After their resounding team success at the Singapore GP, Ferrari were the main challengers to Mercedes’ winning streak at Sochi. The Silver Arrows were still the favourites to win but Ferrari’s pace in final practise and qualifying forced the defending champions to consider an alternative strategy.
With no answer for Leclerc and Ferrari’s pace around the Sochi Autodrom, Mercedes opted to have both driver’s start on medium compound tyres instead. Charles was able to take his fourth consecutive pole position while Lewis just about managed to get himself onto the front row, pushing Sebastian to third on the grid. Valtteri Bottas was only fifth fastest behind Max Verstappen but started fourth. The Red Bull Racing drivers had a grid penalty for new power unit elements and so Max started ninth while Alex Albon’s car needed plenty of new parts after his crash in qualifying so he started last on the grid.
The Renault powered teams showed good pace too as McLaren’s Carlos Sainz started fifth on the grid while teammate Lando Norris started seventh. Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg started between them and Daniel Ricciardo was 10th fastest. Romain Grosjean was able to start eighth on the grid in the Haas that has been struggling for form all season.
Given the layout of the Sochi circuit, starting from Pole isn’t always the best result as it allows the car behind to get a decent slipstream before the first big braking zone. Vettel gets a good start behind Leclerc as the lights go out. Leclerc covers the inside to hold off Hamilton while Vettel uses the slipstream to get past and moves into P1 as they entered Turn 2. Leclerc doesn’t defend too hard against his teammate, almost as if Ferrari had discussed it as one of the strategies.
Just a couple of laps in Leclerc was on the radio, asking for his position back and the team seemed to agree. With the Mercs on slower tyres some way back, Sebastian got the message to let Charles by and the German didn’t sound too pleased about it. Instead, he picked up the pace making it harder for his teammate to follow and to pass him without risking an attack from the Mercs. Ferrari’s radio messages to Vettel were greeted by silence while Leclerc was sure to make his feelings about the situation quite clear. The German had gone rogue.
Leclerc fell back a few seconds behind Vettel while Hamilton was doing his best to keep withing visual range of Italian stallion. Running on the medium tyres, the Merc would pit later but they needed to make the most of the advantage by staying on Ferrari’s heels.
Charles got the undercut advantage, pitting on Lap 22 for a set of medium tyres and came out in P4 with both Silver Arrows ahead of him. Vettel was leading the race but running short on grip and finally made his pitstop after 26 Laps but came out behind Leclerc. All seemed well, the two drivers had exchanged positions and were on schedule to retake the lead when Mercedes would pit their drivers. But it all went tits-up for the Maranello crew on Lap 28.
The MGU-K unit on Vettel’s Ferrari seemed to have packed up and to avoid further damage to the powertrain, the team asked him to stop the car right away. Seb pulled over, quite furious of course, with one last radio message that was broadcast to the public: “Bring back the fucking V12s”. Indeed.
Seb’s retirement on track triggered the Virtual Safety Car, allowing Mercedes the perfect window to pit both Lewis and Valtteri that lap. Lewis is leading the race on fresh soft compound tyres, 8-or-so seconds ahead of Leclerc who is on medium tyres with Bottas just behind him. On Lap 30, George Russell had a crash under VSC which brings out the safety car and allowed the pack to bunch up. For some reason, Ferrari chose this moment to pit Leclerc and put him on the same tyres as the Mercedes. The Monegasque rejoined the race in P3 with around 20 laps to go.
The race resumed on Lap 33 with Lewis Hamilton in the lead followed by Bottas and Leclerc. The Brit doesn’t waste any time in putting some distance between him and his rivals, setting the fastest lap times on his way. Charles was pushing Valtteri but the Finn was driving a great defensive line to hang onto P2. The Ferrari had pace in the straight bits but the Merc’s aero package was better in the corners. Leclerc was able to close the gap every time but Turns 16 through 19 Bottas could pull away just enough to be out of DRS range at the next detection point.
In the end, Mercedes claimed a one-two finish at the Russian GP, their 8th this season, maintaining their unbeaten record at the circuit. Ferrari was unlucky, but some blame has to fall on Vettel as well for deviating from the agreed strategy and putting them in a lose-lose circumstance. On the back of the Singapore spat, the relationship between Seb and Charles seems to be turning sour, one race at a time.
It was Lewis’ first win since the summer break, extending his lead in the 2019 Driver’s championship to 73 points ahead of Valtteri and 107 points ahead of Leclerc. Mercedes is also a step closer to taking their sixth consecutive constructor’s title with a 162 point lead over second-place Scuderia Ferrari.
Max Verstappen finished P4 while teammate Alex Albon had an incredible drive to finish P5 after starting from the pit lane. Here’s a quick sum-up of the rookie’s performance at the 2019 Russian GP:
Sainz got another best-of-the-rest finish for McLaren in P6 and Norris continued their double-point streak as he finished P8. Sainz was actually in P4, ahead of Bottas, for the first few laps of the race. Sergio Perez managed to secure a P7 finish to get a few improve the Racing Point score while Lance Stroll just missed out in P11.
The next point for grabs went to Kevin Magnussen who finished P9, earning Haas their first championship points in the last five races. Magnussen was P8 across the finish line but he had earned a 5-second time penalty for leaving the track and not using the dedicated exit lane to return.
Romain Grosjean, who had started from a good place on the grid, was the first retirement of the race after he crashed on Lap 1. Grosjean was on the outside line into the right-hander, Ricciardo in the inside line and Antonio Giovinazzi between them with nowhere to go. All three collided with the Haas being thrown into the air and the barriers while the Renault sent for a spin. This was the first time the SC was deployed in this race. Daniel was forced to retire too, halfway through the race. However, Renault was able to take a token point from the Russian GP thanks to Nico Hulkenberg’s P10 finish. The factory team is now 33 points behind McLaren.
Toro Rosso was unable to score any points as Daniil Kvyat finished P12 and Pierre Gasly in P14 but the Frenchman did put up a good fight against Albon early in the race. Alfa Romeo’s woes continued at the Russian GP with another point-free result. Giovinazzi finished last in P15 after starting 12th on the grid, while Kimi Raikkonen finished P13. The Finn was 15th on the starting grid, but jumped the lights and was handed a drive-through penalty. This is Kimi’s longest streak of no-point finishes since 2006.
Neither of the Williams Racing cars saw the chequered flag at the 2019 Russian GP. Robert Kubica retired the car in the pits but George Russell had a bit of brake failure when he slid into the wall during the VSC.
The 2019 Formula 1 season still has five races in it and Suzuka is the next circuit on the calendar. A track that could offer some intense racing action in the middle order and at the front too, if Honda’s new package can give the Red Bulls the pace they’ve been missing. Stay tuned for more, leave a like and share your thoughts on the Sochi GP in the comments below. Don’t forget to subscribe for the latest post updates.
Final race standings
- L. Hamilton Mercedes — 1:33:38.992
- V. Bottas Mercedes +3.829
- C. Leclerc Ferrari +5.212
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +14.210
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +38.348
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +45.889
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes + 48.728
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +57.749
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +58.779
- N. Hulkenberg Renault +59.841
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +60.821
- D. Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +62.496
- K. Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +68.910
- P. Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +70.076
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +73.346
- R. Kubica Williams Racing Mercedes DNF
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes DNF
- S. Vettel Ferrari DNF
- D. Ricciardo Renault DNF
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari DNF