2020 Russian Grand Prix Blog
All eyes were on Lewis Hamilton in Sochi. Win the race and he would equal Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 91 race victories, but in truth Lewis had a far from easy time throughout the weekend.
During Qualifying, Hamilton had his first Q2 time deleted for infringing track limits. This was not a major concern until Sebastian Vettel suffered a heavy crash at Turn 4 and the session was red flagged with just over 2 minutes to go. Now Mercedes had a problem – could Hamilton complete his warmup lap and start his flying lap in the time frame? Cold tyres didn’t help matters and all of the teams had a dilemma, should they be at the front of the queue to leave the pit lane and risk the tyres getting too cold or should they hold their cars back in the garage to keep tyres warm? Mercedes opted to do the latter with Hamilton coming out towards the back of the pack. He still had grip problems on his out lap but crucially managed to cross the line in time and made no mistake in setting a time, ultimately finishing in pole position to start the race.
Sunday came around and there was drama even in the race build-up. Hamilton asked Mercedes if he could do practice starts from further along the pit lane than usual. They said he could. The stewards disagreed and early in the race Hamilton was handed two separate 5 second time penalties for infringing the rules, which effectively ended his chances of victory. Speaking after the race, Lewis got the conspiracy theorists excited, by saying: “It is to be expected. They’re trying to stop me, aren’t they?” We think this may be over exaggerating things but there is no doubt the penalty was perhaps a little harsh.
The race itself got off to a messy start. Carlos Sainz was jostling to hold onto sixth place when he went wide into the runoff area at Turn 2. The rules dictate that drivers can re-join the track only after negotiating the marker bollards, but as he tried to swerve through them at high speed the Spaniard clipped the wall and ripped off his front left tyre. His race was over.
More problems followed at Turn 4 when Charles Leclerc tagged the right rear tyre of Lance Stroll, sending the Racing Point driver spinning into the barriers and bringing out a Safety Car. Stroll felt the stewards should have reacted, saying afterwards: “I gave him all the room I could. It was unlucky but he could have avoided it, he didn’t have to run so wide into me. It’s kind of ridiculous that he didn’t get a penalty.”
Following the restart, the Grand Prix fell into a more rhythmic pattern and once Hamilton had served his penalty the race was Valterri Bottas’ to lose. The Finn kept his head and steered his car home in front. We actually feel a bit sorry for Bottas because, despite winning, the mood in the Mercedes garage was icy after the race. The team clearly believed Lewis Hamilton had been unfairly treated and this took the gloss off their victory.
Renault enjoyed a good afternoon, finishing in P5 and P7 respectively. Daniel Ricciardo was especially upbeat about his fifth-place finish having been handed a 5 second time penalty for going wide at Turn 2. In Ricciardo’s words he said it: “Lit a bit of a fire under my bum.” The pace of the Renault looked good and this will give them confidence for the remaining races.
Despite his first lap tangle with Lance Stroll, Charles Leclerc also deserves a lot of credit for his performance. It is fair to say that he outdrove the car and a top 6 is maybe better than Ferrari really deserved, but they will take it!
The F1 teams have next weekend off but will return in two weeks’ time for the Eifel Grand Prix at Nurburgring. This region of Germany in early October can be cold and often very wet, combined with a less then familiar circuit, we have all the ingredients for a great race!
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