• Chris Kato

5 Thoughts from the 2020 Russian Grand Prix

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

Bottas ends his drought as he reigns in Sochi once again

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Sochi, Russia - It seemed like the festivities were all lined up in Sochi to celebrate a historic moment in Formula 1 as Lewis Hamilton looked poised to equal Michael Schumacher's win record. Fortunately for the fans, things did not go according to plan for Mercedes and Hamilton will have to wait another race weekend to equal Schumacher's record. As usual in Sochi, it wasn't the most thrilling race in terms of overtaking but the 2020 Russian Grand Prix certainly had its moments. Let's take a look at my five quick thoughts from the race in Russia.

1. Bottas' Puzzling Team Radio

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For the first time since the Austrian Grand Prix in July, Valtteri Bottas crossed the line in P1 as he took the checkered flag in Sochi. In a season where Mercedes has had a stranglehold on the competition, it is pretty crazy to think that this was only Bottas' second win of the season. Of course his world championship teammate has had a lot to do with that, taking six of the ten race victories this season. But Hamilton's superb 2020 campaign isn't the only reason for Bottas' championship deficit. The Finn has had some bad luck and poor performances this year that sees him 44 points back of Hamilton with seven races to go. When Bottas crossed the line in Sochi, I was expecting a very received radio message from Valtteri after going months without a grand prix win. I was pretty perplexed to hear Bottas' radio message calling out his critics and reverting to his catchphrase of 'to whom it may concern'. When he first said this back in Australia 2019, it was an appropriate message to his haters after coming off a rough 2018 season and then dominating Hamilton in the first race of the year. But in this particular race, it just didn't feel right at all and I think many fans picked up on that. Bottas is a very talented driver who most weekend's is able to get within a few hundreds of Hamilton in qualifying. With that being said, heading into the Russian Grand Prix this weekend, Bottas had the same amount of wins in 2020 as Pierre Gasly in an Alpha Tauri. If Bottas wanted to shut the critics up he should've done it much earlier in the season when the championship was still close. He had a good race in Russia but if we are being honest, had Hamilton not gotten the penalty I think Bottas wouldn't be celebrating on the top step of the podium. Hamilton blitzed Bottas in qualifying going almost seven tenths faster than his teammate and Bottas was unable to pass Hamilton at the start even though he had the slipstream. I like Valtteri Bottas a lot and think he has done a great job at Mercedes but I don't see how he has anything to throw at Hamilton that will defeat him. It's nice to see the fire in Valtteri but in this case I think it is too little too late.

2. Drivers of the Day

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I was not surprised to see fans vote for Max Verstappen as driver of the day but to be honest I don't think he should have won it. Max had a real solid race and took home a great second place considering the last few races he has had. But as usual for Verstappen, he had a lonely race and didn't really have to put on a significant challenge to anyone ahead or behind him. It was hard for me to pick one specific driver so I'm going to highlight a couple that really stood out to me. First off, Daniil Kvyat in his home race I think did a stellar job bringing home an eighth place for Alpha Tauri. Once again, the Faenza squad picked a great strategy putting Kvyat on the hards which really brought the Russian into play at the latter stages of the race. He was so close to P7 at the end but was just lacking some straight line speed compared to Esteban Ocon's Renault. Even though he couldn't get it done, his matured driving is what really stood out and you can tell he has learned a lot from some of his last lap crashes in 2019. Another driver that flew under the radar was Sergio Perez of Racing Point. Running the RP20 without the new upgrades, he put his car on the second row of the grid and converted that place in the race. He lost a couple places at the start to the Renault's, but Perez's usual soft touch on the throttle pedal allowed him to prolong his stint on the soft tyres and come out with better track position. It was his best result of the season and was a key finish for Racing Point considering Stroll crashed out and the Renault's had a strong finish. Lastly, it was the Aussie Daniel Ricciardo who had another fantastic race for Renault. He looked really competitive all weekend long and the opening stages of the race looked promising for Ricciardo. Unfortunately, a planned swap of positions with his teammate Ocon didn't go great and that led to a five second time penalty for the Honey Badger. The way Ricciardo handled the penalty was brilliant and he raced on to come home in fifth place helping Renault inch closer to third in the Constructor's standings.

