F1 – Russian GP – Race

Privet, MiniFans! Many things have changed since yesterday. Not only are Leclerc and Verstappen starting from the back of the grid, but so is Bottas now. Mercedes has decided to fit the Finn’s car with some brand-new engine parts, with the excuse of having two fresh engines for the remainder of the season (he already got the same penalty in Monza) but giving the impression that they’re willing not only to sacrifice their second driver, but also sink him into the depths of Tartarus just for a gamble at him being able to retain Verstappen behind him for a significant amount of time.

Rain had not been forecasted for the race, but the chances got bumped up as the start got near, with heavy rain seen not too far for the circuit and dark clouds looming over the circuit. Tyres could be freely chosen by everyone, due to the qualifying session happening in the rain, so mediums were the predominant tyre on the grid. Those fully out of position, such as Bottas, Leclerc and Verstappen, chose a hard tyre, as did some of the midfield, looking for a different strategy to their rivals.

Expectations for the start were high, with three youngsters in the lead, while the back end of the pack could become a bloodbath as the penalised drivers would try to get rid of as many cars as possible as quickly as possible. When the lights went out, not a single crash was seen, but the positions got shaken up a lot. Sainz managed to slingshot himself into first after getting a bit of a slipstream by Norris, while Russell maintained third. Hamilton, however, lost a few positions in the scuff, dropping to being behind Alonso, not wanting to get into trouble and showing his experience by slowly regaining places.

When things settled a couple of laps into the race, Sainz and Norris were pulling away from Russell, who was creating a small train behind him. Further back, Hamilton was having trouble trying to overtake Ricciardo for 5th place, even if they were all following Russell’s pace. Mercedes’ strategy wasn’t working too well out of the points either. As soon as Verstappen got a chance to overtake Bottas, it was said and done in a very clean manoeuvre. Graining seemed to start making an appearance on front tyres and making the cars harder to drive. At the front, Norris was getting closer to Sainz, prompting a few radio messages in both teams, but eventually needing to back off due to messing up his front left in the process.

The first stop came courtesy of Stroll, trying to undercut Russell, whose pace was keeping everyone behind, and succeeding in his task of leaving the pit lane in front of the British driver. As usual, TV direction missed an important moment involving Sainz as he finally got overtaken by Norris and started losing massive amounts of time to his former teammate. Ferrari called him to boxes and gave him a slow stop, tanking his chances of making an undercut work, especially as Norris kept his good pace up. In second place and without having stopped yet, Ricciardo was managing to keep Hamilton behind, helping his teammate in the long run and, albeit maybe not willingly, also Verstappen, who only had two cars in between Hamilton and himself, one of them being his own teammate.

It was Ricciardo’s stop that toppled over the balance. McLaren boxed him before Hamilton and he had an extremely slow stop that dropped him behind Ocon at the back, giving Hamilton free air, all while Verstappen started having trouble. Riccardo, however, is not a driver that falters when facing problems and he started setting fastest laps and getting rid of slow drivers fairly quickly. A few laps later, both Hamilton and Verstappen boxed as well without problem. Norris followed through and, this time, McLaren’s mechanics did their job flawlessly. With twenty laps to go and an eight-second gap, the name of the contenders for the race victory were crystal clear.

The podium was accessible to a handful of drivers who could theoretically make it to P3. Sainz occupied the spot with fifteen laps to go, but Ricciardo, Pérez and Alonso were plausible candidates for it. Further at the front, Norris pulled a fastest lap, maybe showing his real pace and proving his candidature for the win was still on the table after Hamilton had almost obliterated the gap between them. It was with ten laps to go that it reached the second and thus the DRS range for Hamilton. A few spots of rain were reported in a couple turns, but nothing that would even bother a Formula 1 car. A bit later, umbrellas started to come out in the grandstands and some teams echoed it to their drivers.

Rain came down in part of the circuit, but the only ones who stopped were those at the back, until Hamilton was called in too. Only a few remained on track with slicks, which seemed to be fine at first, but a shower came down unexpectedly, destroying those who had not boxed for wet tyres, including Norris, who lost every single chance at even a podium. This gave Hamilton first place, after not being happy with his team’s decision, Verstappen a second place after being able to take a bigger risk than those in the first positions and Sainz a third place, giving him his fifth podium in the class.

The race was all but the expected. For the second race in a row, McLaren has showed an incredible pace that has shot them up into podium positions while Mercedes sacrificed their second driver in an effort to try and help their title contender. However, rain was a very unexpected guest during only a handful of laps at the end. With barely any warning via a few droplets in a couple of corners, a shower came down and left the track soaking wet, punishing those who had chosen to take a bet on the rain staying as it was. Hamilton got his 100th win in F1, while Red Bull minimised their losses by finishing second thanks to the rain, and Sainz regained a previously lost podium. Only five laps and a team knowing when to override their driver’s decision turned the race around.