(And in other news, a McLaren finally finished another race.)
It only took 81 grand prixs to do it, but today, Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas finally won his first career F1 race at the Russian Grand Prix.
Bottas’s win was due first to a brilliant start at lights out. All weekend it looked as though Ferrari would dominate the race after doing so well during practice and qualifying sessions. With a Ferrari front row to start, a great start from Mercedes would be needed to make any progress or possibly win.
It all came down to the start and Bottas, with that Mercedes power, managed the straight and came out ahead of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari going into the second turn, essentially sealing his victory there.
And he almost lost his win the last few laps of the race. Vettel was moving quickly to close the gap between himself and Bottas–enough to get into that one-second range that would allow him to enable the DRS to pass with a little extra oomph. On the final lap Vettel closed the gap to below one second, but traffic prevented any easy maneuver. That traffic was Williams’s Felipe Massa. Bottas would successfully get around him, but it took too long for Vettel to do the same and make up that lost time.
Vettel was looking good to win too, as he was making great time in catching up with Bottas throughout the race. He was also the race leader for a considerable amount of time after Bottas had pitted for new tires. Ferrari had another strategy going with his tires and kept Vettel out well into lap 34/52. His exit would land him behind Bottas and he just didn’t have enough time to catch him. Perhaps they should have had him pit earlier–but, still, it was a fair fight until they crossed the finish.
Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton wasn’t really present for most of this race. We knew he was there, but he was experiencing overheating issues and was unable to perform like he does. The engineers claimed that both cars were experiencing these same issues, but we did not hear anything on Bottas’s car having the same problems. Nor was it severely impacting his performance.
Hamilton held a steady fourth despite the issues. It was no podium win, but he was there at least.
Which, that “there” is usually reserved for Red Bull these last few races. Daniel Ricciardo was looking good to make some progress this week, but his brakes caught fire in the first lap. He had to make it around most of the circuit before he could pit–which his brakes did give out by the last turn. He did make it into the pit area, but the damage was too substantial and he was retired.
Teammate Max Verstappen was directed to use more of the front brakes to prevent the same issue for the race, and managed to finish fifth without any problems. But he was not as prevalent as he usually is in these races as well.
Verstappen was also experiencing issues prior to the start of the race with a water pump issue they fixed with sealant–which luckily did last through the race.
With all these little issues springing up on these Red Bull cars, the team must be looking forward to the improvements coming forward in a couple of weeks in Barcelona.
Speaking of issues–McLaren wouldn’t be McLaren this week without one. Stoffel Vandoorne was fortunate enough to not suffer any (extra) issues this week and actually finished the race. Made it to the checkered flag. Miraculous.
Fernando Alonso didn’t experience that same luck and his car was retired in the warm up laps before lights out. His car just stalled on the track. He parked it and walked away.
Now, Alonso heads to the U.S. today to get ready for his first test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week, so at least he had something to look forward to. But just absolutely disappointing to see him continually suffer poor performance and the inability to even finish a race, week after week.
I wonder what he would be doing with McLaren if he didn’t have the Greatest Spectacle in Racing to look forward to right now.
Last, but not least, another solid performance from the Sahara Force India. Both drivers again scored points (placing 6th and 7th today), and are now fourth in the Constructor’s Championship. Force India’s Sergio Perez is even tied in Driver’s points with Red Bull’s Ricciardo, both with 22 points currently in the season. The little team that could has two great drivers with both Perez and Esteban Ocon, who are just doing spectacular. It bodes well for the team. Although catching up and so close with Red Bull is a bit of concern (for Red Bull, not Force India). But again, updates are on their way for Barcelona, and we can hope that perhaps, it might straighten things out.