They say that after revolution comes restoration and to a certain extent that sums up the outcome of the FORMULA 1 VTB RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX 2019. Scuderia Ferrari had started from pole and won the last three races in Spa, Monza and Singapore, but today Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport restored the previous order, scoring a one-two finish, its eighth this season. For Lewis Hamilton it was the ninth win of the year, the fourth in the Russian Grand Prix, a race that has only ever been won by Mercedes in its six editions to date, backed up with four second places.
The result alone does not tell the story of the race. Up until lap 25 it looked as though last Sunday’s Singapore result would be repeated with Ferrari taking the top two places, although probably with Vettel in front of Leclerc this time.
Pole man Leclerc got off the line well and towed his team-mate along who not only shot past Hamilton before the first corner, he also swept through into the lead. The race was immediately neutralised following a collision between Giovinazzi, Ricciardo and Grosjean, the latter ending up in the barriers and the Australian having to pit with a puncture.
At the restart, in theory, the Ferrari drivers should have swapped places, according to what was said on the radio, but it didn’t happen and Vettel gradually began to pull away from his team-mate. The only one capable of staying with them was Hamilton, even though he was running the Medium tyres as chosen for yesterday’s Qualifying 2. On lap 10, Vettel led Leclerc by 2.1 seconds, Hamilton by 5.8 and Bottas by 12.1, the Finn having dispensed with the McLaren of Carlos Sainz three laps earlier. 10 laps later nothing much had changed, with Vettel now leading an ever more frustrated Leclerc by 4.4 and Hamilton by 7.1. Bottas was unable to stay with the lead trio and was 18.8 behind. A further 15 seconds down the road came Verstappen, who had climbed up to fifth place.
The run of pit stops got underway on lap 22, with Leclerc who came in to switch to Mediums. In Singapore, the undercut had shot Vettel from third to first, but this time it was the Monegasque driver who was being given the chance and was putting in some quick laps. The race leader tried to respond but the Softs were beginning to show signs of degradation. Vettel came in on lap 26 and rejoined behind Leclerc, but the four times world champion would not get much further, forced to park at the side of the track when the MGU-K failed. The race director called for a Virtual Safety Car so that the Ferrari could be moved and this was to be the Italian team’s undoing. The two Mercedes made the most of it to change tyres, pitting for Softs on lap 28, losing hardly any time under the Safety Car, so that Hamilton rejoined ahead of Leclerc.
At this point, Russell hit the barrier in the Williams so that the virtual safety car became a real one, sitting at the head of the field. At this point, Ferrari decided to bring Leclerc in again to put on the same Softs as his rivals, in the hope he could challenge Hamilton for the win. However, it meant he lost a place on track and was now behind Bottas and they stayed in that order until the chequered flag.
At the second restart, on lap 33, Leclerc tried to close on Bottas but he never got near enough to try a passing move. The Ferrari stayed with the Finn but even using DRS did not help. Meanwhile, Hamilton, with his team-mate riding shotgun, concentrated on tyre management to run untroubled to the end of the race.
It meant the only real excitement around the top three was who would win the battle to set the fastest race lap and here too Hamilton had the upper hand. His time of 1.35.761 set on lap 51 is a new record for the track, while the best Leclerc could offer was a 1.36.316.
Thus the curtain came down on another Mercedes one-two, somewhat different to those that came before, in that they were definitely not favourites when the cars lined up on the grid. All the more satisfying for the team run by Toto Wolff, as it resumes its winning ways that were interrupted prior to the summer break.
Just off the podium was Verstappen, who once he’d climbed to fourth had a pretty lonely race, given that his team-mate Albon was fifth, but over 24 seconds behind. In the “Best of the Rest Grand Prix,” McLaren were the stars, with Carlos Sainz sixth and Lando Norris eighth, bringing home a handy 12 points, a best score previously achieved in Austria and Hungary that helps the team consolidate fourth place in the Constructors’ classification. The English team’s lead over Renault, who only scored one point today with Hulkenberg’s tenth place, has gone up to 33 points.
The other top ten finisher was seventh placed Sergio Perez, doing a great job for SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team and in eighth place at the flag Kevin Magnussen, although the Dane was relegated to ninth with a 5 second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. At least Haas scored points for the first time since the German Grand Prix. They therefore close the gap to Alfa Romeo, who failed to score today in the fight for eighth place.
