ANALYSIS: Assessing the Field – 2020 Russian GP

The Formula 1 circus has frequented the Sochi Autodrom since the Winter Olympics were held at the site in 2014, and this year was no stranger to providing controversies and Turn 2 dramatics. 

Valtteri Bottas won the sixth annual Russian Grand Prix at the Black Sea circuit, adding to his season tally of two wins. Max Verstappen, again, became the only driver to competitively challenge the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One team duo, claiming second place and after a weekend plagued with time penalties and penalty points, Lewis Hamilton claimed the final podium spot. 

Like the previous round of the championship, the Tuscan Grand Prix, at Mugello, the opening few laps of the race were not short of clashes and retirements. During those opening laps, the grid lost Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lance Stroll to retirements due to collisions with barriers. 

TOP OF THE CLASS

VALTTERI BOTTAS – MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS FORMULA ONE TEAM

Qualifying margin to teammate: +0.563s  | Race margin to teammate: -22.729s

Valtteri took his turn to be stat man at the Russian Grand Prix, claiming his second victory of the season, his ninth career win and fifteenth career fastest lap. This season has seen the social media critics come out in force against the Finn, with repeated assertions that he can only win when his team mate Lewis Hamilton slips up, and that he lacks the overall talent to ultimately challenge Lewis for race position. Bottas did enjoy a really strong race taking the win by 7.7s over Verstappen, once he got over his first corner encounter with a bee flying into his visor. I think all that can sum up Bottas’ race weekend is: “To whom it may concern”. 

MAX VERSTAPPEN – ASTON MARTIN RED BULL RACING 

Qualifying margin to teammate: -1.141s  | Race margin to teammate: -1:30.131s

Max Verstappen simply picked up the spoils during the race. The Dutchman had a quiet stint all by himself for the most part, capitalising on Lewis’ misfortune with the two five-second time penalties he received. The RB16 is still regarded as the second fastest car on the grid, however with the Mercedes so much quicker, I’m not surprised he couldn’t get any closer to Bottas and challenge for the race win. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a poor race from Max, it was a solid result after the car troubles he’s suffered with in recent grands prix. A great bounce back from his retirement at Mugello, which was under extremely unlucky circumstances with his car’s power issues off the line which led to him falling into the clutches of a later collision. 

SERGIO PEREZ – BWT RACING POINT FORMULA ONE TEAM

Qualifying margin to teammate: Stroll out in Q2  | Race margin to teammate: N/A Stroll DNF

A contentious issue this season has been Checo’s 2021 seat at the team being handed to four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, and his team mate Lance Stroll retaining his seat at the team purchased by his Father, which brings us to his performance during the race at Sochi. The Mexican qualified in fourth place – nine places ahead of Stroll – and finished in the same position while Lance retired for the second race in a row. There’s no dispute that the pair both deserve a seat on the Formula 1 grid, it just brings into question how Perez lost his, when he’s bringing in the highest number of points to the team out of both drivers recently? A great, consistent drive from Sergio, and let’s hope both BWT Racing Point guys can continue the positive streaks they’ve had when the racing resumes in two weeks time. Sergio should have the upgrade Lance has by then!

DANIEL RICCIARDO – RENAULT DP WORLD FORMULA 1 TEAM

Qualifying margin to teammate: -0.393s  | Race margin to teammate: -15.941s

Daniel Ricciardo’s likeable, gung-ho attitude really paid dividends at Sochi Autodrom. Added to his indisputable talent behind the wheel, his positivity when slapped with a five second penalty for breaching reentry conditions at turn two (where Carlos Sainz Jr. misjudged his on lap one), he simply retorted that he would simply drive faster to make up the time lost, rather than complain about it. After all, he did message up the team strategy as his team mate Esteban Ocon allowed him past so he could contest the competition ahead. Simply this cements his path to future World Champion material. 

