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Five talking points from the Russian Grand Prix

Five talking points from the Russian Grand Prix



Five talking points from the Russian Grand Prix

Five talking points from the Russian Grand Prix

Valtteri Bottas ended an eight-race winless run with victory in a Russian Grand Prix in which Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton was again hit with penalties.

Far from the most entertaining race of the season, it was still a marked improvement on some of the more soporific events seen at the Sochi Autodrom in recent years.

The gap at the top of the drivers' standings has now shrunk to 44 points, a margin that may give some hope to Bottas that the title fight is not quite over yet.

On that note, we delve into the five key talking points from the race.

The Netflix curse; penalised Hamilton misses Schumacher record

Heading to Sochi, the only topic of discussion was how Hamilton could equal Michael Schumacher's benchmark haul of 91 grand prix victories and then topple it with a further win at the Nürburgring two weeks later.

Given Hamilton has six victories to his name this season and Mercedes is the only team to have won at Sochi since its addition to the calendar six years ago, to many, the weekend appeared a mere formality for the 35-year-old and his team.

But just as Mercedes suffered its worst weekend last year when the Netflix cameras closely followed the team, Hamilton had a weekend to forget in Sochi - although many in the field would be satisfied with a bad weekend resulting in third place.

From a narrow escape in Q2 on Saturday, as Hamilton made an individual error and was caught out by a red flag, to a pre-race gaffe that saw him hit with a 10-second penalty, it was far from the usual slick performance that has come to be expected from the six-time F1 champion and Mercedes.

Hamilton was also handed two penalty points on his licence, leaving him precariously close to a race ban, until the FIA decided to rescind them in favour of a financial penalty for the team. More on that later.

Bottas 3.0? Is the Finn back in the title hunt?

There are those, including Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who will tell you Bottas was never out of the championship hunt. While mathematically true, it was a difficult case to argue given the Finn has struggled to match Hamilton on pace across the season, be it in qualifying or the race.

On social media, you will easily find numerous comments suggesting Bottas was only victorious in Russia thanks to the penalty imposed on Hamilton, but really, this is far from the truth.

A quick look at the timing screen reveals the facts, with Hamilton finishing 22 seconds behind his team-mate, underlining the qualifying error that led to him starting the race on the less favourable soft tyres, as much a hindrance to his race as the penalty.

Bottas, too, made an error in qualifying, and yes, luck did play a part in him not being caught by the red flags, but small margins are what define success in F1.

Is Bottas a championship contender? Trailing Hamilton by 44 points, it's no easy task, but as Mercedes would be quick to point out, one retirement for the Briton and Bottas is right back in the mix.

A change at the top - Domenicali in, Carey out

Change is coming to Formula 1 as CEO and chairman Chase Carey announced he would be stepping down from his role at the end of the year and handing the reigns to former-Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali.

Carey, who has been at the helm since Liberty Media took control in January 2017, has recently overseen the signing of a new Concorde Agreement and steered F1 through the stormy waters of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, all things must come to an end and in Domenicali, he has found a new CEO and president whose appointment has been met with unanimous approval.

Yes, it does mean a Ferrari trio of Domenicali, Ross Brawn and [FIA president] Jean Todt now control F1, and there will likely be many conspiracy theorists out there suggesting how Ferrari will benefit from this.

But Red Bull boss Christian Horner and Mercedes chief Toto Wolff have both paid tribute to the "integrity" of Domenicali.

How he will fit into his new role is something only time can tell, but for the moment, it is a warm welcome back to the likeable Italian.

McLaren suffer a weekend to forget

The midfield is a minefield of unpredictability. One week McLaren, Renault or Racing Point could be challenging for a podium, the next, they could be out of the points altogether.

The Russian Grand Prix will certainly be one McLaren will wish to move on from as quickly as possible.

In the MCL35, McLaren has a car that is extremely sensitive to changes in the conditions. A small shift in wind direction or speed will affect all 20 cars on the grid, but the two bearing McLaren badges appear to suffer the most.

Despite complaints from the drivers, McLaren enjoyed a surprisingly positive qualifying session with Carlos Sainz sixth and Lando Norris eighth, but that was as good as the weekend would get.

An individual error from Sainz at turn two led to a more catastrophic error in his misjudgment of the angle of the escape road that resulted in him hitting a wall. As if that was not bad enough, his car came to a halt in front of Norris, causing the Briton to slow significantly and drop to the rear.

Pitting at the end of the second lap under safety car conditions, McLaren gambled it could make the hard tyres last to the end of the race and maybe claim a point or two.

Norris performed bravely, but late moves from Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon ended his hopes, and he would subsequently pit once more to complete the last few laps on slightly better rubber.

Penalties, penalties and more penalties

We can't put this off any longer. The number of penalties handed out in the Russian Grand Prix seems to grow each and every year, but before we come to the turn two problems, we shall first glance back to Hamilton's eventful weekend.

The championship leader was handed two separate five-second time penalties for stopping out of position in the pit exit to conduct a practice start. The race director's notes stated practice starts must be made after the pit exit light and to the right.

Across the rest of the weekend, Hamilton and others had all followed the instruction, starting in the correct location, but ahead of the race, Hamilton went to the end of the exit road, a considerable distance beyond the position, and started there.

Wolff labelled his 10-second penalty as far-fetched although the team was able to overturn a decision to hand two penalty points to Hamilton, something that would have put him just two away from a race ban, for a €25,000 fine.

The decision was reached after radio messages from the team convinced the stewards it was a team instruction to blame, and not a driving error from Hamilton.

To turn two and what to do here. The list of drivers not to fall foul of this corner across the weekend is far shorter than those who did see lap times deleted.

The penalty chicane arrangement ultimately put Sainz out of the race, Romain Grosjean took the instruction to go through the bollards all too literally and to see drivers punished so heavily for such a small error at the only obvious passing spot on the circuit is not what we want to see.

Sainz has said the corner "shouldn't exist" and after seven years of the same problems, it is time the corner was looked at and given a redesign.

Before you go...

Leclerc "confused" by Ferrari's rollercoaster form

Formula 1 clarifies pre-Russian GP Covid spike


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