Supreme Hamilton wins it for Mercedes: Russian GP review

By on Sunday, October 12, 2014
Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

That Formula 1’s first visit to Russia will remembered for an awkward and politically fuelled pre-podium room reflects the lack of action on-track. As the injured Jules Bianchi remained prominent in everyone’s thoughts, Formula 1 delivered one of its most action-free races in several seasons. Pre-weekend comparisons of the Sochi Autodrom to the loathed Valencia Street Circuit didn’t bode well, but even so, Lewis Hamilton’s ninth win of the year was achieved with consummate ease, while rivals behind him also had a low-key time.

Pirelli’s understandably conservative approach meant that a one stop strategy was on the cards but for Nico Rosberg, his lone pit stop came at the end of lap one when his exuberance got the better of him.

Hamilton led away from pole position but Rosberg got a run on his rival as the pack of 21 steamed down towards the first braking zone at Turn Two. As Hamilton chose his braking point, Rosberg kept going and when he hit the anchors it was way too late. Both tyres locked up and he skated straight on, cutting the apex and emerging at the head of the pack. He had to concede the position to Hamilton before stopping at the end of the lap.

From there it was plain sailing for Hamilton as he gradually extended his lead over Valtteri Bottas and made his sole stop for Prime tyres just after mid-distance, emerging from the long pit lane comfortably ahead of the Williams driver. This was a race akin to the Bridgestone era, with no concerns over tyre management, allowing Hamilton to run his own pace at the head of the pack.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

“Once I was out in the lead I was really just having to control, just looking after the tyres, managing the fuel was quite straightforward,” said Hamilton, who equalled Nigel Mansell’s British record of 31 Grands Prix wins. “And then, towards the end of the race the car felt great so I could push or not push. I wasn’t really having to push much and even when I was having to pick up the pace a little bit when I eventually found Nico was behind, it was easy to match the times.”

As soon as Hamilton crossed the line he collected the 25 points for Mercedes that won them their first ever Constructors' championship and ended Red Bull's four year reign as the top. Technically, though, it was another title for 'Team Brackley', who won the crown as Brawn GP in 2009.

Bottas was unable to finish in second as Rosberg mounted a recovery from 20th place. The German was somewhat fortunate that Pirelli’s conservatism meant his lap one error was not as costly as it could have been, but he still made good use of Mercedes's pace. Having eased his way through on the midfield, Rosberg used DRS to slip by on Bottas, while Williams’s belief that the Mercedes driver would have to pit again was evidently misplaced.

Rosberg, though, was left to rue his error at the start.

“It was just a mistake on my side, braked too late and that’s it,” he said. “Very unnecessary because it was my corner and should have been in the lead after that. So, obviously very disappointed with that. After that my tyres were just square. They were vibrating so much I couldn’t see where I was going so I knew that I had to pit.”

Bottas admitted that his comparatively slow pace after his stop for Prime tyres was crucial.

“The [Option] tyres were feeling good and suddenly the rear tyres started to go, started to lose pace and was struggling more and more and Lewis was getting far away,” he said.

“Then we stopped for the Prime and it took just a really long time to get the Prime tyre to work. It was just getting better towards the end. I did my best lap in the last lap of the race. It was really weird. And as it took so long to get the tyres to work, Nico got me in Turn One. It was a bit of a surprise for me, didn’t expect him to come inside. Luckily I saw him in time so there was no contact. Yeah, as a team I think we again did a good job. We’ve come so much forward from last season so it’s again, really good to be on the podium.”

Williams Martini Racing

Williams Martini Racing

McLaren was quick all weekend in Sochi and Jenson Button ran strongly throughout the race, fending off Fernando Alonso across the opening stint before putting some distance between him and the Ferrari driver. The Italian squad never had the pace and Alonso’s race was exacerbated by a problem with the front jack at his stop, dropping him behind Kevin Magnussen, who recovered well from 11th on the grid.

Alonso held on to sixth place, while Daniel Ricciardo clung to the back of the Ferrari driver but was never quick enough to seriously challenge his rival.

Sebastian Vettel had headed Ricciardo during the first stint, but stayed out too long and emerged from his stop behind his team-mate, eventually coming home in eighth.

Kimi Räikkönen lost out at the start when he was edged towards the wall by one of the Toro Rosso drivers and a subsequent lack of straight line speed hindered him further on his way to ninth, while Sergio Pérez managed excessive fuel consumption concerns to claim the final point for 10th place.

After a fuel pressure problem left Felipe Massa 18th on the grid, Williams opted to stop the Brazilian on the opening lap and run a two-stop strategy. It was an aggressive approach but he finished just outside of the top 10 thanks to traffic.

Nico Hülkenberg only made slight progress from a lowly grid progress while Toro Rosso had a miserable day.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Jean-Éric Vergne made a combative start and was involved in the most entertaining moment of the race while battling with Magnussen early on. The Dane made a pass into Turn Two but Vergne hung on around the outside of Turn Three to hold his position, albeit only temporarily as Magnussen used DRS a lap later. But the pace of the STR9 was nowhere near as strong as it was over a single lap due to both drivers having to save fuel. Vergne came home in 13th, while Daniil Kvyat regressed from fifth to 14th, matters accentuated by having to make an extra stop.

Sauber pair Esteban Gutiérrez and Adrian Sutil were 15th and 16th, with Sutil losing time after spinning while battling with Romain Grosjean. Stewards rather harshly deemed the Frenchman was at fault and handed him a penalty, but he still beat Lotus team-mate Pastor Maldonado to the chequered flag. He was also handed two penalty points for his misdemeanour.

Marcus Ericsson was a distant 19th for Caterham, while Kamui Kobayashi and Max Chilton were the only retirements.

But while the 53 laps were largely forgettable, one image from the weekend will linger. Prior to the race the 21 drivers assembled at the front of the grid and formed a circle, linking arms to show their solidarity for Bianchi. This is a sport full of rivalries and complex intricacies, but also one which is, first and foremost, a family.

F1 Grand Prix of Russia

144Lewis HamiltonMercedesWinner125
26Nico RosbergMercedes+13.6 secs218
377Valtteri BottasWilliams-Mercedes+17.4 secs315
422Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes+30.2 secs412
520Kevin MagnussenMcLaren-Mercedes+53.6 secs1110
614Fernando AlonsoFerrari+60.0 secs78
73Daniel RicciardoRed Bull Racing-Renault+61.8 secs66
81Sebastian VettelRed Bull Racing-Renault+66.1 secs104
97Kimi RäikkönenFerrari+78.8 secs82
1011Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes+80.0 secs121
1119Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes+80.8 secs18
1227Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes+81.3 secs17
1325Jean-Eric VergneSTR-Renault+97.2 secs9
1426Daniil KvyatSTR-Renault+1 Lap5
1521Esteban GutierrezSauber-Ferrari+1 Lap13
1699Adrian SutilSauber-Ferrari+1 Lap14
178Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault+1 Lap15
1813Pastor MaldonadoLotus-Renault+1 Lap21
199Marcus EricssonCaterham-Renault+2 Lap16
Ret10Kamui KobayashiCaterham-Renault+32 Laps19
Ret4Max ChiltonMarussia-Ferrari+44 Laps20

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