2014 Russian Grand Prix Review
Formula One was left to pick itself up after Jules Bianchi’s horrific crash at Suzuka which has left him in a critical condition in hospital. But the championship had to continue and the teams headed to Sochi for the inaugural Russian Grand Prix. Marussia were understandably rocked by the events of the Japanese race, but were still able to enter Max Chilton’s car into this weekend’s Grand Prix. However, he would be the team’s sole entry as a mark of respect for Bianchi.
The drivers quickly got to grips with the new circuit on Friday, and a number of them found the limit early on. Mercedes were predictably at the top of the timesheets - Rosberg in FP1 and Hamilton in the afternoon session - but the surprise performance was that of McLaren, who showed good pace in both sessions, and Magnussen was only beaten in the second by a comfortable-looking Hamilton.
However, free practice had revealed the likelihood of a one-stop race, and so come the first qualifying session all of the drivers headed out on the softer tyres. Hamilton and Rosberg traded fastest times as usual, but there was a shock elimination at the bottom of the timesheets. Felipe Massa had waited until the final minutes of the session to set his time, but as he ventured out Williams discovered a fuel pressure problem on his car. With no time left for the team to fix it, Massa had to limp around in wounded fashion. He dropped out in eighteenth place, just behind the Caterham of Marcus Ericsson. Behind Massa was Kobayashi, and Maldonado finished ahead of the sole Marussia of Chilton.
Q2 was a similar story to the first session, with Hamilton heading Rosberg. Bottas showed Williams’ true pace by being the only other driver to drop into the 1’38s. Both Toro Rosso drivers impressed, and Vergne narrowly scraped into the top ten at the expense of a frustrated Vettel. Hulkenberg and Perez were also eliminated, along with the two Saubers of Gutierrez and Sutil, and Grosjean finished up sixteenth.
The Mercedes pair headed out a little later than everyone else in Q3, and Rosberg set the pace to begin with. But after a scruffy first lap, Hamilton regained his place at the top of the times with an impressive second lap.
But come the final runs, Hamilton had a different challenger for pole position. Valtteri Bottas set the fastest first and second sectors and was on course to beat Hamilton’s time, only to overcook the rear tyres and slide off at the final turn. That left him on the second row of the grid alongside a quietly impressive Button. Kvyat enjoyed his beat ever qualifying result with fifth at his home event, and Magnussen consolidated McLaren’s pace with sixth. Ricciardo, Alonso, Raikkonen and Vergne rounded out the top ten.
With the prospect of a one-stop race, everyone knew that the first lap would be their best chance to make up positions. Hamilton was clearly wise to this, and angled his car towards Rosberg in readiness for his team-mate’s attack. As the lights went out, both had a good launch, but Rosberg made the most of the long run to the first proper corner and used the slipstream to pull alongside Hamilton. It appeared that Rosberg had got the job done, only for him to lock both of his front wheels in spectacular fashion, forcing him to take to the tarmac run-off. Hamilton emerged unscathed, and Rosberg would have to give the place back. But the German driver pitted at the end of the lap, citing the massive flat spots on his front tyres that his error had produced. He fitted the option tyre.
There was plenty of action behind the leaders, too, with Kvyat losing out and dropping down to seventh at the end of the first lap, and then falling behind Vettel and Ricciardo on the second. His Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne was also involved in his own battle, and pulled off a sensationally brave move around the outside of the long turn three against Kevin Magnussen for fifth place. But the McLaren driver stayed close enough to regain the position using DRS on the next tour. By lap six Vergne suffered the same fate as his team-mate, with Vettel and Ricciardo hunting as a pair and taking sixth and seventh places respectively.
At the front, Hamilton was steadily building a gap to Bottas, who was lapping quicker than expected. Button and Alonso were involved in a quiet battle for third, while Magnussen was a little up the road from the two Red Bulls. Raikkonen and Kvyat held the final top ten positions behind Vergne at this stage. Rosberg was carving his way back through the field, and had now caught the backmarkers and was beginning to pass them. Massa, who failed to make up any ground at the start of the race, was following him through the traffic. By lap sixteen they were both past Esteban Gutierrez for eleventh and twelfth places respectively.
With drivers only making one stop for tyres, the pit window was a large one. Button was the first of the front runners to stop on lap twenty-three, but Rosberg had already made up enough time to ensure that he passed the McLaren as it emerged from the pits. Alonso had a terrible stop, and dropped from a net fourth to ninth after not one, not two but three separate issues with the front jack. Hamilton finally came in on lap twenty-seven and Bottas a lap later. But the Williams came out behind Vettel, who was running deep on his first set of tyres, and that backed him into Rosberg. But just as Vettel pitted and Bottas thought he was released, Rosberg lunged for second place at turn two and made the move stick - albeit forcing Bottas wide. He was now third ahead of the two McLarens, but told by his team that Rosberg would have to pit again.
By this stage of the race the Toro Rossos were beginning to show that the pace they had showed in qualifying had not passed over into the race. By lap thirty-seven Kvyat was down to fifteenth place and suffering with a vibration after a move on Hulkenberg went awry and resulted in a lock up.
The final stages of the race saw the top three of Hamilton, Rosberg and Bottas pump in fastest laps of the race, but there was no change in the order come the chequered flag. Bottas set the new lap record. Button was fourth, ahead of Magnussen, and Alonso held off Ricciardo for sixth. Vettel was eighth, and Raikkonen and Perez rounded out the points. Massa missed out on the final point in eleventh, ahead of Hulkenberg and the two Toro Rossos headed by Vergne. Gutierrez was fifteenth, with Sutil behind. Grosjean was given a five second penalty for an incident with Sutil and finished seventeenth, with Maldonado and Ericsson the final runners. Chilton retired early on with a technical problem, and Kobayashi was instructed to stop the car to save mileage during the Grand Prix.
That result means that Hamilton now enjoys a seventeen point lead with two more rounds and the double points finale left to go. But his Mercedes team went one better this weekend, moving out of reach of Red Bull in the constructors’ championship and claiming the trophy for themselves for the first time in their history. The paddock will now move to Austin for the American Grand Prix in three weeks’ time.