The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Russia : Hamilton Again Makes it Easy for Rosberg

10-05-2016

Report by Paul Robinson

 

If we take away all the off-track distractions such as the qualifying format fiasco and the complexity of the engine regulations, the racing has been very entertaining so far this season.  With all the first lap incidents, it is difficult to project how competitive the teams are at this stage. We do know that Rosberg has made the best start to a campaign since Michael Schumacher in 2004 and is only the fourth driver in the history of the sport to win six consecutive races. Will the Russian Grand Prix be the first clean, straightforward race to give us more indication and answers?  Hamilton has won the previous two GPs in Sochi. Will he be back on the top spot of the podium or will the prancing horse gallop through to break Nico’s impressive run?

The focus and debate for the first free practice on Friday was the cockpit canopy test on Ricciardo’s Red Bull. He was allowed to do a lap of the circuit to give feedback on its development, which is an alternative to the halo device previously tested on Raikkonen’s car in Spain. First impressions of the named ‘aeroscreen’ are it looks more elegant and superior than the halo concept. Would you believe Mclaren did however test a similar style canopy at Silverstone over 30 years ago?  The main issues will be the driver escaping the car if upside down, visibility when it rains, the performance, and airflow of the car.  One thing is for sure, the FIA will need to get this decision right especially with all the controversy within the sport behind the scenes at present.

Back on track, Hamilton ended Friday’s second free practice session on top of the timesheets by a strong margin, followed by Vettel, whose car stopped on track with electrical problems.  Rosberg was 0.867 seconds behind Hamilton’s pace in third, followed by Raikkonen in fourth. As well as Ferrari’s lack of pace, they will also be  concerned by the car’s reliability, as they seem to be pushing the car close to the edge to close the gap with the Mercedes.  Ferrari would have to use a different strategy for Vettel in the race due to his grid penalty, so Saturday’s free practice, which again saw Hamilton and Rosberg topping the timesheets respectively, was an important use of time to prepare the car for an alternative startegy.

It is hard to think what Hamilton needs to do to have a clean weekend after his car suffered another power unit failure on his final lap of Q2.  This meant he had to start tenth on the grid as he was unable  to complete a time for Q3.  Ricciardo also had a difficult Q2 with his mirror hanging off and flapping around the steering wheel, until it eventually fell off onto the track. With this distraction he still managed to get through to Q3 to start 5th for the race. Rosberg again was unchallenged and aborted his final run knowing his lap was good enough for pole. Vettel moved from second to seventh due to his grid penalty.  Bottas moved up to the front row with Raikkonen third. Perez continued his great form by finishing half a second faster than his team mate to claim 6th on the grid.  Local boy Kyvat scraped through to Q3 to battle the final part to start 8th for his home Grand Prix.

As the red lights went out and they all charged to the first corner, Rosberg as expected got there first, and Raikkonen passed Bottas for second. Vettel who needed some overtakes on the opening lap, got hit twice on the first two corners by Kvyat.  This is the last person Kvyat wants to contact after the first lap incident in China when Vettel called him a ‘madman’ for his ‘torpedo style’ pass up the inside of the first corner.  The German, who ended up in the barriers with a crash-damaged Ferrari, responded with a rant on the team radio including a series of bleeped out swear words. He then took command of a scooter and got himself back to the pits to have a word with his former boss, Christian Horner, on the Red Bull pitwall.  Kvyat’s first lap at his home Grand Prix looked like that of a novice on a Playstation. With Verstappen and Sainz showing good progression in their careers, he must be worried his time might be coming to an end in the senior Red Bull team. Another driver causing havoc on the first lap was Gutierrez who locked his front wheels and wiped out Hulkenberg and Haryanto to end their race.

With all the first lap calamities, Hamiton was straight up to fourth and knew he needed to get past Bottas and Raikkonen as soon as possible before Rosberg created a big gap up front. Raikkonen was caught napping and allowed Bottas into second and then got passed by Hamilton, who now had a podium place and must be thinking he can win this race.

Bottas was  unlucky in the early pit stops as he got passed by Hamilton and was then caught behind Alonso, who still had to pit. This allowed Raikkonen, who pitted afterwards, to come out in front of Bottas.  A great chance for Raikkonen to get at least a podium in another tough weekend for Ferrari. Hamiton was slowly catching Rosberg who so far had an easy race at the front. We hoped we were going to get a great battle at the end until we heard on the radio that Hamilton had a water pressure issue. He therefore had to back off to nurse his car to the finish, a very disappointing end to the race for Hamilton fans and an end to a much-anticipated battle.

The race then settled down and ended with Rosberg winning his fourth race of the season, with his teammate having to settle for second. Raikkonen managed to get Ferrari’s 700th podium in third.  McLaren, showing steady improvement, finish sixth with Alonso – who seemed to be having a lot of fun in the race exploring the car’s capabilities  – and his team mate, Button, in tenth.  Magnussen, who was my driver of the day, finished seventh to claim Renault’s first points of the campaign.

With still seventeen races left as we head to Spain in two weeks time can anyone catch Rosberg who is already 43 points ahead of his team mate? With all his incidents this year is it  already over for Vettel and will Red Bull drop Kvyat for the superstar in the making Verstappen? We haven’t got long to wait until we find out.