What are his rivals going to do to stop Nico Rosberg from winning?
At times in 2015 it seemed like he couldn’t do anything to beat Lewis Hamilton; but since Mexico last year he’s been on such a dramatic roll that his seventh consecutive victory here in Sochi places him in the exclusive company of Alberto Ascari, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. That’s pretty impressive.
After four races last year he had led four laps to Hamilton’s 168. This year it’s 186-1 in Rosberg’s favour. On top of that his 100 percent 2016 scoring record has left him 43 points ahead of his team mate…
Last year there were times when some pundits came close to deeming McLaren a laughing stock, as their ‘GP2’ engine, as Fernando Alonso infamously once described it, left them panting breathlessly down the long straights. This year things are different for the McLaren-Honda alliance. They still need more top-end grunt, and they didn’t quite make Q3, but events on the opening lap played in their favour and enabled Alonso to make a great start, and thereafter the Spaniard was in play for his first points of the season all afternoon. After delays Jenson Button managed to overtake Carlos Sainz, which put both of the black cars in the points for the first time this year.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, for sure, but sixth and tenth places were a major fillip for the Woking team.
Like McLaren, Renault benefited from the melee in Turns 2 and 3 on the first lap, to jump up places. At one stage Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer were running 10th and 11th, and though the Englishman later lost ground the Dane was always in contention. His eventual seventh place, earned at the expense of Haas whom they undercut when Magnussen pitted on the 20th lap, opened the French marque’s points account for the season, and was a much-needed boost after China.
Just when cynics were starting to think that Haas had earned their two points finishes in Australia and Bahrain by some sort of lucky default, as their form dipped in China, they bounced back to score another four in Sochi after yet another polished drive by Romain Grosjean.
In another milestone, the American outfit became the most successful newcomer in the new millennium, their third points-scoring result taking them past Jaguar and Toyota, who each took two in their first season.
The Swede has been doing a great job of late in a difficult Sauber which lacks downforce. On the eighth lap his feisty passing and repassing through Turns 2, 3 and 4 against a much higher downforce Red Bull (Kvyat’s, albeit running on medium Pirelli tyres compared to his own new supersofts), was a reminder of the time he overtook Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari in a Caterham in Malaysia in 2014, and that he undoubtedly deserves more competitive machinery.
And the losers…
Two corners into the race, Sebastian Vettel was nursing damage after being hit from behind by Daniil Kvyat. Halfway through the third he was clambering from a Ferrari that was very much the worse for wear, after further assault by the Red Bull driver.
Unlike China, on this occasion the first-lap altercation with the young Russian was very definitely the latter’s fault and ended the German’s race there and then, much to the four-time champion’s considerable chagrin.
Prior to this year, he hadn’t retired on the first lap since Abu Dhabi 2011. Now it’s happened twice in three races.
Kvyat’s impetuosity in Turn 2 sent Vettel’s Ferrari into heavy contact with his own team mate, Daniel Ricciardo, necessitating pit stops for both RB12s at the end of the lap. That meant stacking Ricciardo behind Kvyat, whose car needed a new nose. By the time Ricciardo’s had received similar treatment, any chance of points was long gone, prompting further ire from team boss Christian Horner and Ricciardo. As Williams garnered 22 points, the gap between the third and fourth-placed teams narrowed to only six.
As Horner said, on a day when they could have scored a lot of points, they ended up giving them away instead.
The incident with Vettel in China was not the young Russian’s fault, but the first collision with the German here most definitely was as Kvyat misjudged his braking, locked the rear wheels and walloped the back of the Ferrari and sent it skidding into his team mate’s car. The second impact was ameliorated a little by the fact that Vettel either suffered a subsequent puncture or a suspension failure, which led him to slow suddenly in front of the RB12.
Nevertheless, the incidents did Kvyat’s reputation certain damage, and might help persuade an angry Helmut Marko that Max Verstappen will be a better long-term proposition to partner Ricciardo.
The teenaged Dutchman did a fine job to qualify his Toro Rosso ninth, and an even better job of running a comfortable sixth – and as high as second during the pit stops – and seemed headed for a richly deserved top six place when his engine quit on the 34th lap.
It also meant that Toro Rosso lost not only the eight points for sixth place, but effectively another two to Haas, who were promoted as a result from ninth place to eighth and thus regained a place ahead in the constructors’ table.