With the Singapore-Sochi back-to-back now completed, Formula 1 has one weekend to catch its breath after a run of four races in five weeks. The next round, the FORMULA 1 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX 2019, takes place at Suzuka circuit from 11 to 13 October.
Luca Ghiotto heaped further pressure on Nicholas Latifi in the Formula 2 Drivers’ Championship, moving to within 10 points of the Canadian in second place thanks to his third victory of the campaign in the Sprint Race. The race was interrupted by a nasty crash between Nikita Mazepin and Nobuharu Matsushita. It has since been confirmed that both drivers are fine. The collision brought out a red flag and the race was subsequently shortened to 15 laps due to time constraints. When racing resumed, the Italian was out in front, but it required a defensive masterclass as De Vries was hounding him and had the advantage of DRS. He managed to drag his car to the finish line ahead of the newly-crowned Champion, who appeared happy to settle for a second podium of Round 11.
Meanwhile, in Formula 3, Jüri Vips dominated the final race of 2019, leading from lights-to-flag for his third victory of the campaign, and his first win since Silverstone. It will be Marcus Armstrong who grabs the headlines though, as the Kiwi rose from seventh to second in the morning’s Race 2 to secure P2 in the Drivers’ Championship. With PREMA Racing teammate Jehan Daruvala finishing out of the points, Armstrong needed first outright, or second with the fastest lap, to leapfrog the Indian in the standings. With Vips nearly 4s ahead, he opted for the latter and switched to Qualifying mode, roaring around the Sochi Autodom for the extra points to pip Daruvala to second by a single point.
FROM THE DRIVERS
"This win feels like it has been a long time coming and it was just an incredible job from the whole team: never giving up, pushing forward, always trying to be innovative. It's incredibly inspiring to be part of that and amazing to have this result today considering how quick the Ferraris were in that opening stint. It was a really hard task to keep up with them, especially on the offset tyre, but we kept pushing and the car felt really good today. We thought that their soft tyres would drop off during that opening stint, but they had such good pace that I was struggling to keep up with them - and that's probably a little warning for us, because it looked like they got their calculations right in that regard. I managed to stay within shooting distance, though, and started closing down the gap as their tyres started to drop. Charles pitted, then I started catching Seb, and we were in a good position to offset and go long - even had the Safety Car not come out, it would have been a really good race. Then everything fell our way, and after that it was a question of building the gap, saving the tyres but also getting to the finish as smoothly as possible. Looking ahead, of course the races are counting down but we are just trying to take things one race at a time, put one foot in front of the other and not stumble. When you have a battle like this, you're working flat out, turning over every stone and questioning every little thing you can do better. We love that challenge and I'm really excited for the next races."
"It's been a while since we last had a 1-2 and it feels really good to stand up there on the podium together again. It's really encouraging and motivating for the entire team. We knew a 1-2 would be tricky to achieve, but possible, so we spoke about all the different strategies that would give us a chance this morning. and I think we did a really good job as a team today. It's a really good result if you think about how much we were struggling yesterday. Ferrari had a quick car all weekend long, I think they were quicker as well today, so to walk away with a 1-2 means that we did a great job as a team in all other areas. I lost quite a bit of time when I was stuck behind Sainz in the beginning and I was also struggling to match the times on the Medium tyres, but it was a lot better in the second stint on the Soft tyres. I was under a bit of pressure after the Safety Car restart, but it was all under control. Ferrari has made some good improvements in the past few weeks, so we know that we need to keep pushing for Japan, but I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Sebastian Vettel, DNF
“Today, we are very disheartened. We wanted to finish first and second, but all we got was a third place. It’s not the result we were hoping for. I got a good start and the first stint was pretty quick which allowed me to open up quite a gap. "After the pit stop, I rejoined in second place but shortly afterwards the team asked me to stop the car because there was a problem with a hybrid component on my Power Unit. I hope the engine will be okay for the coming races. It has definitely been not our day today.”
“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.”
