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Paddock Postcard from Russia

11 Oct 2015

As President Vladimir Putin was expected to attend his nation’s Grand Prix again on race day after Formula One’s hugely successful debut in Russia last year, the Sochi Autodrom paddock bristled with activity. Famous faces included former racers Jean Alesi, driver steward Derek Daly, Bertrand Gachot and Vitaly Petrov.

Friday evening saw a plethora of drivers and team bosses gather to celebrate Fernando Alonso’s 250th Grand Prix weekend. “Thanks guys to share so many good moments in racing,” said the two-time world champion. “It's an honour being part of this big family.”

Carlos Sainz’s nasty accident on Saturday morning was naturally a major talking point and there was huge relief when it was learned that he was unharmed and pushing to race. The damage to the Tecpro barriers in Turn 13 meant that Saturday’s GP3 feature race, for which ART’s Esteban Ocon had qualified on pole, had to be cancelled in order to maintain the schedule. That grid will now form for Sunday’s sprint race.

Britain’s Alex Lynn started Saturday afternoon’s GP2 race on pole for DAMS, and appeared to have it in the bag after making a brilliant start, then handling a restart well after big accidents in the first-corner traffic accounted for Russian Time’s Artem Markelov, Status’s Marlon Stockinger, Lazarus’ Sergio Canamasas and Racing Engineering’s Justin King. None of them was hurt, but barrier repairs meant the race had to red flagged then restarted behind the safety car that had already been deployed.

Lynn sped away in the now-15 lap event, made an early pit stop to switch from soft to medium rubber on lap six, then went round challenger Alex Rossi as the American came back from his stop on the eighth lap. But then the Williams protege got it all wrong in Turn 13 on lap 11 and clobbered the wall on the exit, retiring metres later with suspension damage.

That left Rossi fending off Lynn’s team mate Pierre Gasly as they chased leader Stoffel Vandoorne. When ART’s driver finally made his stop on lap 12, Rossi and Gasly swept by as the Belgian was coming down the pit exit. A mistake by Gasly gave Rossi some breathing room and the Marussia F1 driver duly swept home to win again for Racing Engineering by 3.1s and keep his title hopes alive, with Gasly 1.1 ahead of Vandoorne. Local hero Sergey Sirotkin brought his Rapax car home fourth ahead of Campos’s battling Rio Haryanto and Trident’s Raffaele Marciello, with Status’s Richie Stanaway seventh from Campos’s Arthur Pic, Carlin debutant Dean Stoneman who drove strongly from 18th on the grid, and Russian Time’s Mitch Evans. Pic and Stanaway thus start Sunday’s sprint race from the front row, in which Vandoorne could still clinch the title.

The other on-track activity on included none other than Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone on Friday, when he was driven for a lap of the circuit in a Mercedes course car by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who had been instrumental in the creation of the Sochi Olympic Park.

And on the musical front, the headline act for the Grand Prix weekend concerts was none other than Australian multi-million selling songstress, Natalie Imbruglia.

Watch: Fernando Alonso celebrates 250 Grands Prix in Sochi