobeying team orders and not giving back the place he was given by his teammate at the start of the race, which we later found out was part of an elaborate plan to prevent Hamilton from winning the race. It backfired rather spectacularly! Leclerc played his part smoothly, letting Vettel pass him, but when it came for Vettel to hand the place back, he simply kept up his pace and refused to. A quick pit stop by the Ferrari team and a number of fastest laps, allowed Leclerc to undercut Vettel and give him the net lead, pushing the German back behind him. But Vettel’s race was cut short following his put stop with an energy recovery problem, which in turn triggered the virtual safety car, bunching the pack up and handing Hamilton an effective free pit stop and change of tyre strategy which would hand him the lead. Valtteri Bottas also pitted and rejoined the race in third.
A full safety car was deployed following a brake issue that put the Williams of George Russell into the barriers and prompted Ferrari to being Leclerc in for a fresh set of tyres but put him behind Bottas, where he would remain for the rest of the race whilst Hamilton stretched his lead at the front and put in a series of fastest laps to secure the bonus championship point. This was Hamilton’s ninth win of the 2019 season and stretched his lead to 73 points over teammate Bottas in the Driver’s Championship with just five races to go.
Max Verstappen brought home his Red Bull in a lonely fourth, while teammate Alexander Albon recovered masterfully from his pit lane start to finish fifth just behind Verstappen ahead of Carlos Sainz in his McLaren.
Haas F1 Team
The Haas team has cause to celebrate here in Sochi too, as Romain Grosjean qualified ninth and teammate Kevin Magnussen took home a couple of valuable points by finishing ninth in the race following Grosjean’s forced retirement after an opening-lap incident involving Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, in which he was an innocent victim.
Romain Grosjean said after the race: “There’s not much to say, the footage is pretty clear. We’ve been working very hard all weekend, and we had a competitive car – we were going to go for points today. There was a huge amount of pressure on us to get into Q3 in qualifying yesterday, we don’t know how often we’ll get those chances. Obviously, our race was then ruined by turn four. I had no chance to react. It’s a bit of a disappointing afternoon. It’s hard to digest as I felt this was the weekend we could score. To be taken out on the first lap is very hard.”
Charles Leclerc commented on his third-place finish: “It was a tricky race. I think that we had a good strategy to give us the best result as a team. At the start of the race, I gave Sebastian a tow so that we could race at the front and get ahead of our competitors together. Then, after the safety car, things became a bit more complicated and we aimed to find the right timing to swap positions, which we did when Seb pitted. Unfortunately, there was an issue on Seb’s car and he had to end the race early. From that point on it just didn’t go our way anymore and it was not possible for me to overtake the two cars in front.”
“After we had such a strong weekend, ending the race with one car in P3 and the other retired is not the best feeling. But we are confident of our potential and will head into the next races with determination and give our all to bring home the best possible results.”
Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport
There is no doubt that the Russian Grand Prix belonged to the Silver Arrows team, who took advantage of Ferrari’s squabbling and a couple of safety cars to secure their eighth one-two of the 2019 season and get ever closer to their sixth successive constructors’ championship title.
Team Principal Toto Wolff said after the race: “Today is one of those races that go to show the points are won on Sunday and not on Saturday – and that, most of all, you can never give up. We managed to take a one-two finish today even though we didn’t have the quickest package and that is a very special feeling. We started on the Medium tyre and one of the reasons we did that was to have the flexibility to stretch the opening stint – both to take advantage of a possible Safety Car after Ferrari had pitted, but also to have the option of using the Soft in the final stint. So we were running it long, hanging it out there a bit and then the race came right towards us with the VSC for Vettel’s failure. Both of our drivers did a fantastic job today: Lewis was relentless, keeping the pressure on and holding onto the Ferraris in the opening stint, then able to manage things well after the stop. As for Valtteri, we saw two years ago that he knows his way around this track with a Ferrari breathing down his neck, and he didn’t put a foot wrong this afternoon even with huge pressure from Leclerc. But even in the joy of this win, we must not lose sight of the fact that we didn’t have the best package here this weekend. We have some updates to come in Suzuka, but most of all we need to put our heads together over the coming days and understand how to maximise our package in Japan, so that we extract every bit of potential from it and come back stronger.
The top 10 finishers at the Russian Grand Prix were: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, Alexander Albon, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, Lando Norris, Kevin Magnussen and Lance Stroll picking up the final point in his Racing Point BWT Mercedes.
We head to Suzuka in two weeks’ time for the Japanese Grand Prix where Hamilton will not quite be in a position mathematically to clinch the title, but with a lead of 73 points over Bottas in the Drivers’ Championship, he could do it at the Mexican Grand Prix to take his sixth title.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Photographs courtesy of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Scuderia Ferrari Press Office and Haas F1 Team