Mercedes’ Bottas holds off Ferrari’s Vettel for maiden F1 win; Raikkonen P3 for the Prancing Horse; Hamilton off the podium in P4
Valtteri Bottas drove a nearly flawless race to score his first-ever Formula 1 win at the Russain Grand Prix on Sunday. Always highly regarded in his years at Williams, the 27-year-old Finn is finally piloting a win-worthy ride with his unexpected elevation to a factory Mercedes drive after outgoing champion Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement at the end of last season. After showing promising pace in the first three rounds of 2017, Bottas put his excellent new equipment to best use at the Sochi Autodrom to claim his maiden F1 victory after 81 races, a great moment for any driver in the sport. Despite Ferrari’s first front row lockout since 2008 Bottas got the jump on the two Prancing Horses of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen as the lights went out, surging from his P3 grid position up through the Ferraris to take the race lead with a fine outbreaking maneuver going into Turn 2. Proving once again that a strong start into clean air is worth its weight in gold in an F1 tilt, Bottas quickly stretched the lead over his two blood red pursuers, as well as his teammate Lewis Hamilton, who remained mired in fourth with mysterious overheating issues.
Despite an early Safety Car due to a collision between the Haas of Romain Grosjean and the Renault of Jolyon Palmer that bunched up the field before one full lap had even been run Bottas sprinted away again when the track went green three laps later, proving that his Silver Arrow had the legs for any and all comers on this day. Vettel’s race engineers gambled on running a longer first stint than Bottas on the Ultra Soft Pirelli tire compound so that his Super Soft set would be fresher at the death of the race. As the laps wound down it looked like the bet might pay off for the Scuderia, with Vettel carving large chunks of time off the anxious Finn so desperate to see the checkered flag. But Bottas mastered his nerves and ran near-perfect laps under that considerable pressure from the 4-time World Champion just behind him. He also took advantage of slower traffic by not only picking them off quickly but also by deploying his DRS when close to the non-contenders to negate Vettel’s own use of the open wing. Bottas came home .6 seconds to the good and after so much promise he will forever finally be known as a Formula 1 race winner. Now the question remains if he can build on this career-defining victory and truly challenge Hamilton for supremacy within the Mercedes team and perhaps even the World Championship.
Despite their obvious improvement Ferrari must still have been somewhat disappointed at not getting the race victory after qualifying 1-2. But Vettel and Raikkonen did earn valuable points with their respective P2 and P3 podium finishes. Vettel now leads the Drivers’ Championship by 13 points over Lewis Hamilton after four rounds and Ferrari are only one point behind mighty Mercedes in the Constructors’ points. If Raikkonen can find a way to raise his game and take the fight to his teammate Vettel we could even be in for a crazy 4-driver slam bang shootout for the title. Certainly Mercedes and Ferrari have shown themselves to be the class of the manufacturers’ field this season and the battle between the two elite automotive giants now appears to be so close that it could well go down to the final race to decide 2017’s ultimate victor.
Bottas’ Mercedes teammate Hamilton was left wondering how his weekend in Russa went so wrong. Continue reading →
Ferrari locks out front row at Sochi with Vettel taking pole, Kimi P2; Mercedes on the back foot in quali with Bottas besting Hamilton, P3 to P4
If there were still doubts about Ferrari’s surprisingly strong start to the 2017 season after three strong rounds for the fabled Scuderia they were laid to rest during Saturday qualifying in Sochi, Russia when the two Prancing Horses locked out the front row for an F1 race for the first time since 2008. Sebastian Vettel put in a storming lap with time running out in Q3 to pip his teammate Kimi Raikkonen for the pole by less than half a second. The excellent pace of the two Ferraris knocked both Mercedes Silver Arrows off the front row, an usual sight in the new turbo era to say the least. Even more unusual, Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton was pushed out of the top 3, out-qualified by his new teammate Valtteri Bottas for the second week in a row. Hamilton finds himself starting from fourth position on the grid aside Bottas’ superior P3. Obviously come race day the getaway from the line will be paramount for this contending quartet. But Ferrari have clearly shown that they have an advantage in getting maximum performance out of the new generation of extra wide Pirelli rubber, which has enabled them to seriously challenge Mercedes’ formerly unquestioned dominance. And in Vettel they have a driver with the supreme talent to wring the utmost out of this excellent and much improved new SF70H chassis and compete with a superstar like Hamilton on even terms for victories.
Further back on the grid, Daniel Ricciardo did very well to bank a lap good enough for P5 after the Red Bulls had struggled to find outright pace on the very low abrasion Sochi Autodorm circuit. The veteran Aussie’s time was signifcantly better than his wunderkind teammate Max Verstappen’s, who could do no better than P7. Splitting the Red Bull duo was the Williams of Felipe Massa, who qualified P6 and showed that perhaps the Williams is finally beginning to find some consistent speed after an underwhelming beginning to the season. But rookie teammate Lance Stroll could do no better than P12 and Team Williams will need more from their young Canadian driver if they are to start banking those ever-valuable Constructors’ points on a regular basis. Nico Hulkenberg was excellent once again, pulling his factory Renault within shouting distance of the contenders in P8, his third Top 10 qualifying effort in a row. And overachieving Force India also performed well, with Sergio Perez taking P9 and the impressive young Frenchman Esteban Ocon quick enough for P10.
Tomorrow’s race airs live starting a 8 AM Eastern on NBC Sports here in the states. Can Ferrari follow up their impressive qualifying with a matching 1-2 when it really counts or will Mercedes find the race pace to deny the Scuderia that fervent wish? Hope to see you then to find out!