It’s now seven races and seven wins for Mercedes in Sochi, after continuing their iron-like grip on the Russian Grand Prix, after Valtteri Bottas‘ victory this weekend.
Picking up his second victory on the Black Sea, the Finn was the grateful recipient of what can only be described as a Lewis Hamilton pre-race faux-pas, taking the chequered flag ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, with Hamilton in third.
Victory in Russia may have only delayed the inevitable procession toward the Briton’s record-equalling seventh World Drivers’ Championship in December, but it nevertheless showcased the superior AMG unit, and Mercedes’ bloody mindedness to hold their 100% record.
Bottas too was in desperate need of finding the top step on the podium this weekend, and claiming his first win the season’s curtain-raiser in Austria, will believe he can still yet claw the 44-point deficit to his teammate in the final seven races of the campaign.
Rare error in Hamilton judgement
With pole secured, Sunday looked to be heading toward a Russian romp for Hamilton, but after a rare and baffling judgement call by the Briton, a P3 was always as good as it was going to get in Sochi.
In search of a record-equalling 91st F1 win, perhaps the occasion got to the 35-year-old’s head, after pulling an act of the irregular.
After not one, but two practice start infringements on his laps to the grid, a 10-second penalty effectively ruled him out of contention for the victory.
Hamilton has always kept the coolest of heads in the Paddock for the past four years, so his rather erratic call is hard to fathom.
But as his still 40-plus points advantage shows, there is in truth little damage done, except perhaps to the Briton’s ego. Lessons learnt surely, for Hamilton.
‘Step forward’ for Scuderia
Whilst Mercedes again ruled the podium this past weekend, Sochi was also a success on very differing levels for Ferrari.
Putting behind a largely nightmarish Italian fortnight in at Monza and Mugello, Scuderia made the careful steps in improvement with P6 for Charles Leclerc – even if Sebastian Vettel again failed to make the top ten.
The Monagesque driver’s performance was equally impressive after failing to reach Q3 on Saturday, and aside from a tangling with Lance Stroll that forced the Canadian to retire, Leclerc’s result was his best in five GPs.
Speaking after the race to F1.com, Leclerc admitted that sixth was nothing to celebrate, but as a markedly improved performance than in recent weeks, was satisfied with the progress Ferrari had made in Russia.
“Very happy about today. Again, from beginning of the season it’s difficult to be happy with P6, but it’s the way it is. We maximised what we had today.
Yesterday I was frustrated about quali, but at the end I don’t think we could have done better, even with a better quali. So happy with the weekend, now we need to understand what we did different to be so much better in the race than Mugello, for example, but it’s a good step forward.”
Haas hot-seat hots up
Haas Racing have rather fallen by the wayside of late after a hint at a breakthrough in 2018, but on the back of another laboured showing at the Russian GP, eyes are already turning to next season, and who may fill the two drivers’ seats in 2021.
After a set of P12 and P17 finishes, the American manufacturer are rumoured to be considering wholesale changes this winter, but both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean remain in the picture also.
Mick Schumacher – the son of his father, Michael – continued his impressive steps in F2 this weekend extending his championship lead with a second win of the season, and is driver whose name has been thrown into the ring for next term.
As is Sergio Perez, who has been left disgruntled after being shunted from Racing Point by Vettel, whilst Nico Hulkenberg‘s two-week deputising for Perez himself at Silverstone, showed the German’s desire to make a permanent return to F1.
Team principal Guenther Steiner has admitted there could be as many as six other contenders to compete for Haas next season, and with the regulations change in 2022, is clearly biding his time to get the right men to steer his team back into contention.
Fan return welcome sight
For the second GP in a row, Russia saw spectators returned to F1 stands, socially distancing themselves across the Sochi Autodrom. It is a sight for sore eyes for many.
With sport still continuing to juggle operating at something resembling normalcy, the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic is never far from both sight and mind.
So the return of spectators, has hinted at the light of what is still a decidedly lengthy and dim tunnel.
If this weekend was a trickle, some 20,000 fans will be let into the Nurburgring in a fortnight for F1’s trip down memory lane to the famous Rhineland circuit.
That will be some step for not just F1 but for sport itself and around the hallowed grounds of one of the famous tracks in the world, the addition of spectators are sure to make the Eifel Grand Prix a very special, if rather chilly occasion indeed.
The 2020 Eifel Grand Prix takes place at the Nurburgring, Germany over the weekend of October 9 and 11.
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