2016 Russian GP Review - Rosberg Domination
Russia loomed with 2 major handicaps for apparent championship contenders: Vettel took a 5-place penalty thanks to a gearbox change, while a fairly quiet qualifying saw Hamilton, running his Chinese engine again, suffering a second MGU-H failure and unable to run in Q3, leaving him 10th.
Q1 ultimately saw Magnussen and Palmer heading up the eliminations, followed by Nasr – running a new Sauber chassis – Wehrlein, Haryanto and Ericsson. Renault were struggling with snap oversteer.
Hamilton's Q2 was tough to say the least, first with that engine failure and also with a breach of corner-cutting regulations which forced a visit to the stewards and Hamilton's second reprimand. One more and a 10-place penalty would follow. Behind his eventual 10th place, he was followed by Sainz, Button, Hulkenberg, Alonso and the Haas pair.
With Hamilton confirmed now to be taking no further part in qualifying, Rosberg was on for an easy pole ahead of Vettel, though the latter was dropped to 7th for his gearbox change. This promoted Bottas to 2nd, Raikkonen and Massa to row 2 and Ricciardo and Perez to row 3. Kvyat and Verstappen took 8th and 9th respectively.
Kvyat rear-ended Vettel into turn 2, the German retiring at turn 3 after being then punted into Ricciardo, giving the Ferrari a lot of damage besides the obvious puncture. Hulkenberg also retired, his front wing missing likely due to the carnage caused by Kvyat. Perez took a puncture, Haryanto also was listed as retiring and Guttierrez was limping with half a front wing. Ericsson and both Red Bulls pitted, the Sauber just to change tyres. The safety car was a saviour for every single one of those who had to limp through the first lap.
Raikkonen was now 2nd behind Rosberg, Bottas leading the Williams charge. Hamilton then sat 5th, followed by Verstappen, Alonso, Grosjean and the Renault pair. Kvyat was set to face the stewards after the race.
The safety car pulled in at the end of lap 3, leaving a 50 lap sprint. Bottas and Hamilton both made a move on the restart and gained a place.
Kvyat continued his controversial day, overtaking Ericsson despite going more than a car's width off the track. Further ahead, Hamilton scythed past Raikkonen and set his sights on the remaining Williams.
Kvyat pitted from 17th, serving a stop/go penalty Race Control failed to notify viewers of. Similarly, Gutierrez was handed a drive-through penalty for hitting and retiring Hulkenberg's Force India which he served a lap later.
Nasr's strategy was dictated by Sauber discovering a slow puncture.
Bottas pitted before either Mercedes, trying to pull something out of the bag with the undercut, although that method was traditionally less successful around Sochi. Hamilton nonetheless came in only one lap later, but it was just enough for Bottas to retain the position. Raikkonen's strategy would have to be more intelligent. One lap on his new tyres and Hamilton forced his way past into turn 2. Alonso put up no fight, out of position in what had been 4th. Bottas made the same move a lap later, while Raikkonen pitted. The Ferrari had some help from Alonso holding up Hamilton and Bottas, only Bottas ending up behind his compatriot. Rosberg pitted on lap 22 with nobody else around him.
Sainz was put under investigation for forcing Palmer off the track out of turn 2. He received a 10-second time penalty.
Wehrlein tried to nail Nasr, but the Sauber held station as the Manor rolled over the kerb at turn 2. The Manor slid wide out of turn 16 and Kvyat stole 17th. Nasr went under investigation for not following the decreed route after running wide at turn 2. He was given a 5-second time penalty.
Magnussen took 8th, Grosjean taking 9th as Ricciardo fell to 10th ahead of Sainz who clung on, hunting for scraps from any contact that thankfully didn't ensue. Ricciardo pitted. Ahead of that pack, Alonso was holding a solid 7th place.
Verstappen slowed at turn 2, parking with engine failure after what looked to be a strong race. McLaren were the chief beneficiaries from this, Alonso now sitting 6th.
Hamilton's race was obviously going too well for the racing gods of 2016, a water pressure problem rearing its head with 15 laps to go. Hamilton was forced to ease off a little as he continued to deal with traffic. Rosberg compounded the difference between them by breaking the lap record.
Wehrlein dropped to last, his left rear tyre refusing to move for over 20 seconds.
Hamilton's pressure issues apparently stabilised, but perhaps too late for the reigning champion to do anything about his teammate's lead.
Massa made a very late stop from 5th for super-soft tyres, holding his position thanks to a huge lead over Alonso.
Rosberg won from Hamilton, Raikkonen, Bottas, Massa, Alonso, Magnussen, Grosjean, Perez and Button. Sainz then led Ricciardo, Palmer, Ericsson, Kvyat, Nasr, Gutierrez and Wehrlein. Ricciardo, however, jumped Sainz thanks to the Toro Rosso's penalty. Verstappen, Vettel, Hulkenberg and Haryanto retired. Rosberg deserves some credit for taking a grand chelem in Russia.
Rosberg now leads the championship by 43 points from Hamilton.