Russian GP 2018: A Mercedes team order robbed Bottas of victory!

The Red Team were expected to be strong at Sochi Autodrom, as the Ferrari aces had dominated the qualifying last year. However, qualifying revealed the true pecking order of the teams. Mercedes turned out the leading team, whilst Ferrari were struggling with their performance in Q1. Red Bull proved their competitiveness, as Verstappen was third and Ricciardo fourth in the first segment. Like expected, Q2 saw different tyre strategies. Both Mercedes and Ferrari sent their drivers out on the purple-walled ultra-soft compound. In spite of the tyre choice, Hamilton topped the timesheets, with teammate Bottas second. The Red Bull duo didn't bother to go out at all, as both of them were to start to the race from the back of the grid, due to engine penalties. It was a bizarre Q2, as the Renault duo, too opted to give the segment a miss, to allow them a free tyre choice in the race.

Russian GP 2018

Although Hamilton had set the benchmark in Q1 and Q2, the final segment belonged to Bottas. The Finn laid down a marker early in the final segment, going fastest in the first runs. Hamilton got extremely close, being only four thousandths of a second down on his Finnish teammate. Unfortunately Ferrari proved unable to match the Silver Arrows' pace.
Sebastian in third was already massive six tenths down on the pace-setting Bottas. It was obvious, that the shootout for pole was down to the Mercedes teammates. Hamilton blitzed the first sector on his second run, but ran wide through Turn 7, and had to abort the lap. Storming Bottas snatched a tenth off his earlier benchmark and claimed his second pole of the season in style. Hamilton made it a front row lock-out for the silver cars. In the end, Sebastian was full half a second off the ultimate pace due to a tame first sector. Kimi made a mistake in the final sector on his last run, but the Iceman locked down the second row for the Scuderia. This time the best of the rest was Haas' Magnussen, who took P5.

Tyre-wise the grid looked extremely interesting. The top four drivers -Mercedes and Ferrari- were on the purple-marked middle compound, whilst all other top ten drivers were on the hyper-softs. The Red Bull duo of Ricciardo and Verstappen, who were starting from the very back of the grid due their engine penalties, opted for the yellow-walled hardest compound. At the race start the pressure was all on the pole-setter Bottas. The Finn took a splendid start, and teammate Hamilton made a genius move, to prevent Sebastian from getting in the slip stream of either one of the Silver Arrows. Sebastian was hungry to challenge his championship contender for the second place, but there was no chance for overtaking. The future Ferrari pilot Leclerc took an impressive start from P7, making his way up to P5. Birthday boy Verstappen took a rocket start from P19, offering a mesmerising overtaking show on the opening laps. In less than ten laps, the flying Dutchman had climbed up to P5 already!

Russian GP 2018

Race leader Bottas was the first top driver to pit on lap 12. Ferrari called Sebastian in on the sequential lap, as they wanted to try an undercut in the battle against Hamilton. And it worked perfectly! Hamilton pitted a lap after Sebastian, and the situation got extremely heated at the pit exit. Sebastian managed to squeeze it right ahead of the Briton, which he wasn't too happy about. Gutted Hamilton attacked Sebastian on the start/finish straight. Due to the DRS advantage Hamilton made it alongside his arch enemy Sebastian. In the heat of the moment, defending his position, Sebastian resorted to a questionable move. He ended up changing his line twice, which is prohibited by the rules. Thanks to Hamilton's supernatural reflexes, a crash was avoided. Hamilton was utterly stubborn to get past his arch enemy, and the Briton executed a successful overtaking move in Turn 5, snatching back the second place. The stewards took Sebastian's move into investigation, but no further action was warranted, which took me by surprise.

The race took a crucial turn on lap 25. The race leader Bottas was told on the team radio to let his teammate past in Turn 13. The Finn had no option but to obey, and from then on, Valtteri's job was to slow down Sebastian as much as possible. Meanwhile Verstappen, who hadn't pitted yet, was leading the race. It was amazing, how competitive lap times the Dutchman was able to set, having over 30 laps on his soft Pirellis. He pitted not until with ten laps to go, for a fresh set of ultra-soft Pirellis, and Hamilton took the lead.

Russian GP 2018

The pace of the Mercedes drivers was very evenly matched, and there were only two seconds separating the teammates. Bottas must have thought, that the team would restore the order of the drivers, as Sebastian proved no threat to the championship-leading team. However, Bottas was told, that the order was to remain unchanged. So Hamilton crossed the finish line as the race winner. However, Bottas was the moral winner; the Finn would have won the race, had he not been told to give way to his teammate! This was one of the very rare times, when Hamilton didn't deserve the victory. Sebastian finished third, and Kimi fourth. The Ferrari aces were followed by Red Bull's Verstappen and Ricciardo. In the race results the best of the rest was Sauber's Leclerc, who proved again, why he will be been given a race seat for Ferrari next season.

Sebastian's P3 meant, that he is now massive 50 points down on his arch rival in the drivers' championship standings. However, in spite of the latest setback, his dream of winning the world title is very much alive. With hard work he can still make the tables turn! Same implies to the Red Team, although they are now 53 points off Mercedes. The battle continues in Japan already this week. Forza Ferrari!

With passion for racing red,
Iina Huhmarniemi

Oct 04, 2018