RACE DEBRIEF

    Mercedes retained their stranglehold of Sochi, as Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton set an impressive pace in second practice for the Russian Grand Prix – with rival Max Verstappen only sixth fastest…

    Verstappen was running a very different programme, though, with his Red Bull team electing to give him a full engine change that trigger penalties – in addition to his three-place drop for his part in the collision with Hamilton in Italy – to ensure he’ll start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid.

    READ MORE: Verstappen set to start Russian GP from the back of the grid after engine change

    The Dutchman could afford to run more sets of the soft tyres – as he doesn’t need to keep them for qualifying – while focusing his data gathering on having a strong car that can overtake and make up ground in the race.

    His main rival Hamilton had a largely more straightforward afternoon, though he did overshoot his pitbox to knock over his front jackman. Fortunately, he got up unaided, with the seven-time world champion apologising on team radio and asking the team if he was OK.

    Hamilton ended the afternoon second fastest just 0.044s slower than team mate Bottas, who always goes well in Sochi and topped the times for the second successive session this year owing to a stronger final sector.

    Formula 1 VTB Russian Grand Prix 2021

    Russia 2021

    Practice 2 results

    POSITION TIME
    1 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes 1:33.593
    2 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes +0.044s
    3 Pierre Gasly GAS AlphaTauri +0.252s
    4 Lando Norris NOR McLaren +0.561s
    5 Esteban Ocon OCO Alpine +0.809s

    Pierre Gasly was a surprise quickest, 0.252s off the pace on the medium – which was the same tyre the leading Mercedes setting their best time on, but his session came to an end with just a few minutes to go when he ran over a kerb and ripped off his front wing. McLaren’s Lando Norris clocked the best lap on the soft, albeit half a second off the pace.

    Esteban Ocon made it four teams in the top five with fifth for Alpine, two tenths of a second clear of Verstappen, who ended up three tenths and five places ahead of Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez.

    READ MORE: 'They can’t race with velvet gloves on’ – Horner and Wolff won't rule out more Hamilton-Verstappen contact

    It was a very busy session, with teams keen to gather as much data as possible given wet weather is predicted for final practice on Saturday. There was frustration, then, for Daniel Ricciardo and Antonio Gioviunazzi – albeit for very different reasons.

    Ricciardo, winner last time out in Italy, missed half the session while his team completed an engine change to one already in his pool having detected an issue on the data. McLaren said it could be fixed outside of the car this evening. When he did hit the track, his best time was only good enough for 17th.

    Giovinazzi, meanwhile, did his hopes of retaining his seat at Alfa Romeo no favours when he crashed on the exit of Turn 8, losing the rear end and clattering the barriers.

    FP2 Highlights: 2021 Russian Grand Prix

    It caused significant damage to the rear and while he got going again, the team told him to stop the car as he was shedding parts. The session was briefly red-flagged before restarting to allow time for high-fuel running. He ended up 14th, two places behind team mate Kimi Raikkonen.

    Carlos Sainz was the leading Ferrari in seventh, a fraction ahead of Fernando Alonso, with Sebastian Vettel ninth, six places clear of his Aston Martin team mate Lance Stroll.

    Charles Leclerc, who is running an upgraded power unit this weekend which will trigger grid penalties for a back of the grid start, completed the top 10.

    George Russell was an encouraging 13th for Williams, three places and three tenths of a second clear of team mate Nicholas Latifi, with AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda off the pace in 18th, as the Haas duo of Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher completed the timesheet.