For Sebastian Vettel, the 2016 Russian Grand Prix will be remembered as the race that ended before it even had a chance to begin.
Similar to the previous grand prix in China, Vettel suffered a blow from Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat on Lap 1 in Turn 1, forcing the short end of the stick on the Ferrari driver.
Unlike China, however, Vettel’s weekend in the Sochi Autodrome found a number of issues, starting with a changed gearbox on the No. 5 chassis which handed the team a five-place grid penalty for Sunday.
To match his already sour situation for the 53-lap race, the four-time World Champion had a stoppage 30 minutes into FP2 which was believed to have been caused by an electrical problem.
Despite the bubble of reliability woes, Vettel still ended the session in second at a lap time of 1:38.235 seconds. Finishing third in both FP1 and FP3, Vettel had a strong dose of momentum heading into Saturday qualifying.
With Nico Rosberg continuing to show championship-esque pace in 2016, Vettel was no match as he qualified second, a massive 0.706 seconds behind the Mercedes man.
“Of course I would’ve liked the gap in the end to be smaller,” Vettel said. “I think for us it was the maximum. I think we benefited from what happened to Lewis [Hamilton] which I’m not sure exactly what it was. It allowed us to go P2 which helps for tomorrow with the penalty. We are a bit closer, starting on the clean side of the track.”
Indeed, having a strong qualifying spot lessened the blow the gearbox penalty would give. Even following the run of issues, Vettel said he is not frustrated at this point in time.
“It’s not nice when these things happen because they don’t make your life easier,” Vettel said. “But, equally, it’s part of racing. These things can happen.”
Starting from the seventh spot, there was little concern as Vettel has shown the ability to make passes toward the front of the field – doing so at Circuit of the Americas in 2015, finishing third after starting 13th.
However, once the lights went out and the field of 22 stormed into Turn 1, Vettel found trouble as Daniil Kvyat bumped the rear of his car as they tried to overtake the sister Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. Already shaken up by the contact, the long and quick Turn 3 saw Kvyat have a return blow to Vettel, this time spinning the Ferrari and causing a hard crash into the safety barriers.
“I’m out. Crashed. Somebody hit me in the f**king rear at Turn 2 and then somebody hit me in the f**king rear again in Turn 3. Honestly, what the f**k are we doing here?!” – Vettel’s colorful pit-to-car radio broadcast after his Lap 1 accident
Ranting and raving on the radio moments after the crash, Vettel was more subdued in his post-accident interview, saying he believes both incidents were just mistakes made from the young Kvyat.
“Look, I don’t dislike him,” Vettel said. “I think he did a mistake two weeks ago, I think he made a mistake today. It’s fairly obvious. It doesn’t help me now because I am not in the car.”
Kvyat received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty shortly after as the Russian driver finished 15th.
“In the end, we are here to race,” Vettel concluded. “Massively pumped up to get off the line, had a super start and making progress into the second corner and then got the big hit. And then got another big hit after that straightaway which was destroying our race. I think I was quite loud on the radio but it doesn’t change anything now.”
Images via XPB Images