Thursday, May 5, 2016

Four-For-Four: Rosberg Conquers Russian Grand Prix in Perfect Season Start


In the first two grand prix events held at the Sochi Autodrom, the late season placement in the Formula 1 schedule meant the race served as a locale where the final statements of a season's worth of effort was filed. Repositioned to the early part of the 2016 Formula 1 season, the Russian Grand Prix weekend as the fourth race on the calender meant the teams arrived in Sochi with less understanding on their performance abilities. After events of the first three races in the 2016 season, this year's outing in Russia on the 19-turn, 5.853-kilometer track was 53 laps of increased uncertainty.

Last year, Lewis Hamilton's win at the Russian Grand Prix was a near-decisive victory for his third championship. Hamilton would later win the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas to official claim the 2015 World Drivers' Championship. Since winning the title, Hamilton has been struggling while his Mercedes AMG teammate Nico Rosberg has been on an all-time career high. Winning the last three races of 2015, Rosberg has also claimed victories in the first three events of 2016. Taking the pole at the Russian Grand Prix for a second-straight season, Rosberg was intent to explore better luck than a lap 7 retirement suffered at last year's Russian Grand Prix.


Accepting the 2016 Russian Grand Prix a new possibility for victory, the Mercedes AMG race car in the hands of Nico Rosberg took full advantage of the start to position the Williams-Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in his rear-view mirrors. For the second consecutive event, Lewis Hamilton suffered a power unit problem in qualifying. An issue that presented itself in the Q3 session, the unavailable power in meant Hamilton started 10th. Through a well-executed start, the reigning world champion had climbed to 5th place.

Not every driver experienced the fortune that found the #44 Mercedes AMG car. In fact, a chaotic opening launch claimed three cars even before they could complete a single lap. The Manor-Mercedes of Rio Haryanto, the Force India-Mercedes of Nico Hulkenberg and most notably Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari experienced a very short 2016 Russian Grand Prix. In the case of Vettel, it seemed a five grid position penalty for a gearbox change accrued after Friday practice was extremely costly. At the start, the Ferrari came under immediate attack from the Red Bull Racing machine of Daniil Kvyat. As the Russia native fought to present a strong showing in front of his home country fans, his ambitions led to two rear collisions on Vettel's Ferrari resulting in the red car's race ending the wall. Ruled at-fault for the incident, Kyvat was assessed a 10-second stop and hold penalty in the race on lap 8. The wild start to the Russian Grand Prix led the safety car to be called onto the track for several laps.  


Shortly after the safety car returned to pit lane, the leading Mercedes AMG pulled off to a vast lead before the first pit stop. As the race progressed, the one-stop strategy Pirelli predicted was undertaken by the majority of the field. Rosberg pitted on lap 21 and eventually ended up with a 12-second lead. The second place position would change as a hard-charging Lewis Hamilton soared by the Williams-Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas under DRS after his pit stop and before the midway point of the 53-lap event. Though Hamilton was able to initially close-in on his teammate, the interval widened as Rosberg soon bettered his own pace.

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

At the end of 53 laps, a comfortable 25.022-second lead gave Nico Rosberg the confidence of claiming his fourth win in the four grand prix races of 2016. Other drivers who has started a Formula 1 season by winning the first four races include Ayrton Senna in 1991, Nigel Mansell in 1992 and Michael Schumacher in 1994 as well as in 2004. In every one of those examples, the driver has gone on the win the Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship. Although the 2016 season is still young, the German has compiled 100 points and outranks second place in the season's standings by 43 points.

Runner-up in the race after a masterful recovery, Lewis Hamilton being overshadowed by his teammate has been a change following recent past seasons. The contentiousness of the Mercedes AMG drivers is certain to carry through in 2016. Even Rosberg recognizes Hamilton is likely to be force as this Formula 1 season continues.

While one Ferrari SF16-H was forced out early in the Russian Grand Prix, the second team car posted a competitive effort with a podium finish. Crossing the finish line a little under 7 seconds after Lewis Hamilton, Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen posted has recorded two podium results in the three races following his fiery end at the Australian Grand Prix.

The Williams Martini Racing claimed the two highest non-podium positions at the end of the 2016 Russian Grand Prix with Valtteri Bottas in fourth place leading Felipe Massa who finished fifth. So far this season, the Williams Martini Racing drivers have achieved one impressive feat that allows them to hold the same begging rights as the Mercedes AMG drivers. In the first four races, Bottas and Massa have collected points in every grand prix outing.

The top-10 results for the Russian Grand Prix saw some striving Formula 1 race teams posting great finishes. Scoreless in the constructor standing entering Russia, McLaren left with a double-point scoring result as Fernando Alonso brought his Honda-powered MP4-31 car across to the chequered flag sixth while Jenson Button fought to grab the race's final point in 10th place. In 7th place, the Renault Sport Formula One Team formed from the remnants of last year's Lotus F1 Team took a monumental first set of points. Team veteran Kevin Magnussen claimed his first Formula 1 points since Brazil of 2014 when he drove for McLaren. Sergio Perez took ninth place after 53 laps also collecting his first point-scoring finish for 2016.

In eighth place, Romain Grosjean continues a miraculous 2016 Formula 1 with a race team that was built largely from stretch. The Ferrari-engined race car of the Haas F1 Team wheeled by Grosjean has scored points in three of the first four grand prix events. Haas F1 Team is currently ranked in fifth place in the Constructors' Standings currently ahead Toro Rosso and McLaren in the point tally

For the first time since last season's Japanese Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing has left a grand prix without scoring points. A dubious result that has only happened a total of four times since the start of the 2011 season, the both Red Bull-TAG Heuer cars had a poor result in Russia despite encouraging starting positions. While Daniil Kvyat's early race drama ultimately led to his 15th place result, Daniel Ricciardo's also sustained damage in the opening lap. Both Red Bull Racing cars operated on a two-stop strategy that failed to provide the team with the edge to claim a top-10 result. To Kvyat's credit, he did take full responsibility for the rough start and apologized.

The next race on the 2016 Formula 1 tour is the first race on Europe continent. The Spanish Grand Prix is scheduled for May 16th on the Circuit de Catalunya.

2016 Formula 1
Russian Grand Prix
Race Results

1 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
4 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Mercedes-Benz
5 19 Felipe Massa Williams F1 Mercedes-Benz
6 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda
7 20 Kevin Magnussen Renault Renault
8 8 Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Ferrari
9 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
10 22 Jenson Button McLaren Honda
11 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull TAG Heuer
12 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
13 30 Jolyon Palmer Renault Renault
14 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
15 26 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull TAG Heuer
16 12 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari
17 9 Esteban Gutierrez Haas F1 Team Ferrari
18 28 Pascal Wehrlein Manor Mercedes-Benz
19 33 Max Verstappen Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
20 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
21 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
22 98 Rio Haryanto Manor Mercedes-Benz

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