By Shwetha Surendran
BU News Service
“To whom it may concern: f— you” was Valtteri Bottas’s radio message to his critics after winning the Russian Grand Prix Sunday. His Mercedes crossed the line 7.7 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the packed Sochi Autodrom, with teammate Lewis Hamilton settling for a distant third after serving two five-second penalties mid-race for a practice start infringements.
Twenty cars lined up on the grid in Sochi, but a chaotic start saw only 18 make it into lap two, bringing out the safety car and pausing the race early on.
Driving for McLaren, Carlos Sainz Jr. clipped the wall while rejoining the track at Turn 2, and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll didn’t make it much further – Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc hit him in the right rear tire in what was ruled a racing incident by stewards after a brief investigation.
When the race restarted, both Renaults ran comfortably in fourth and fifth, followed by Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, Leclerc, and Haas’s Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10.
Sochi Autodrom is a track that usually doesn’t allow for too many bold overtakes or wheel-to-wheel battles. But three members of Formula One’s twitch quartet – Alexander Albon, Lando Norris and George Russell – didn’t seem to mind taking their chances. Fighting over 16th position, the respectful, yet fierce racing between the young trio showed glimpses of what fans can expect from Formula One in the future.
Despite that, Albon’s performance was again sub-par, finishing P10 on a race weekend where his teammate, Verstappen, split the Mercedes drivers on the podium.
Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, a driver whose performance hasn’t often made the most significant impression, was on a charge Sunday, pulling off not one, but two stellar overtakes. For AlphaTauri, Daniil Kvyat also drove a superior race, nearly edging out Renault’s Esteban Ocon for seventh place on the penultimate lap.
Considering the slump Ferrari has been in this year, Sochi was one of the kinder circuits, with Leclerc finishing sixth. However, despite running in the points for 12 laps, Sebastian Vettel finished an abysmal thirteenth, outpaced by both Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen and Giovinazzi.
With Bottas too far ahead, Hamilton too far behind and 2019 rival Leclerc in an uncompetitive car, Verstappen spent the whole race in no man’s land. Finishing second after a faultless drive, the Dutchman was voted “Driver of the Day” and took the first podium for Red Bull at Sochi.
The weekend started as a dream for Hamilton, with excitement building over his chances of tying Michael Schumacher’s record for the most wins in Formula One. However, race day, what started as a dream became agony instead. Hamilton was hit with penalties during the race and barely scraped into Q3.
A frustrated Hamilton slammed the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) stewards for supposedly trying to stop him and called the penalties “ridiculous” in a post-race interview with Sky Sports F1.
But it could have been much worse. Hamilton was also handed down two penalty points – adding to his current total of eight – which put him just two points shy of a full race ban. Fortunately for him, the FIA retracted the penalties and handed Mercedes a hefty fine of 25,000 euros instead.
If anyone was working overtime on Sunday, it was the race stewards. With track limits firmly set, the notorious straight into Turn 2 and 3 saw many drivers go wide and rejoin the track against the race director’s instructions. Albon, Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo all had five-second time penalties added to their race time upon completion.
While it wasn’t the strongest race weekend for Hamilton and the record dangling just out of his reach, it’s only a matter of time before he gets there. For Bottas, the win could be precisely what he needs to mount a serious challenge for the championship in its closing stages. As for Mercedes, the Netflix curse continues – they’re going to need to reevaluate, allowing camera crews into their garage.
The action continues in Germany at the infamous Nürburgring on Oct. 9-11 for the Eifel Grand Prix.