Analysis of an easy win for Bottas in Russia, brought to you by Bahrain International Circuit
F1 was hoping to put on an impressive show this weekend as Russia held the first race of the season with a meaningful sized crowd. Around 27,000 spectators were allowed at the Sochi Autodrome, with many fans hoping to witness Lewis Hamilton equal the great Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 victories in F1.
It slightly felt like Hamilton spent the weekend making it as difficult as possible for himself to reach that goal. Although he qualified in pole, it was at the expense of an optimum tyre strategy, as a deleted lap time in Q2 meant he had to use a set of soft tyres to get through to Q3, so he was unable to start the race on the preferred medium option. His woes were compounded further when he was awarded a ten second penalty for an incorrect procedure on practice starts, before the beginning of the race. This meant that there was a wide-open door for Valteri Bottas to close the gap in the championship.
Sochi has a history of accidents and safety cars on the first lap and this race was no exception. Two separate incidents, with both Sainz and Stroll getting rather too friendly with the wall, brought out Bernd Maylander on lap one (Random fact – Bernd has been F1’s safety car driver for 20 years and has led over 700 laps in F1).
The impact of those incidents shuffled the pack considerably, meaning that much of the racing action took place in the midfield and the rear. In fact, there was a moment early on in the race when Alex Albon, Lando Norris and George Russell were having an entertaining scrap for the last three places. These three are notably great friends off the track, but also all hugely talented young drivers. It was almost as though we were watching F1 in five years time and a scrap for the 2025 championship. I suspect you would struggle to find many F1 fans who will not wish to see that in future.
Back in 2020, it was indeed Bottas who took advantage of Hamilton’s self-imposed handicaps with a win which was never really in doubt. He celebrated in his own unique style with his now famous “To whom it may concern” radio message, meant as a pointed remark against his detractors. He has even had a T-shirt made up with these words of wisdom.
Max Verstappen did what he so often manages to achieve in F1. Despite a performance disadvantage compared to Mercedes, he managed to split the pair into second place whilst also being notably faster than his teammate. Albon’s body language after the race reflected a man who is clearly under pressure, as is often the case when a driver is consistently slower in the same car.
Outside of the podium places, Sergio Perez won the midfield scrap coming fourth, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the Renault and an impressive Leclerc in sixth. Leclerc is another driver who appears to be consistently faster than his teammate, although with Vettel leaving for Aston Martin in 2021, many have assumed that the former World Champion’s heart just isn’t really in it any more at Ferrari.
Outside of the racing, it was another busy week in F1 news off the track, as Stefano Domenicali was confirmed as the next president and CEO of Formula 1, starting next year. He is undoubtedly a popular choice, having led Ferrari from 2008 to 2014, whilst many have taken the time to recognise the many and impressive achievements of Chase Carey, who will stay involved at F1 as non-executive chairman.
F1 returns in two weeks for the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring for the first time since 2013.
* Laurence Jones is head of Marketing and Communications, Bahrain International Circuit