Rosberg hits a perfect 100 to boost his championship chances

2016 Russian Grand Prix review

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The 2016 world championship is starting to look like groundhog season. Nico Rosberg won the opening race while his closest rivals ran into trouble – and much the same has happened in each of the following grands prix.

In Russia those rivals were ticked off as follows: a power unit problem in qualifying meant Lewis Hamilton was compromised before the race even began, Sebastian Vettel was out shortly after it did and Kimi Raikkonen was too busy fighting a Williams to pose a significant threat.

Rosberg therefore completed a clean sweep of the opening four ‘flyaway’ races. He heads back to Europe with a perfect 100 points in his pocked: and surely his best chance yet of claiming the title.

Kvyat causes chaos

Start, Sochi Autodrom, 2016
Kvyat wrecked Red Bull’s race – and Vettel’s
A lot has been written recently about Hamilton’s luck. And there’s no question he’s been short of it recently: power unit faults in consecutive qualifying sessions virtually guaranteed Rosberg would take the lion’s share of points at these two rounds.

There are degrees of luck, however. Had Hamilton’s car broken down during the races instead of in qualifying he would have amassed zero points in China and Russia instead of a combined 21. And in Russia he had the good fortune to once again not make a very quick start.

There was a long wait for the lights to go out as the race began, and when the field was released Hamilton came under attack from the fresher-tyres cars behind him while those on the rows ahead drew away. That gave him space to join the racing line approaching the first braking point at turn two.

This was the third grand prix at Sochi, but the corner already has a reputation as a trouble spot. “It’s sort of like Monza in a way,” Daniel Ricciardo explained. “You come from a high speed and it’s really tight so incidents are more likely to happen compared to maybe Shanghai where you roll in with a lot more speed to turn one.”

Ricciardo was one of several victims when his team mate Daniil Kvyat, left his braking too late and clattered into Sebastian Vettel. The Ferrari driver slewed sideways into Daniel Ricciardo who in turn clipped Sergio Perez.

Bearing down on the scene Hamilton quickly opted to take to the run-off area. He’d done so in qualifying 24 hours earlier and been rapped on the knuckles for not obeying the correct route back onto the track. This time he went around the polystyrene block as instructed, and as he rejoined the track Vettel and Kvyat were sweeping by.

Vettel, however, slowed – possible due to a left-rear puncture – and Kvyat piled into the back of him once more. This time he bundled the Ferrari off into a barrier. The reckless driving Vettel had unjustly accused Kvyat of in China the Red Bull driver had committed twice in the space of as many corners in Russia.

“What Kvyat did was completely unnecessary,” said Vettel. “I had a massive hit from behind, then another big hit in turn three and that finished my race.”

Hamilton regained his momentum and got to turn four ahead of Max Verstappen, who had narrowly avoided being launched by Kvyat in turn three, and Sergio Perez, who had a puncture from his contact with Ricciardo.

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Hamilton goes on the attack

Nico Hulkenberg, Esteban Gutierrez, Sochi Autodrom, 2016
Hulkenberg didn’t make it to turn three, again
There was more chaos further back. Esteban Gutierrez also arrived at turn two too quickly. “I arrived at the first corner with a lot of space in front,” he explained, “and I braked but, unfortunately, I couldn’t stop the car”. He took out two drivers – Nico Hulkenberg (for the second year in a row on the first lap in Russia) and Rio Haryanto.

The Virtual Safety Car was deployed initially, followed its real-world equivalent. Gutierrez made for the pits with the two Red Bulls and Perez for company.

At the other end of the field Rosberg led ahead of Raikkonen, who had passed Valtteri Bottas at the start, the second Williams of Felipe Massa and Hamilton, whose turn one excursion had worked out well for him. Next came Verstappen followed by Fernando Alonso, one of three drivers to have made up seven places at the start thanks to the chaos. The others were the two Renault drivers, Kevin Magnussen in ninth ahead of team mate Jolyon Palmer and behind Romain Grosjean’s Haas.

