Russian GP: What did we learn?
There’s a new player for this year’s championship. Valtteri Bottas took his maiden F1 victory in Sochi just two weeks after taking his first career pole position in Bahrain. On a weekend where Ferrari dominated in qualifying, Bottas bolted into the lead at the start and held his nerve to claim Mercedes’ second victory of the season. So what did we learn from the Russian Grand Prix?
A new race winner
Just four races into his Mercedes career, Bottas becomes the fifth Finn to win in Formula One. Bottas nailed the start, passing both Ferrari’s for a lead that he was never really in danger of losing. Bottas withstood immense pressure from the hard-charging Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages, and barely put a wheel wrong en route to his maiden win. Ferrari and Mercedes now have two victories apiece as we head into the European rounds, and if Bottas can keep this form up, he could be a deciding factor in the championship battle.
Ferrari fast in qualifying
Sochi was expected to suit Mercedes, but the Silver Arrows struggled for much of the weekend with softer tyre compounds from Pirelli. Ferrari were the favourites for pole, but went one better and locked out the front row for the first time since the last French Grand Prix at Magny Cours in 2008. Although Bottas wasn’t far behind, he was the fastest Mercedes all weekend in third as Lewis Hamilton struggled with the balance of his car throughout the event. In a weekend to forget as he saw championship rival Vettel increase his lead, Hamilton could only manage fourth as he struggled with overheating in the race, finishing a distant 26 seconds behind third-placed Kimi Raikkonen.
Red Bull reliability woes
With a power deficit thanks to their Renault engines, Red Bull were bound to struggle in Sochi. However, things were worse than they feared as Daniel Ricciardo lasted just a few laps before his smoking rear brakes failed, while team-mate Max Verstappen finished in a lonely fifth, over a minute behind the leaders. With a big upgrade bound for Barcelona and a Renault engine update due for Montreal, Red Bull need to get the development ball rolling soon to have any chance of competing this season.
Force India formation flying
Thanks to Ricciardo’s retirement and a slow puncture on Felipe Massa’s Williams, Force India once again had both cars in the points for the fourth consecutive race, with Sergio Perez sixth and Esteban Ocon an impressive seventh. Force India are now fourth in the constructors, 13 points ahead of Williams, their closest midfield rival. But even though they have a solid and reliable package, Force India still lack outright pace relative to Williams. They’ll need to keep pace in the development race if they want to finish fourth in the Constructors standings for the second consecutive season.
More problems for Palmer
With new number one driver Nico Hulkenberg coming in and bringing home points for Renault, Jolyon Palmer needs to step up this season. However, Sochi delivered another dreadful weekend for the British driver. After reliability issues in practice and an overnight chassis change, Palmer crashed in Q1 and could only manage 16th. Then, on the first lap, Palmer collided with the Haas of Romain Grosjean in Turn Two, ending both of their races. If Hulkenberg continues to score points regularly and Palmer continues to struggle in a tight midfield battle, don’t be surprised to see him replaced mid-season.