VIDEO: The best onboard action from Russia RUSSIA
We present a driver's-eye view of the most dramatic moments from a nail-biting race in Sochi...
Ordinarily lapped traffic is not what a race leader wants to see when he has a rival in close pursuit, especially on the last lap, but in Sunday’s race Valtteri Bottas caught Felipe Massa’s Williams at just the right time – or just the wrong time if you were Sebastian Vettel, as we can see in the video above. Having pushed relentlessly to get himself into DRS range of the Silver Arrow, Vettel admitted it was somewhat galling to see Bottas benefit from a big DRS-assisted tow down the pit straight to begin the lap, though the German’s major source of frustration - as evidenced by his not so subtle sign language - was Massa not jumping out of the way sooner as the duo rounded Turn 3. After that, Vettel’s best hope was that Bottas would trip up passing Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber, but when the Finn nimbly nipped past the Swiss car, the Ferrari driver was forced to concede, eventually crossing the line just 0.6s down on the Mercedes for the closest finish in Russian Grand Prix history.
After failing to finish the first three races of the season, and logging the fewest laps of anyone, Lance Stroll was in desperate need of reaching the chequered flag in Sochi. In the end he did just that – but only after an early scare when he spun at Turn 5 on the opening lap. The stewards initially investigated whether the 18-year-old had come into contact with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, but as this onboard from the German’s car shows, Stroll lost the rear of his FW40 entirely on his own after running over the inside kerb while battling Esteban Ocon’s Force India. Thankfully for Stroll, the quick onset of the safety car warning lights – a result of Grosjean’s clash with Palmer – slowed oncoming traffic and prevented any further drama.
Unsurprisingly, Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer pointed the finger of blame for their first lap tangle at each other, with both men saying the other had put their car where they shouldn’t have. Having reviewed video evidence, the stewards determined it a racing incident – and when you watch this exclusive side-by-side video, you understand why. Having nearly been squeezed between Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber and Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso, Palmer had little choice but to turn in when he did, leaving Grosjean powerless to avoid contact when the gap he went for suddenly disappeared. The third big opening lap crash at Turn 2 in as many races in Sochi.
“Keep putting pressure on him,” Ferrari told Sebastian Vettel as his pursuit of Valtteri Bottas in the latter stages of Sunday’s race in Sochi reached fever pitch. “He will make a mistake.” In the end that prediction proved nothing more than wishful thinking, but the Prancing Horse were no doubt encouraged by what had happened at Turn 13 several laps earlier, when Bottas nearly ruined his hard work with this error under braking – a minor lock-up that on another day might have proved costly. The Finn said the lapse, which caused a small flat spot on his left-front tyre, ‘hurt his pace’ in the closing laps, but despite coming under increasing pressure he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
Max Verstappen was left frustrated after qualifying only seventh in Sochi, saying P5 had been his target. But in the race he quickly catapulted himself into that position thanks to a dynamic getaway in which he rapidly overhauled Felipe Massa’s Williams before slicing right and benefiting from the three-wide battle between Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo which left the Australian hung out to dry on the outside. The rest of the race was, by Verstappen’s own admission, ‘very lonely’ as he came home fifth, but who knows how it might have turned out had he not vaulted so quickly off the line.
In Bahrain Valtteri Bottas was unable to convert a maiden pole position into a first victory, but in Russia he did something that had never been done before in Sochi – he won from off the front row. Starting third, the Finn made full use of being on the clean side of the track as he made a perfect getaway, quickly getting into Sebastian Vettel’s slipstream before powering past the German, who was also feeling the force of the headwind. “I knew with the tow it would be tough,” Vettel told UK broadcaster Channel 4 afterwards. “I defended the inside but he had so much more speed, he just drove past me. I had no chance!” In an extremely tight race, it would prove the decisive moment.
Off the front row for the first time in 10 races and forced to start from the dirty side of the grid, Lewis Hamilton nonetheless made a good getaway in Sochi, and quickly found himself sandwiched between Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari (whom he comes close to banging wheels with) and Daniel Ricciardo’s fast-starting Red Bull, whose front wing endplate flicks briefly into view as the trio come within inches of disaster. Hamilton would eventually have to settle for fourth into Turn 2 – and he’d finish in the same position.