Russian GP: Hamilton takes pole in an intense qualifying

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton took his 5th straight pole of the season at Sochi on saturday afternoon to put himself in an excellent position in his bid to equal Schumacher’s record tomorrow (91 wins). The pole position looked set to evade him today after the fiasco in Q2 almost saw him miss out on Q3.

Hamilton failed to register a time in Q2 as he crossed track limits during the first run of Q2 and this meant that the 6 time world champion had only one run under his belt to put a time on the charts. However, a Sebastian Vettel crash during the second run of Q2 brought out a red flag with exactly 2 minutes and 15 seconds to go and Hamilton barely made it to the finish line before the flag fell, setting a lap time good enough to go into Q3.

It is not Valtteri Bottas, but Max Verstappen on the front row this time as the Dutchman put in an amazing lap in the second run of Q3 to go 2nd. Bottas who started the weekend well could not make it onto the front row after hitting the sausage kerb in turn 2 and losing momentum going into the rest of the lap.

Sergio Perez put in a great effort despite not having upgrades on his Racing Point and qualified on the second row alongside Bottas while his teammate Stroll could not make it out of Q2 after getting his lap time deleted in the first run and suffering a temperature issue towards the end of Q2.

Ricciardo’s fine form during the weekend continued after his efforts in qualifying will see him start at 5th on the 3rd row next to Carlos Sainz in the McLaren. The 4th row will be a repeat of the colours in the 3rd row but with Ocon in Renault at 7th and Norris in the McLaren at 8th.  Gasly in the Alpha Tauri is set to line up at 9th next to Albon in the RedVull who will be hoping for a much better race than the qualifying today.

Both the Ferraris crashed out of Q2, one literally of Sebastian Vettel at turn 4 after hitting the kerb and one of Charles Leclerc narrowly missing out and all set to start at P11 as the advantage from the minor upgrades they have got this weekend also seems to be minor. Danil Kvyat is set to line up next to Leclerc at 12th and will look to score some good points in his home race, especially after his car seems to be showing a decent race pace.

George Russell in the Williams made it into Q2 for the sixth time this season  and will line up at 14th after yet another good effort in Q3 but his teammate Latifi will have to be content with 19th. It is going to be a Ferrari powered bottom 6 except Latifi after both the Haas cars and the Alfa Romeos are all in the bottom 5.

Kimi Raikkonen went spinning in the second run of Q1 which will mean that he is set to start 20th on the grid and his teammate Giovinazzi will start 17th. Grosjean and Magnussen in their respective Haas cars are set to start 16th and 18th with Grosjean surprisingly offering some positive feedback at the end of Q1.

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

With Hamilton set to start on the soft tyres thanks to the Q2 drama and with Max Verstappen just next to him, it might not be a straightforward drive to win number 91 for the English driver. It is also worth remembering that Bottas’ last victory at Sochi came from 3rd on the grid, which is where he will line up tomorrow, with a tyre advantage. It is all set to play for, in the Russian Grand Prix.

Russian Grand Prix Preview: Ferrari’s revival to continue in Sochi?

‘From Russia with love’ – there wasn’t much love, however, from Daniil Kvyat when he came together with Kimi Raikkonen at the first corner in Singapore. He may wish to keep his nose out of trouble at his home Grand Prix this time, as he returns to the track which saw his career take a bit of a nose dive, when he collided with Sebastian Vettel and lost his seat at Red Bull in 2016.

And, invariably, Vettel would much prefer to complete this year’s Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrome without incident, to build on his first F1 win in 392 days last time out at Marina Bay.

That victory gave us the hand-rubbing prospect of an intra-team war at Ferrari between Vettel and team-mate Charles Leclerc, with the latter leaving Singapore unhappy at the team’s decision to pit Vettel first. The undercut resulted in the four-time champion winning the race ahead of his upstart team-mate who, demonstrating brilliance and maturity in his debut season with Ferrari and only his second season in the sport, had taken his fifth pole position the day before.

GP SINGAPORE F1/2019 – DOMENICA 22/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

However, despite the tension at Ferrari, they nonetheless sent a message to Mercedes and Red Bull with their first one-two finish since the Hungarian Grand Prix of 2017, at a track where we expected the Prancing Horses to falter under the superiority of their rivals on what is a downforce-orientated circuit.

