Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas, team-mate to Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes this year, held his nerve to take a very popular victory in last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi circuit on the sunny Black Sea coast. It was his 81st F1 race and his best performance to date.
Ferrari had claimed the front row of the grid in Saturday’s qualifying session for the first time since the 2008 French Grand Prix, with drivers’ championship leader Sebastian Vettel heading Kimi Räikkönen. Significantly Bottas was third quickest, almost half a second faster than Hamilton.
Come race day, there was drama even before the Grand Prix had begun as poor Fernando’s McLaren ground to a halt near the end of the formation lap with a suspected energy recovery system fault and he was left to trudge disconsolately away.
When the red lights went out the Ferrari duo made decent starts, but Bottas made an even better one, slipstreaming into the lead. Contact between Haas driver Romain Grosjean and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer at turn three then caused their immediate retirement and brought out the Safety Car. Soon after the Safety Car had returned to the pit lane, the racing resumed, unluckily Daniel Ricciardo was forced to slow and exit the race with an overheating right rear brake problem on his Red Bull.
Out front Bottas was making hay and starting to extend his lead over the chasing Vettel, Räikkönen and Hamilton. By lap 19 Hamilton started to close on third placed Räikkönen, but both Mercedes drivers had overheating issues and he never posed a real threat.
The Grand Prix subsequently went through a tense but static phase in terms of position changes before Bottas was the first of the leaders to make his only pit stop of the race. Räikkönen, Hamilton and Vettel then made their only stops and the leading quartet was again as earlier.
The closing 17 laps were a tense affair though as Vettel set about closing down the gap to the leading Bottas, reducing it from four seconds to less than one, but the personable Bottas, popular throughout the Formula 1 paddock, retained his composure and held off the challenge in a grandstand finish.
So, Bottas cherished his first experience of the top step of an F1 podium, with the Ferrari duo joining him. Hamilton finished fourth 36 seconds behind the winner after unusually average qualifying and race days by his own high standards, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen fifth. Force India (aka Team Pink!) again had both drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon in the top ten points scoring positions as they claimed sixth and seventh places.
The result increased Vettel’s drivers’ championship lead over Hamilton from seven to 13 points, whilst Mercedes edged ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ battle by just a single point. The Formula 1 circus now heads to western Europe in two weeks’ time for the Spanish Grand Prix, held at the Circuit de Catalunya just outside Barcelona, as the most exciting F1 season for many years continues to take shape.
2017 F1 Russian Grand Prix Results
1 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 1hr28m8.743s
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +0.617s
3 Kimi Räikkönnen (Ferrari) +11.000s
4 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +36.320s
5 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +1m0.416s
6 Sergio Perez (Force india) +1m26.788s
7 Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1m35.004s
8 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) +1m36.188s
9 Felipe Massa (Williams) Lapped
10 Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) Lapped
11 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
12 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) Lapped
13 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
14 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Lapped
15 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
16 Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber) Lapped
17 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) Retired
18 Jolyon Palmer (Renault) Retired
19 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Retired
20 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Did not start
2017 F1 Drivers’ Championship (after 4 rounds of 20)
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 86 points
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 73 points
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 63 points
2017 F1 Constructors’ Championship (after 4 rounds of 20)
1 Mercedes 136 points
2 Ferrari 135 points
3 Red Bull 57 points