Nico Rosberg’s desperate first-lap dive handed Lewis Hamilton an easy victory and Mercedes the Constructor’s title in the inaugural and unmistakably Tilke Russian Grand Prix.
Pirelli’s conservative tyre choice for the new Tilkedrome compounded the poor spectacle but did allow Nico to complete a stunning recovery to second with Valtteri Bottas rounding off the top three. Merc asserted themselves as they have all season with all of the top five finishers having a Mercedes power plant.
Off the grid, Rosberg stormed off the line past Hamilton with a bit of slipstream and his eyes no doubt lit up. On the dirty side of the track, the German looked to be through but misjudged his braking point. The anchors had to come out leaving Rosberg driving on four 50p pieces after a huge lock-up. The German missed the exit of T1 and had to give up first on immediate team orders. Either way, vibrations meant he had to pit, creating a monumental second stint of 52 laps to get him to the end of the race.
Perhaps Hamilton’s Friday pace and his pole played again on Nico’s mind. The move seemed unnecessarily kamikaze with the full race left to run. It’s hard to deny of late that Hamilton’s had Nico flustered.
Daniil Kvyat’s fifth impressed everybody in Qualifying yesterday but the local boy quickly slid backwards to P9 by the end of lap two and P14 by the chequered flag while Button and Magnussen made progress, eventually to fourth and fifth. Force India managed only tenth with Sergio Perez so a good weekend all-round for Mclaren.
Pirelli’s choice of harder-than-usual compounds for the unknown surface at Sochi put pay to any real racing on what was already predicted to be a close sibling of the racing produced at Valencia in any case. Rosberg’s fight back through the field was the only major talking point. He had to justify being stuck behind Ericsson early on with a “for your information” message to his team telling them he was saving his tyres while languishing 40 seconds behind his team-mate out front.
Valtteri Bottas, in second, was kept at arm’s length by Hamilton who was coasting by lap twelve. It was “all good, man” for Lewis who was lifting 200 metres before each turn. It did look easy, because it just was.
Nico carved through the field as he grew into a rhythm. Even whilst conserving tyres, he pipped Bottas on lap 31 – managing this time to pull of the dive he tried on lap one at the first corner. Williams banked on Rosberg running out of rubber telling Bottas “we’ll get Rosberg back”. Five laps later Rosberg replied “easy” when asked if he’d get to the end of the race. Hamilton had 18 seconds and plenty of pace in the pocket and that was that. Rosberg’s impressive economy drive from twenty-first to second was always just going to be a recovery after acknowledging the “completely unnecessary” first- lap move.
Bernie and Vladimir Putin provided a late distraction from the anaemic racing as the President of the Russian Federation met the President of the Formula One Federation, both surrounded by Russian heavies with the race drawing to a close. With great power evidently comes the need to wear crisp white shirts. “Oh for fuck sake Vlad, I told you I was going to wear white!” you could almost hear Bernie saying.
The Russian President looked on as Hamilton strolled right past him in the pre-podium drinks section of the post-race formalities as the others greeted him and exchanged frivolities. Hamilton did eventually come over to Putin to shake hands after a drink. A bit awkward – as were the pointed pro-Russia questions on the podium. It would genuinely be more entertaining to get bogged down in all the politics here as it was probably more interesting than the racing but best to steer clear. Formula One is, after all, free from any political agenda… Eh Bernie? Eh Jean?
Hamilton now has the upper hand to the tune of 17 points. Barring events out of the ordinary, Rosberg has the double-points season-ender now to hold in hope as Lewis chalks up four wins in a row to equal Mansell’s British 31-win record. The only drivers to win four in a row in a season are those that went on to win the title.