This, coupled with the fact that Lewis Hamilton seemed concerned by Ferrari’s sudden upturn, will hopefully lead us into an exciting Russian Grand Prix this weekend.

With lots of 90-degree turns, a couple of lengthy straights, and a twisty middle sector, you would lean towards Mercedes having the upper hand, but Ferrari’s surprising performance last race has tossed things up in the air.

Further down the grid, Carlos Sainz comes into this weekend seeking some improved fortune. He retired from the Italian Grand Prix due to leaving the pits with a loose wheel, and then a collision with Nico Hulkenberg on the first lap in Singapore all but ended his race. He did recover to 12th, though, as McLaren continue to supersede the works Renault team with the French manufacturer’s own engines in the back of their papaya car.

Carlos Sainz, McLaren MCL34

Romain Grosjean did little to back up Haas boss Guenther Steiner’s decision to keep him on for the 2020 season by wiping out George Russell, while Kevin Magnussen will be dodging Russian plastic bags, with a bag getting caught in his front wing in Singapore, costing him a points finish and seeing him finish last of the runners.

Antonio Giovinazzi must now build on his point-score in Singapore with a strong result in Russia, as his seat at Alfa Romeo is still not secure. Nico Hulkenberg, out of a seat next season but continuing to perform impressively, is knocking on a few doors in search of a drive, having lost out on the Haas seat for next season.

The 2019 season had its dramatic flame reignited under the sweltering heat of Singapore, but will Ferrari’s revival cool with the weather as we head to Russia? Mercedes will certainly want to make that happens this weekend.

 

[Featured image – 2018 Russian Grand Prix, Saturday, Wolfgang Wilhelm]

F1 2018: Russian Grand Prix Preview

Twisting and turning through Russia’s “summer capital” is the Sochi Autodrom, the first and only F1 track built in the country.

The 5.8-kilometre circuit takes the drivers past some impressive structures, among them a number previously used for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the stadium used at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, showing how Sochi has turned into both a popular destination for tourists and a great sporting town.

Each of the four races held at the circuit since its debut have been won by Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton winning the first race in 2014 and Valtteri Bottas taking his first win in F1 for the world champions in 2017.

This Mercedes dominance is a trend that may well end this year. Sochi is generally a power track, and we have seen the Ferrari engine overtake the Mercedes engine this year. If Mercedes are to win, then, they will face a stern test from the Prancing Horse.

Großer Preis von Russland 2017, Sonntag – Steve Etherington

Christian Horner has said that Russia will be a race to forget for Red Bull, as they are expecting engine penalties and they are even thought to be returning to the B-Spec Renault engine after several teething issues with the engine used in Singapore. It said a lot when even the works Renault team themselves didn’t use the new spec engine, nor did their other customer McLaren.

This weekend will be the home race of Williams driver Sergey Sirotkin, who scored his first point of the season in Italy after Romain Grosjean’s disqualification, and he will hoping to add more to his tally. He certainly got some positive attention in Singapore with some brilliant defending against Sergio Perez, only for Perez to seemingly swing across the track and hit him. This, however, will be another tricky weekend for a Williams team that has suffered one of their worst ever seasons in F1 this year.

Races around the Sochi Autodrom generally don’t toss up much drama, but the first chicane is something to keep an eye on. It is a place which has seen a crash in each of the four races in the circuit’s short history, the most notorious being Daniil Kvyat twice hitting the back of Sebastian Vettel. It was a home race to forget for Kvyat and he was demoted to Toro Rosso after the race, giving way to the astronomical rise of Max Verstappen.

Großer Preis von Russland 2017, Sonntag – Steve Etherington

Sebastian Vettel arrives into the weekend some 40 points behind Lewis Hamilton in the championship, meaning that he realistically has to win each of the remaining six races of 2018 to be in with a realistic chance of claiming a fifth title.

It will be a tough challenge, but Ferrari’s championship demise has been of their own doing once again this year, and if there is to be a miracle turnaround for Vettel, it is one that must start in Sochi.