Monday, September 28, 2020

Valuable Victory for Valtteri Bottas in Russian Grand Prix

Photo Credit: Steve Etherington/Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix

The tenth round of the 2020 Formula 1 championship, the 53-lap Russian Grand Prix is effectively the first race in the second half of the improvised season created due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A 5.848-kilometer race course assembled within a complex where the 2014 Winter Olympic games were held, the Sochi Autodrom was the second Formula 1 race to take place with spectators present. 

Winner of four of the past six events on the Russian course, Lewis Hamilton earned pole for the event but the honours for his Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team was tarnished slightly by the end of a 2020 streak. The Mercedes-AMG team’s front row ownership after qualifying concludes after nine rounds thanks to Max Verstappen driving his Red Bull RB16 to second place on the grid. Valtteri Bottas would start third for Mercedes-AMG F1 in an event where the organization has been historically strong in.

Photo Credit: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images/Pirelli

Lewis Hamilton was potentially setting the stage for a race victory that would tie him with Michael Schumacher as the most winningest Formula 1 driver. However, the Mercedes driver complicated his quest for his 91st win before the start by engaging in two practice starts as he left the pits to position his Mercedes-AMG race car on the grid during pre-race. Under investigation when the race commenced, race stewards issued Hamilton two five-second penalties in the early laps in Russia.

One race following the Tuscan Grand Prix that was remembered for crash-filled early laps, the start of the Russian Grand Prix presented two retirements due to collisions in the first session of the first lap. As the field entered through turn two, the #55 McLaren of Carlos Sainz Jr. went wide and misjudged his return to the track clipping the wall with the left front of his race car. The second casualty of the Russian Grand Prix was Lance Stroll. After a strong start where the Canadian moved from his 13th place starting spot to 7th, the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc impacted the side of Stroll’s Racing Point through the fourth turn. During the first lap that concluded with the appearance of a safety car (the fourth consecutive race where a Mercedes-AMG GT R was used while track crew removed debris after a race crash), Valtteri Bottas had been able to manoeuver his way around the Red Bull Racing to second place.  

Photo Credit: Andy Hone/LAT Images/Pirelli

In all the chaos of the opening lap, the two Haas F1 Team cars are able to work their way into the top 10 runners. Unfortunately for the American Formula 1 team, momentum of the early race surge didn’t last over the course of the 53-lap event. Both drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean have been vocal about the team’s struggle during the race weekend in Russia.

On lap 16, Lewis Hamilton relinquished the lead of the Russian Grand Prix when he pitted for tires. During the pit stop for the #44 car, Hamilton and Mercedes-AMG chose to serve the time penalty. The car would return to the track behind Bottas and Verstappen where it will remain out of contention for victory prolonging the six-time Formula 1 World Driving Champion’s pursuit tying Michael Schumacher’s win record.  

Pitting on once on lap 26, Valtteri Bottas would go on to win the Russian Grand Prix crossing the finish line 7.729 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen. Although Bottas has secured his spot with the Mercedes-AMG group for 2021, the Finnish driver was seeking a performance to quiet his critics. The pilot of the #77 car relished this triumph on the Sochi circuit. “Now I need to keep this momentum up. There are quite a few races to go and you just never know, so I’ll keep pushing, I won’t give up and we’ll see how it turns out in the end.” said Bottas in post-race comments issued by his race team. Valtteri Bottas’ victory maintains the Mercedes-AMG F1 team’s streak at the Russian Grand Prix. Since the Sochi race was added to the Formula 1 calendar in 2014, the German factory squad has won all seven annual events. Bottas have previous won the 2017 event that was also his first-career Formula 1 victory.

Photo Credit: Steve Etherington/Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix

After two races that ended in retirements, Max Verstappen took his Honda-powered Red Bull Racing machine to his seventh podium result for 2020. With Valtteri Bottas scoring first place points as well as the fastest lap in the Russian Grand Prix, Verstappen unfortunately lost some ground in this year’s drivers’ championship to the second-place position. The first and second place finishers of the 2020 Russian Grand Prix both started the event on medium compound Pirelli tires.

Photo Credit: Yuri Kochetkov/Getty Images for Red Bull Content Pool

While a third place finish isn’t the performance typical of Hamilton, it’s decent compared to the challenges presented to the championship contender throughout the 2020 Russian Grand Prix weekend. His pole qualifying performance followed a nervous Q2 where the driver of the #44 Mercedes-AMG succeeded to lock in a time with seconds remaining in the session after his initial lap time was disallowed due to exceeding track limits. Lewis Hamilton still holds a big lead in the drivers’ championship but the gasp is dropped to 44 points.

Following Lance Stroll’s second-consecutive race retirement, Racing Point’s dedication was to the #11 car of Sergio Perez. Fighting for a new ride for 2021, Mexico’s Perez scored a stellar fourth place serving as his best finish this season.

Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth with Renault but the effort for the French team in Russia is also marked by a poorly-executed strategy when the team cars were running together. Spotting that Ricciardo was faster, a team order was issued to Esteban Ocon to swap positions on track. However, as Esteban Ocon slowed to allow Daniel Ricciardo to pass entering turn 2, the #3 Renault braked heavily into the corner and overshot the track limits. The mistake resulted in five-second penalty being levied against Ricciardo and cost Ocon time on track that allowed Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to emerge from a pit stop between the two Renault F1 Team cars. Leclerc would finish the race in sixth place with Estaban Ocon taking seventh.

Competing in front of spectators in his home country, Daniil Kvyat drove a quiet yet productive race finishing in eighth place. Until this race, Kvyat had only scored points once in the Russian Grand Prix when he finished in fifth place driving for Red Bull Racing back in 2015.

Photo Credit: Dan Mullan/Getty Images for Red Bull Content Pool

The final two point-paying positions in the late laps of the Russian Grand Prix featured a strong three-way fight between McLaren’s Lando Norris, Red Bull Racing’s Alexander Albon and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. Pitting on the first lap for hard compound Pirelli slicks, Norris attempted to fend off Albon and Gasly (the latter driver pitted on lap 42 for new soft compound tires). After first battling and prevailing over the Red Bull Racing car, Gasly charged on Norris’ McLaren that was holding ninth place on lap 48. With his tires losing an effective life, Lando Norris fell prey to Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon on the same lap surrendering tenth place. Pitting at the end of the lap, Norris finished 15th after battle to stay in the points. The race ended as the first in the season where McLaren Racing failed to score constructors’ points.

Following a one week break, Formula 1 action will return with the Eifel Grand Prix taking place on Germany’s famous Nurburgring race track. 

2020 Formula 1 
Russian Grand Prix
Race Results

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