By Daniel Wilson.
Any of you that read my last post would know I gave the Russian Grand Prix a bit of a hard time over its lack of excitement last year. But I’m happy to say I’m now eating some humble pie.
Sunday’s race served up a treat – yes, another dominant display by Lewis Hamilton that puts him on the verge of claiming his third world title – but behind him, what a duel!
An early retirement by Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg set up a tasty battle for the podium. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel claimed his fourth podium in succession by finishing second – a result that takes him seven points above Rosberg and into second in the drivers standings.
But it was the final podium place that even on the final lap was far from decided. And it all came about because of a strategy which I myself have criticised. I spoke about how the low-grip, smooth layout means most drivers can easily complete 53 laps in Sochi by making only one stop.
Romain Grosjean’s high speed accident around turn three on lap 12 brought out an inevitable safety car – prompting many cars in the mid-field to pit whereas the leaders did not. And when the safety car piled off the track five laps later, it turned out some drivers were sitting pretty – namely Force India’s Sergio Perez and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
So, when the leaders pitted near half way, the two drivers found themselves battling for third place after jumping Valterri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen.
But for Ricciardo, it was yet another reliability issue that saw him retire late on, leaving Perez under attack from the two Fins – and ultimately, with just over a lap to go, both were past – but not for long.
Now free from the Force India, the pair had one lap to scrap over the final podium spot, and it all ended in tears. A late lung down the inside of Bottas at turn four knocked the Williams driver out and a red-faced Raikkonen limping across the line in fifth. Perez meanwhile was gifted the team’s first podium since Bahrain last year – and cemented their place into fifth in the constructors.
The head of that table was wrapped up hours later when a 30 second penalty for Kimi demoted him to eighth, giving Mercedes the points they needed to clinch their second constructors title.
As for Lewis Hamilton, a 66-point lead in the championship means he has a mega chance of becoming a triple world champion in Austin in two weeks. Will he do it – you’d have to be a brave man to bet otherwise.#
Meanwhile, F1 leaves Russia for just six months as the paddock and Russian President Vladimir Putin smile in the reflection of a dramatic race in Sochi.