Lewis Hamilton has dominated the inaugural Russian Grand Prix and led home another Mercedes AMG Petronas 1-2 to give the Silver Arrows the Constructors’ Championship crown, a title which was never in doubt when the season got underway in March.
The result gave Hamilton his 31st Formula 1 win, drawing him equal with Nigel Mansell’s record as F1’s most successful British driver.
The Englishman had a comfortable run to victory after teammate Rosberg – his only realistic challenger – threw away his chances of returning to the winners’ circle when he overshot Turn 1 and flat-spotted his tyres. Despite having to pit at the end of the opening lap and rejoin at the rear of the field, the German tigered his way back into second place, showcasing just how dominant the F1W05s were at this new circuit.
It was an unusual weekend to say the least. Coming straight after Jules Bianchi’s shocking accident the weekend prior at Suzuka, the sport was in the midst of coping with its own grief while the Frenchman remains in intensive care with head injuries. While the uncertainty of the Marussia driver’s fate loomed large over what was undoubtedly a beautiful new facility, few would publicly admit to wanting to be there – and that was before you even considered the very real prospect of the sport being used as a political front for the controversial Russian government…
Amid much pomp and ceremony – the pre-race show included dancing cossacks! – there was a brief pause as the entire grid stood in silence in tribute to Bianchi, and then it was back to a 21-car race over 53 laps.
Hamilton made a smooth start from pole position while teammate Rosberg tucked in behind to gain a tow for the long sprint to the first proper corner, Turn 2. Rosberg got close enough to have a crack at the lead, but left his braking far too late and badly flat-spotted his tyres trying to get by, sliding into the run-off before rejoining ahead of the World Championship leader.
Before he could even respond to the team’s instructions to hand the position back – having clearly gained an advantage by cutting the corner – Rosberg reported massive front-end vibrations on tyres that resembled now fifty cent coins and peeled into the pits, switching to Pirelli’s Medium compound tyres and now facing the prospect of running the rest of the race on that set of rubber.
Hamilton was handed a lead that he would not surrender for the rest of the race.
Valtteri Bottas was promoted to second ahead of Jenson Button. The Finn gave chase in his Williams for the first few laps, but any hopes we may have had for a contest at the front proved to be false: Hamilton simply found another gear and started to eke out a comfortable lead in time for his sole visit to the pits.
Behind, Rosberg began a slow and steady charge through the order, constantly juggling his need to keep life in his tyres against the clear advantage that the Silver Arrows had over the rest of the field. By the time the pit stop windows came up, Rosberg was comfortably inside the top-six, and overtook Bottas shortly after the Finn had made his own pit stop.
There were suggestions that Rosberg had taken too much out of his tyres and would have to pit again, but he never did. He and Bottas banged out the fastest laps of the race on the final two tours, but it was Mercedes’ ninth 1-2 finish of the season. Cue celebrations aplenty as the team scored the Constructors’ Championship title, while Hamilton accepted the winner’s trophy from Russian president Vladimir Putin and extended his Drivers’ Championship lead to 17 points. How Rosberg must have been ruing his impetuous move on the first lap…
Bottas finished third to claim yet another podium in what has been a superb season, ahead of the McLarens of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen, who delivered the team’s most competitive showing since the start of the season.
Button simply didn’t have the pace to threaten Bottas, while Magnussen charged hard and picked up placed to finish fifth after copping a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change. The hefty points haul for the Woking squad could prove crucial in its battle with Force India for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship battle – after arriving one point behind its rival, it finished up 20 points ahead with the Indian team only claiming a single point courtesy of Sergio Pérez’s tenth place.
The Sochi Autodrom was clearly made for cars that had a Mercedes power unit bolted to the back – sweeping to the first five places – and that left Fernando Alonso to claim ‘best of the rest’ honours in his Ferrari in sixth. It was yet another determined drive from the Spaniard in a car that had little business running where it did, but he managed to keep the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel at bay in the closing laps.
The second Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen and Force India’s Sergio Pérez completed the top ten in a race that promised much but ultimately failed to deliver.
Starting well down the order in 18th, Felipe Massa narrowly missed out on the final point when he crossed the line in eleventh place. The Brazilian took the unusual path of a two-stop strategy and pitted to remove his slower tyres at the end of the first lap before running two stints on the softer ‘option’ Pirellis. When compared with Rosberg’s drive, it was clearly the wrong strategy call – something that Williams has made a habit of this year.
Nico Hülkenberg followed in the second Force India with another anonymous drive, finishing ahead of the two Toro Rossos of Jean-Éric Vergne and home driver Daniil Kvyat, who both had to back off after being unable to get their fuel consumption under control.
The two Saubers of Esteban Gutiérrez and Adrian Sutil were next up in another forgettable weekend for the Swiss team; Sutil was punted into a spin at Turn 2 by Romain Grosjean in one of the few incidents of the race, for which Grosjean was subsequently handed a five-second stop/go penalty.
Grosjean and teammate Pastor Maldonado struggled in their painfully slow Lotus E22s, with the pair only just managing to overcome Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham by the chequered flag.
Despite the prospect of a high-attrition race, there were just two retirees. Max Chilton pulled out of proceedings with suspension woes to give Marussia an early end to what had been a truly wretched weekend for the team.
Fellow backmarker Kamui Kobayashi also retired in his Caterham just before mid-distance, with the team citing the possibility of an impending brake failure based on their in-race telemetry readings. Perhaps the team was being prudent in the wake of Bianchi’s accident, but Kobayashi wasn’t buying it and hinted that the team was limiting his mileage to conserve parts through to the end of the year.
2014 Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (53 laps):
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||53||131:50.744|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||53||+ 13.657|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||53||+ 17.425|
|4.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||53||+ 30.234|
|5.||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||53||+ 53.616|
|6.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||53||+ 1:00.016|
|7.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||53||+ 1:01.812|
|8.||Sebastian Vettel||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||53||+ 1:06.185|
|9.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||53||+ 1:18.877|
|10.||Sergio Pérez||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||53||+ 1:20.067|
|11.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||53||+ 1:20.877|
|12.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||53||+ 1:21.309|
|13.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||53||+ 1:37.295|
|14.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||52||1 lap behind|
|15.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||52||1 lap behind|
|16.||Adrian Sutil||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||52||1 lap behind|
|17.||Romain Grosjean*||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||52||1 lap behind|
|18.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||52||1 lap behind|
|19.||Marcus Ericsson||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||51||2 laps behind|
|DNF.||Kamui Kobayashi||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||21||Brakes|
|DNF.||Max Chilton||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||10||Suspension|
* Grosjean was awarded a 5-second time penalty post-race in lieu of a stop-go penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Adrian Sutil.
Images via Sutton Images and XPB Images