GRAND PRIX : Russia : Hamilton’s Just About There…

Posted on October 28, 2015.

Seb is always a happy and very consistent visitor to the podium
Kimi did not make it easy for Vettel to get past
An undercut pitstop got Vettel past Bottas into second
Rent-a-driver Perez did well and got third
'You must have some old V12s somewhere round the back'

Report by Paul Robinson

The F1 circus headed to Russia for the second time, again to the Sochi Autodrom, the home of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The circuit consists largely of a permanent track with a road section alongside the Olympic park, and is probably one of Hermann Tilke’s better efforts.

Hamilton’s hopes of becoming world champion for the third time remained intact following the Japanese GP. That was Hamilton’s 41st victory, putting him alongside his idol Ayrton Senna for the number of race wins but not yet securing the third title to equal the Brazilian.

The main talking point in the paddock was the news that Ferrari will only supply engines to junior outfit Toro Rosso. With Red Bull’s rejection from Mercedes, the falling-out with Renault, and Honda concentrating their project solely on McLaren, this could leave the former champions without an engine supplier for 2016.

If Red Bull and Toro Rosso were to pull out of F1 this would leave a seriously reduced grid and four very talented drivers without a race seat. These young drivers have lifted the entertainment of the sport with their no-fear racing skills. Let’s hope a solution can be found.

Friday proved to be a challenging start to the weekend for all drivers due to the wet conditions. Additionally, the opening practice session was disrupted when a cleaning truck spilt diesel onto the track. Final practice on Saturday morning saw Carlos Sainz have a huge accident, smashing at high speed into the barriers and being trapped inside the car at turn 13. The Spaniard was airlifted to hospital as a precaution, thankfully being given the go ahead to race on Sunday after the medical staff gave him the all clear.

In qualifying Mercedes once again proved dominant with Nico Rosberg taking pole for the second time in a row with Hamilton second. Vettel started fourth with Raikkonen fifth. Bottas split the Mercedes and Ferraris to head the second row for Williams.

When we got to the start Rosberg kept Hamilton behind him on the first lap, Raikkonen had a great start to make his way up to third. Meanwhile, further back down the grid, Ericsson got caught up in Hulkenberg’s spin and both retired but also brought out the safety car.

Once the track was cleared of debris, the racing restarted with Bottas overtaking Raikkonen on the main straight. It seemed as if the Ferrari driver has issues with straight line speed. Rosberg complaind on the radio that he had throttle pedal problems, which appeard to be getting worse as Hamilton suddenly passed him with ease. He finally pitted to see if his mechanics could solve the problem, getting out of the car as the fault appeared to be in the cockpit area. As expected there was s no quick fix so he had to retire from the race.

It looks now as if Hamilton has one hand on the trophy. But there’s also a great incentive for Vettel following Rosberg’s retirement. Being the tough competitor that he is, he could still finish second in the drivers’ championship which would be a great performance considering how strong the Mercedes has been all year.

Grosjean had a spectacular crash as he lost control in turn 3 whilst behind Button. He was fortunately okay but it brings another SC period. Once the safety car came into the pits, Vettel overtook Raikkonen on the main straight, the latter still complaining of car issues. A great pit stop strategy by the Ferrari team saw Vettel undercut Bottas for second but Raikkonen just missed out as Bottas stayed third.

My contender for driver of the day, Sainz, who made his way up to seventh, retired after a spin and damage to his rear wing. I’m not sure whether you would call it bravery or lunacy as a Russian marshall ran onto the track to pick up debris as Vettel’s Ferrari brushes past him.

With all the action happening behind the race leader, it’s easy to forget that Hamilton is on track as he eased to his forty-second victory, which put him on equal race wins with Vettel.

The main battle as the race came to a conclusion was for the last podium spot between Perez, Bottas and Raikkonen. Perez was having a great race in third but his tyres were struggling and the two Finns were catching him at a fast rate. With two laps left, Bottas and Raikkonen overtook him on the same corner as he tried to defend his position. Into the last lap and we were desperate to see this battle reach a conclusion which would have two Ferrari drivers on the podium. Raikkonen, however, made an uncharacteristic error as he went into a corner far too hot and tried to squeeze past Bottas on the inside. This resulted in Bottas being pitched into the barriers and Raikkonen nursing his damaged car round to the chequered flag.

Hamilton won again to take a step closer to back-to-back championships, Vettel took second whilst Perez took  the final podium step after expecting his chance had gone. A great drive from the former Ferrari driver saw Massa finish fourth. Raikkonen managed to limp home to finish fifth. A stewards’ enquiry, however, was announced to take place after the race regarding his incident with Bottas.

The stewards gave Raikkonen a 30-sec penalty which moved him back to eighth. Had he been on the podium Mercedes would have had to box up their winning constructors tee-shirts and put the champagne on ice until the next GP in Texas. However due to Raikkonen’s penalty Mercedes are now confirmed as constructors’ champions. It is now left to Vettel to spoil the party by splitting the Mercedes in the drivers’ championship.

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