3. A Decent Step Forward for Ferrari

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Ferrari were in for another tough weekend going to a power sensitive circuit like Sochi but in the end it actually turned out to be a solid race, especially for Charles Leclerc. Ferrari brought several aero updates to the car for Sochi and they seemed to have helped as Leclerc managed to finish P6 after starting 10th on the grid. The aero updates might've helped Ferrari in terms of setup as they didn't have to trim the car as much as they did in Belgium to compensate for their lack of power. This meant Leclerc could be stronger in the final sectors and still be somewhat competitive on the straights. His teammate Sebastian Vettel also helped him out a lot with his battles against Ocon for example. Vettel was able to hold up the pack long enough so that Leclerc could build a gap and be out of harms way. It's not a massive step forward but at least it is a decent improvement over the last couple of race weekends. Ferrari are expected to bring some more upgrades to the rear of the car for the next race in Germany so it seems like they are working in the right direction. Leclerc's P6 finish sees him leapfrog Lance Stroll for seventh in the standings and keeps him within the fight for fourth in the championship.

4. Mercedes Stumble over Themselves Again

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So far in 2020, the only thing to get in the way of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes has been themselves. For the second time in three races, Mercedes and Hamilton made an unforced error that led to a race changing penalty. First it was entering a closed pitlane that cost him the Italian Grand Prix and now an illegal practice start cost Hamilton a chance at history that will have to wait. It's so rare to see even one mistake from a team who usually executes double stack pit stops and intelligent strategies like clock work but once again Mercedes have stumbled over themselves. Mercedes had failed to realize just how far Hamilton wanted to go in order to do his practice start. Once they saw where Hamilton's car was positioned for a practice start, they knew the race stewards weren't going to like that. Mercedes were hopeful it would not result in a penalty as it wasn't necessarily in a dangerous spot but of course the FIA disagreed with that. Hamilton was handed two 5 second time penalties and was forced to fight his way back through the pack to an eventual third place. Now initially Hamilton was also docked two super-license points but the stewards later reversed that decision post race as they deemed it was Mercedes' fault and not the driver. It was definitely a weird incident and not one that we've seen before. What made it even more strange was the fact that it happened to the mighty Mercedes team who hardly ever make unforced errors. Looking at the bigger picture, it is most likely not going to hurt them in terms of either championship but it has to be frustrating considering how dominant their car has been. Are Mercedes getting over confident or are these just honest mistakes? It's difficult to say and I'm sure we'll hear more from Toto Wolff in the coming days as to why this happened, but it's certainly interesting to see even a team like Mercedes make blatant mistakes that lead to missed opportunities.

5. Battle for 4th Heating up Nicely

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We've grown accustomed to a thrilling battle between the mid-field in recent years and 2020 is no different. With the drivers championship pretty much decided at this point, the F1 1.5 championship is as close as ever. From Lando Norris in 4th place to Sergio Perez in 9th place, only nine points separate the drivers. Lance Stroll's two DNF's in the last two races have dropped him down to eighth but he is still well within the fight as well. It's a really intriguing battle as the likes of Renault, Racing Point, and McLaren are really coming into their own and seem almost even in performance. It's also crazy that we are considering Ferrari a mid-field team but even with all of their struggles, Charles Leclerc is still in the mix to finish in the top four this year. It was great to see those battles again in the Russian Grand Prix as Ricciardo and Perez were mixing it up at the start with Norris and Albon battling hard at the back throughout the race. With Ferrari out of place this year, it has really opened up the grid for a career best finish for some drivers and teams. With seven races to go, it's really a toss up between six drivers to see who will finish behind the top three of Hamilton, Bottas, and Verstappen. Personally, I can't wait for the next couple of races to see these battles on track as it should be a straight dogfight until the end of the season.

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