ESTEBAN OCON – RENAULT DP WORLD FORMULA 1 TEAM

Qualifying margin to teammate: +0.393s  | Race margin to teammate: +15.941s

Esteban finished where he started, like a lot of the grid, holding onto his starting position to the flag. The Frenchman pitted on lap 17 swapping his soft tyres out for the hard compound, which ultimately hampered his performance as the Renault R.S.20 performed better on the softs in the opening stint. Despite the lag in pace from the tyre option, Ocon had another consistent points finish, contributing to another double points haul for the team. 

HOMEWORK TO DO

CARLOS SAINZ.JR – MCLAREN F1 TEAM

Qualifying margin to teammate: +0.297s  | Race margin to teammate: DNF

Carlos Sainz Jr. suffered another weekend of misfortune and it pains me to place him in this category but he did perfectly execute the misjudgement of the century on his re-entry to the track on the second corner of the race. Having gone wide into turn two, Sainz tried to re-enter the circuit via the entry point between the polystyrene bollards and the concrete wall. Going far too fast for the gap, he misjudged slightly while trying to copy Max Verstappen, leading to his MCL35 clipping more of the concrete sending the Spaniard spinning into the path of the oncoming race traffic – his team mate Norris narrowly avoided him, but collected some debris in the process. 

It was his second retirement in two races after he became a passenger in the infamous restart pile up at Mugello last time out. At least with the mature head he has on him, Carlos will bounce back at the Eifel Grand Prix in two weeks time and learn from this error of judgement which denied him of what probably would have been a strong points finish, if his start was anything to by before Turn Two… 

CHARLES LECLERC – SCUDERIA FERRARI

Qualifying margin to teammate: +0.37s  | Race margin to teammate: -1 lap

May be a bit controversial to rate Charles Leclerc in this category, despite his strong qualifying position of ninth and race position of sixth, however when Leclerc pulls off a brilliant result for the infamously awful SF1000, he lets himself down with a silly move which costs the race for another driver. Whether that be his team mate Vettel or in this instance it was BWT Racing Point’s Lance Stroll who became victim to a clip from Charles. Leclerc obviously isn’t a harsh racer, but it certainly detracts from his positive performances, such as the one this weekend, therefore he has some homework to do in terms of acknowledging his track position for next time out. He can build from this no problem. 

ROMAIN GROSJEAN – HAAS F1 TEAM

Qualifying margin to teammate: -0.89s  | Race margin to teammate: N/A

Having out-qualified his team mate Kevin Magnussen, was the 2020 Russian Grand Prix the time for Grosjean to finish ahead of him, comfortably? No. 

Grosjean crossed the line in seventeenth place, five places down on Magnussen. We know the Haas is not the most competitive in the mid-field and spends most of its time at the bottom end of the grid, but it was once again a poor performance from the Frenchman. A little disappointed that he couldn’t finish ahead of Magnussen but here’s hoping Romain breaks this negative form of consistency at the Nurburgring. 

THE REST OF THE FIELD

To be honest, the Russian Grand Prix wasn’t a blockbuster of a race, all things considered. Starting with Lewis Hamilton, I felt he fit into neither of the above categories, he sat comfortable in the middle of the class, with no rating from the teacher at either end of the scale. Hamilton did well to recover from the two five-second penalties he received, to claim the final podium spot. He wasn’t solely responsible for the incidents which handed him the penalties in the first place with the team being the main instructor in the practice starts. He still left Russia 44 points clear at the top of the Drivers Championship standings. 

Elsewhere the main story from the remainder of the grid was the battles we witnessed from the “Twitch Trio”: Lando Norris, Alexander Albon and George Russell. Clean, competitive and courteous. 

Not much to report elsewhere: Vettel (again) had an average weekend, finishing outside the points in thirteenth place and unable to contend with his teammate; the AlphaTauri Hondas of Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly rounded out the points; a Williams Racing car tailed the grid, in the form of George Russell and an Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN sat just shy of a points finish – this time Antonio Giovinazzi. 

Looking ahead to the Eifel Grand Prix in two weeks time, it would be great to see Sainz and Stroll finish well in the points, Vettel to finish inside the top 10 and a solid battle between the midfield teams and the young ones.

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