They say that after revolution comes restoration and to a certain extent that sums up the outcome of the 2019 Russian Grand Prix. Scuderia Ferrari had started from pole and won the last three races in Spa, Monza and Singapore, but today Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport restored the previous order, scoring a one-two finish, its eighth this season.
Ninth Win of 2019 For Lewis Hamilton
For Lewis Hamilton it was the ninth win of the year, the fourth in the Russian Grand Prix, a race that has only ever been won by Mercedes in its six editions to date, backed up with four second places.
“This win feels like it has been a long time coming and it was just an incredible job from the whole team: never giving up, pushing forward, always trying to be innovative. It’s incredibly inspiring to be part of that and amazing to have this result today considering how quick the Ferraris were in that opening stint. It was a really hard task to keep up with them, especially on the offset tyre, but we kept pushing and the car felt really good today. We thought that their soft tyres would drop off during that opening stint, but they had such good pace that I was struggling to keep up with them – and that’s probably a little warning for us, because it looked like they got their calculations right in that regard. I managed to stay within shooting distance, though, and started closing down the gap as their tyres started to drop. Charles pitted, then I started catching Seb, and we were in a good position to offset and go long – even had the Safety Car not come out, it would have been a really good race. Then everything fell our way, and after that it was a question of building the gap, saving the tyres but also getting to the finish as smoothly as possible. Looking ahead, of course the races are counting down but we are just trying to take things one race at a time, put one foot in front of the other and not stumble. When you have a battle like this, you’re working flat out, turning over every stone and questioning every little thing you can do better. We love that challenge and I’m really excited for the next races,” said Hamilton.
Fast Start For Ferrari Ends In Disappointment
The result alone does not tell the story of the race. Up until lap 25 it looked as though last Sunday’s Singapore result would be repeated with Ferrari taking the top two places, although probably with Leclerc in front of Vettel this time.
Pole man Leclerc got off the line well and towed his team-mate along who not only shot past Hamilton before the first corner, he also swept through into the lead. The race was immediately neutralised following a collision between Giovinazzi, Ricciardo and Grosjean, the latter ending up in the barriers and the Australian having to pit with a puncture.
“It was a tricky race. I think that we had a good strategy to give us the best result as a team. At the start of the race, I gave Sebastian a tow so that we could race at the front and get ahead of our competitors together. Then, after the safety car, things became a bit more complicated and we aimed to find the right timing to swap positions, which we did when Seb pitted. Unfortunately, there was an issue on Seb’s car and he had to end the race early. From that point on it just didn’t go our way anymore and it was not possible for me to overtake the two cars in front. After we had such a strong weekend, ending the race with one car in P3 and the other retired is not the best feeling. But we are confident of our potential and will head into the next races with determination and give our all to bring home the best possible results,” added Leclerc.
At the restart, in theory, the Ferrari drivers should have swapped places, according to what was said on the radio, but it didn’t happen and Vettel gradually began to pull away from his team-mate. The only one capable of staying with them was Hamilton, even though he was running the Medium tyres as chosen for yesterday’s Qualifying 2. On lap 10, Vettel led Leclerc by 2.1 seconds, Hamilton by 5.8 and Bottas by 12.1, the Finn having dispensed with the McLaren of Carlos Sainz three laps earlier. 10 laps later nothing much had changed, with Vettel now leading an ever more frustrated Leclerc by 4.4 and Hamilton by 7.1. Bottas was unable to stay with the lead trio and was 18.8 behind. A further 15 seconds down the road came Verstappen, who had climbed up to fifth place.
MGU-K Failure For Sebastian Vettel
The run of pit stops got underway on lap 22, with Leclerc who came in to switch to Mediums. In Singapore, the undercut had shot Vettel from third to first, but this time it was the Monegasque driver who was being given the chance and was putting in some quick laps. The race leader tried to respond but the Softs were beginning to show signs of degradation. Vettel came in on lap 26 and rejoined behind Leclerc, but the four-times world champion would not get much further, forced to park at the side of the track when the MGU-K failed.
“Today, we are very disheartened. We wanted to finish first and second, but all we got was a third place. It’s not the result we were hoping for. I got a good start and the first stint was pretty quick which allowed me to open up quite a gap. After the pit stop, I rejoined in second place but shortly afterwards the team asked me to stop the car because there was a problem with a hybrid component on my Power Unit. I hope the engine will be okay for the coming races. It has definitely been not our day today,” said a dejected Vettel.
The race director called for a Virtual Safety Car so that the Ferrari could be moved and this was to be the Italian team’s undoing. The two Mercedes made the most of it to change tyres, pitting for Softs on lap 28, losing hardly any time under the Safety Car, so that Hamilton rejoined ahead of Leclerc.
At this point, Russell hit the barrier in the Williams so that the virtual safety car became a real one, sitting at the head of the field. At this point, Ferrari decided to bring Leclerc in again to put on the same Softs as his rivals, in the hope he could challenge Hamilton for the win. However, it meant he lost a place on track and was now behind Bottas and they stayed in that order until the chequered flag.
