Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas has kept a fast-closing Sebastian Vettel at bay to claim his maiden Formula 1 race victory at the Russian Grand Prix, defying expectations that Ferrari would cakewalk this event.
The Finn became his country’s fifth Grand Prix winner, crossing the finish line 0.6 seconds clear of Vettel’s Ferrari after a determined charge over the final 15 laps of the race by the German. Kimi Räikkönen completed the podium to mark his first visit to the rostrum since last year’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Mercedes had downplayed its chances of being able to take the fight to Ferrari after the Italian team locked out the front row of the grid at the Sochi Autodrom.
Bottas, who had spent the lead-up to the Russian Grand Prix rebuffing questions from the tabloids that he was already being considered as a ‘number two’ driver to teammate Lewis Hamilton, responded in the perfect fashion.
He made a blistering start from third place on the grid, outdragging a sluggish Räikkönen before using his Mercedes’ superior straight-line speed to nip past Vettel at Turn 2 to claim the lead.
Seconds later, the race was neutralised by the Safety Car following a collision between arguably the weekend’s two unluckiest drivers: Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer.
The contact was triggered by Grosjean getting his nose up the inside of Palmer as the field compressed at Turn 2. His car unsettled by being hit by Grosjean, Palmer then oversteered into the side of the Frenchman and pitched him hard into the wall. Their race was done, with each blaming the other – the FIA Stewards conducted a post-race hearing and ruled it a racing incident.
As the field slowed in response to the Safety Car lights and waved yellow flags, Williams’ Lance Stroll made a rookie error by getting on the power too early exiting Turn 5 and looping his car into a spin. That dropped the Canadian teenager down the order, ensuring he would not threaten a possible points’ finish.
There had been major drama on the warm-up lap when Fernando Alonso was forced to park his McLaren Honda after is developed a terminal electrical issue. His car stuttered to a halt at the entry to pit lane, forcing another formation lap to allow the marshals to clear his abandoned car.
At the race restart, Bottas got the jump on two seemingly asleep Ferrari drivers at the restart and quickly built a cushion to ensure Vettel could not get the benefit of DRS.
The gap steadily blew out to over four seconds, but compressed to just over two seconds as he started to lap the backmarkers before his only planned pit stop. On Lap 27, the team called him in to switch from Ultra Soft tyres to Super Softs.
Räikkönen followed suit, but Ferrari kept Vettel out on track for another seven laps given the German’s pace wasn’t deteriorating. After pitting on Lap 35, he rejoined four seconds adrift of Bottas, but with the advantage of fresher tyres.
Vettel duly responded as a seemingly rattled Bottas flat-spotted his front-left tyre with a lock-up at Turn 13, and before long he had slashed the gap to under two seconds.
Inside the final five laps, Vettel was within a second of Bottas and able to use DRS to bring himself closer to set up a grandstand finish to a race that had not seen a single overtaking move.
Bottas seemed to have enough in hand as the final lap started, and victory was all but guaranteed when they came up to lap Felipe Massa’s ninth-placed Williams. The Brazilian had been forced into the pits to make a second stop after picking up a slow puncture – costing him a sixth placed finish – and was rapidly closing down Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault.
After letting Bottas through at Turn 2, Massa badly baulked Vettel through Turn 3, ensuring the Ferrari driver would not pull off an impossible run to victory.
Räikkönen finished third to mark his first visit to the podium in ten months, over 25 seconds clear of Bottas’ teammate Lewis Hamilton. The Englishman was off-the-boil all weekend and had his race compromised by trying to manage climbing engine temperatures.
Max Verstappen had a quiet run to fifth in his Red Bull Racing entry, and was the sole finisher for the team after an early retirement for teammate Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian was out after just five laps when his right rear brake caught fire – a worryingly similar cause to Verstappen’s DNF at the preceding Bahrain Grand Prix.
Massa’s late-race slow puncture handed the Force India pairing of Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon sixth and seventh places to give the Silverstone squad valuable points in their quest to maintain fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
Nico Hülkenberg finished eighth in the sole Renault, driving a 40-lap opening stint on Super Soft tyres before making his sole pit stop. Massa was hot in his wheel tracks in ninth, while Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr claimed the final point in tenth place. He and his teammate Daniil Kvyat sandwiched eleventh-placed Stroll, with the youngster finally seeing the chequered flag for the first time in his Formula 1 career.
Kevin Magnussen was a frustrated thirteenth, losing track position to Sainz after being handed a five-second pit stop penalty for failing to properly rejoin the circuit when he cut through the Turn 2 run-off on the opening lap.
An identical penalty was handed out to McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, but the Belgian brought the McLaren team some cheer by seeing the chequered flag, albeit two laps behind the podium-winners. The two Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein were the final finishers.
|2017 FORMULA 1 VTB RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (52 LAPS*)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||52||1:28:08.743|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||52||+ 0.617|
|3.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||52||+ 11.000|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||52||+ 36.320|
|5.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||52||+ 1:00.416|
|6.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||52||+ 1:26.788|
|7.||Esteban Ocon||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||52||+ 1:35.004|
|8.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||52||+ 1:36.188|
|9.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||51||1 lap behind|
|10.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||51||1 lap behind|
|11.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||51||1 lap behind|
|12.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||51||1 lap behind|
|13.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||51||1 lap behind|
|14.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Honda MCL32||51||1 lap behind|
|15.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||51||1 lap behind|
|16.||Pascal Wehrlein||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||50||2 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||5||Brakes|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Jolyon Palmer||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||0||Collision|
|DNS.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MCL32||Electrical|
* Race distance was reduced from its originally-scheduled 53 laps due to the first start being aborted.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team and Sutton Images