“I think P4 was the best possible result today and we had a little bit of luck with Seb retiring, but I’m satisfied with the points we scored considering the penalties and pace of Ferrari and Mercedes. There wasn’t too much going on for me once I cleared the mid-field traffic and from there I had a bit of a lonely race until the Safety Car closed us all up. We were clearly a bit slower than the top three today but at the end of the race it was also more difficult being on the medium compound tyre when the others were on the soft. For sure we maximised the result but of course we want to be scoring more podiums and victories so we still have work to do as the others are very strong. Now I’m looking forward to Suzuka and we want to do the best we can for all the Japanese fans at Honda’s home race.”
“It was a good race and I think P5 is the best we could have done. I wanted to bounce back and get a good result after yesterday’s crash so I’m really happy with how the race went, although we probably got a bit lucky with the Safety Car. Morale was obviously a little bit low on Saturday night and it was a lot of work for the Team so this result is for them. Starting from the pit lane was never going to be easy but the pace was quite strong on the softs and it was a good haul of points. I started out of position and had some fun coming back through the field, but I don’t want all of my races to be like that. I like boring races too so I’m hoping for a cleaner and smoother weekend in Japan. "In the first stint I was struggling to get past Daniil and Pierre and it took me a long time. The downforce loss is immense when you’re following in a train of cars which I think is because the track is designed a bit like a street circuit. Up to the race it had been a tough weekend but I’m getting more comfortable. I just need to get up to speed and in a rhythm earlier on in the weekend, but that will come with more laps and time in the car. With the exception of Abu Dhabi, all of the remaining tracks will be new for me so Suzuka will be difficult, but I like new tracks.“
“Very good race. A great start and a very solid execution from everyone today. It was great to fight the Mercedes into Turn Two, which was one of my targets today. From then on I could control the race and I had good pace all the way through, even though it was impossible to hold both Red Bulls. “This was not an easy weekend for us, but we managed to put it together and take another best of the rest finish. Great performance from the whole team and double points again. Congratulations.”
“Today has been a positive day for the team with good points. Carlos and I both made good starts and gained positions. My first stint was reasonably good with decent pace, but then the VSC after my pit stop shook things up. “Cars came out of the pits from the VSC who were slower, preventing me from pushing as much as I wanted to, and then I was vulnerable to cars behind on fresher tyres. It was tough to keep the Renault and Racing Point behind. But overall a good weekend with more points for the team, a good reward for their hard work.”
“It was a frustrating race as the car deserved to be better than tenth. Everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong today: a poor start, a slow pit-stop and an unfortunate VSC timing. It’s disappointing as the potential was there for a better result. I felt comfortable in the car all weekend, and it had been fairly solid, so to leave with one point is a little frustrating. The midfield is bunched up and it’s going to be like that for the rest of the season. It’ll be nip and tuck throughout and we need to ensure we’re getting the maximum from races.”
“Unfortunately, our race was pretty much over from the start. I had too much damage on the car to carry on, which is a shame. It was a bit chaotic through Turn 2 and I had the inside line for Turn 4 where I thought I was safe. I got hit and had a puncture and damage to the floor. I’ll look at it with the perspective that if I qualify higher up the grid then I’m less likely to be in the bad stuff. I’ll take responsibility for that, but in terms of the accident, I was just a passenger.”
Formula 1® VTB Russian Grand Prix Final Classification
1st Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport 53 1:33.38.992
2nd Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport 53 +3.829
3rd Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari 53 +5.212
4th Max Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 53 +14.210
5th Alexander Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 53 +38.348
6th Carlos Sainz McLaren F1 Racing 53 +45.889
7th Sergio Perez SportPesa Racing Point F1 Racing 53 +48.728
8th Lando Norris McLaren F1 Racing 53 +57.749
9th Kevin Magnussen* Haas F1 Team 53 +58.779
10th Nico Hulkenberg Renault F1 Team 53 +59.841
11th Lance Stroll SportPesa Racing Point F1 Racing 53 +60.821
12th Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda 53 +62.496
13th Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 53 +68.910
14th Pierre Gasly Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda 53 +70.076
15th Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 53 +73.346
NC Robert Kubica ROKiT Williams Racing 28 DNF
NC George Russell ROKiT Williams Racing 27 DNF
NC Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari 26 DNF
NC Daniel Ricciardo Renault F1 Team 24 DNF
NC Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team 0 DNF