At the second restart, on lap 33, Leclerc tried to close on Bottas but he never got near enough to try a passing move. The Ferrari stayed with the Finn but even using DRS did not help. Meanwhile, Hamilton, with his team-mate riding shotgun, concentrated on tyre management to run untroubled to the end of the race.
It meant the only real excitement around the top three was who would win the battle to set the fastest race lap and here too Hamilton had the upper hand. His time of 1.35.761 set on lap 51 is a new record for the track, while the best Leclerc could offer was a 1.36.316.
Thus the curtain came down on another Mercedes one-two, somewhat different to those that came before, in that they were definitely not favourites when the cars lined up on the grid. All the more satisfying for the team run by Toto Wolff, as it resumes its winning ways that were interrupted prior to the summer break.
Big Points Haul For McLaren
Just off the podium was Verstappen, who once he’d climbed to fourth had a pretty lonely race, given that his team-mate Albon was fifth, but over 24 seconds behind. In the “Best of the Rest Grand Prix,” McLaren were the stars, with Carlos Sainz sixth and Lando Norris eighth, bringing home a handy 12 points, the best score previously achieved in Austria and Hungary that helps the team consolidate fourth place in the Constructors’ classification. The English team’s lead over Renault, who only scored one point today with Hulkenberg’s tenth place, has gone up to 33 points.
“Today we got back to having two cars finishing in the points. It’s a great team achievement particularly because everyone around us benefitted from the Virtual Safety Car and Safety Car at our expense. These 12 points are crucial in our ongoing battle to secure fourth position in the Constructors’ Championship.
“Both Carlos and Lando did a great job today. They made excellent starts and put up a great fight throughout the race. It was also important that we had two solid pit-stops helping to contribute to today’s results. We had a difficult Friday, but with support from home, the team managed to turn it around. We now look forward to Japan having scored over 100 points in the Constructors’ Championship for the first time since 2014,” said McLaren Team Principal Andreas Seidl.
The other top ten finisher was seventh-placed Sergio Perez, doing a great job for SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team and in eighth place at the flag Kevin Magnussen, although the Dane was relegated to ninth with a 5-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. At least Haas scored points for the first time since the German Grand Prix. They therefore close the gap to Alfa Romeo, who failed to score today in the fight for eighth place.
With the Singapore-Sochi back-to-back now completed, Formula 1 has one weekend to catch its breath after a run of four races in five weeks. The next round, the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix, takes place at Suzuka from 11 to 13 October.
2019 Russian Grand Prix Tyres
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix from second on the grid with one pit stop, moving from the medium to the soft tyre under a virtual safety car. His team mate Valtteri Bottas, who finished second, adopted the same strategy. Behind them there was a wide variety of tactics seen throughout the 53-lap race, which featured two safety cars: one straight after the start, and one just over the halfway point.
- Mercedes was the only team in the top 10 of the grid to start on the medium tyres. Ferrari adopted a different tactic, starting on the soft.Both Mercedes drivers ran a longer first stint than Ferrari, and made their sole pit stops consecutively under a virtual safety car, switching to the soft tyres.
- With Charles Leclerc ending up behind the two Mercedes following their stops, Ferrari switched strategy to bring him in for a second stop to soft tyres under a full safety car, two laps after the Mercedes drivers had pitted.
- The driver to make up most places was Red Bull’s Alex Albon, who started from the pit lane and made a single stop from medium to soft tyres on his way to fifth at the finish.
- There was an equal mixture of soft and medium tyres seen at the start with only Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat starting his home race on the hard tyre from the back of the grid.
- Although a one-stopper was predicted as being the fastest strategy, four of the 15 classified finishers ended up stopping twice: including Leclerc, on the podium. This was heavily influenced by the safety cars.
How Each Tyre Performed
- HARD C2: This was predicted as a workable option for the second stint, but in the end only three drivers used it, with the medium and soft resisting well.
- MEDIUM C3: A key element to Hamilton’s win. With low degradation, the drivers using this at the start were able to maximise their stint and keep their options open.
- SOFT C4: Also used for some long stints, notably by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who completed a long first run to move from ninth on the grid to fourth at the finish. Hamilton used the soft to set the fastest lap towards the end of the race.
Mario Isola – Pirelli Head of F1 and Motor Racing
“Tactics were an important element to the race, with opposite strategies being selected by Mercedes and Ferrari that resulted in an exciting finish, as Charles Leclerc tried to get past his rivals. The medium tyres selected by Mercedes gave them an advantage in terms of flexibility, but what was perhaps more of a surprise was the life of the soft. This worked better in today’s warmer conditions, being less susceptible to graining at higher temperatures. The two safety car periods were a key factor in the grand prix, minimising wear and degradation during important phases in the race, as well as providing opportunities to make pit stops at the right moment to minimise time loss. We came to Russia with a harder tyre choice than last year: this enabled drivers to push hard from the start to finish of each stint, rather than manage their pace.”