F1 Debuts in Russia
The sunny and vibrant track at the inaugural Russian Grand Prix in Sochi this weekend was in stark contrast to the miserable, washed-out memories of Suzuka.
There had been much excitement in the build-up to the opening of the new track, which is part of the Olympic Park that hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics earlier this year.
The circuit itself is a long, wide track, the race only 53 laps in length and with plenty of opportunity to overtake. There were some surprises in qualifying, with the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat doing very well, coming in fifth ahead of both Red Bulls, and Vettel dropping out in Q2 to sit in 11th place.
The front runners, though, were as always Hamilton and Rosberg; and as the race began it was clear it would be another Mercedes clean sweep. Rosberg raced away across the line and managed to get ahead of Hamilton, but then unfortunately locked up badly on the first turn and was forced into the runoff, and subsequently had to surrender first place to his teammate.
Afterwards, he claimed it was this mistake which lost him the race. Forced to pit on lap one because of vibration caused by flat spotting his soft tyres in his attempt to best Hamilton he did not pit again for the rest of the race, finishing the next 52 laps on the option medium tyres.
A calculated drive brought Rosberg from last to second following his early pit stop, however he was very fortunate that uncertain of wear rates on the new circuit Pirelli had gone ultra conservative providing an extremely durable option compound.
In the end the finish was fairly predictable; Hamilton winning, Rosberg coming in second and Valtteri Bottas in third in the Williams.
Red Bull had a rather subdued race, after a bad performance in qualifying, finishing in seventh and eighth place – behind Alonso in the Ferrari, and surprisingly, behind both McLarens as well.
Button and Magnussen both had a storming race, their Mercedes engines paying off for them (Magnussen particularly, who won a wheel-to-wheel struggle with the Red Bulls and Alonso to slide into fifth), and they came in fourth and fifth respectively.
Following Jules Bianchi’s horrific incident in Suzuka, Marussia only ran one car this weekend, and Chilton was unfortunately forced to retire 10 laps in. Initially it was announced that Alexander Rossi would be racing alongside him, but the decision was retracted and thus the team did not have a car finishing the inaugural Russian GP.
However, despite the team’s bad luck, the spotlight was focused on them this weekend as Bianchi lay in hospital in Japan. Marussia had, in honour of Jules, built up his car on his side of the garage and laid his livery out as if he were racing.
The accident that occurred last weekend did, of course, dominate the build-up to Sochi. Lewis Hamilton dedicated his win to the stricken driver, claiming that although they had all been racing to win, every driver’s mind was still back in Japan with their injured colleague, praying for his return to health.
It was fantastic to see the messages of support for Bianchi and Marussia coming from the F1 community all around the globe. Before the race, all the drivers stood on the grid and linked arms in a ‘circle of solidarity’ for Jules and his family, and although the Frenchman is still in critical condition, Jules’ father said he was ‘touched’ by the gesture and all the messages of support he has received from other drivers and colleagues.
So, one week on, Lewis has climbed that little bit further away from Nico in the Championship standings, 17 points clear of his German teammate.
However, it is still all to play for with three races still to come and double points in Abu Dhabi. On a side note, upon their 1-2 finish in Sochi, Mercedes officially won the Constructors’ Championship this year – however, after their astonishing run of wins and 1-2 finishes, this had been granted pretty much from the beginning.
No other team this season has been able to match the pure speed and power that Mercedes have demonstrated.
There is a gap of three weeks now until the next GP in Dallas. By that time, the full consequences of Jules’ accident, both in terms of his health and the repercussions within the FIA concerning safety restrictions, will hopefully have become clear.