After three laps under caution the race resumed. Bottas and Hamilton nailed the restart, each lining up Raikkonen and Massa respectively for carbon copy moves down the inside of turn two. Bottas couldn’t give the Ferrari the slip, however, and with Hamilton bearing down on them this soon became a tight, three-way scrap for second.

With Rosberg disappearing into the distance Hamilton was in no mood to wait. On lap seven Raikkonen closed on Bottas at turn four but, perhaps remembering his indiscretion last year, thought better of a move. He understeered wide and Hamilton pounced, diving past the Ferrari into turn five.

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Bottas misses podium shot

Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen, Sochi Autodrom, 2016
Textbook restarts by Bottas and Hamilton
Although Hamilton couldn’t make a pass stick on Bottas at this early phase, the expected single pit stop was always likely to play into his hands. Williams had a chance to keep Bottas ahead of Raikkonen, but the presence of Hamilton complicated matters.

Bottas was the first of the three to pit, on lap 16. Hamilton followed the next time by as he rejoined the track the Williams driver beat him to turn two. Sensing a battle was developing Ferrari wisely left Raikkonen out.

Sure enough Hamilton launched an attack on Bottas two laps later, and as the Williams driver fought to hold on to his position he ran wide on the turn three marbles. That lap cost him two seconds to Raikkonen, and more time lost passing Alonso handed the initiative to Ferrari. Even though Raikkonen stuttered away from his pit box he was easily up into third place.

That ended the prospects of a sequel to Bottas and Raikkonen’s 2015 scrap, one which would have been a close battle as the Williams was clearly not as quick on the soft compound tyres they used in the second half of the race.

Pressure problems blunt Hamilton’s charge

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2016
Second, taken from Bottas, was the limit for Hamilton
Having passed Bottas, Hamilton made little inroads into Rosberg’s lead to begin with. Between laps 22 and 30 the gap between the pair shrunk slowly by just 0.7 seconds to 12.2. Suddenly Rosberg’s lap times rose and it seemed the chase was on: by lap 36 his lead was down to seven-and-a-half seconds.

“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I could win it,” said Hamilton. “I had the pace but then I problem with the engine again, so I had to back off.” Race engineer Peter Bonnington came on the radio to warn him about his water pressure.

Hamilton didn’t know how serious the problem was and didn’t know if his engine would last until the end. He duly backed off by around a second per lap. “I wasn’t at full throttle down the straights, just trying to look after it,” he said.

Meanwhile Rosberg punched in his quickest lap of the grand prix so far: 1’39.616. Race over.

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Magnussen’s star turn for seventh

Kevin Magnussen, Renault, Sochi Autodrom, 2016
Magnussen drove brilliantly for seventh
Following the hectic start, the rest of the race was more orderly than those seen previously. Unlike the previous three rounds Pirelli had not brought a softer compound of tyre compared to that used the season before, there having been no time to test the new ultra soft compound before teams made their selections. Drivers converged on single-stop strategies.

Red Bull tried to make virtue out of necessity by putting both their drivers on mediums when they came in at the end of lap one. Kvyat’s pace on them was good enough for him to run to the end, but a ten-second stop-go penalty for the first lap crash meant he never figured. Ricciardo, carrying sidepod and floor damage which would have cost him downforce, couldn’t get the harder tyres to perform as well and had to make a second stop for softs.

Russia was a point-less exercise for the entire Red Bull family, as Verstappen’s 2015 Ferrari power unit gave up while he was running sixth. Team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr had to make an early pit stop to have a piece of front wing removed from his sidepod, was penalised ten seconds for pushing Jolyon Palmer off the track, and was relegated from the points by Jenson Button four laps from home.

That meant both McLarens finished in the points, Alonso taking sixth with an eight-second lead over Magnussen. The Renault driver had superbly passed Ricciardo on lap 29, working the outside line at turn two, then lunging up the inside of turn four. He finished a superb drive with Grosjean and Perez filling his mirrors – the latter having recovered well following his puncture.

Palmer lost 12th place to Ricciardo in the final laps and had Marcus Ericsson bearing down on him at the end. The other Sauber chased Kvyat to the flag, Nasr having been delayed by an early pit stop due to a puncture. He also picked up a penalty for cutting turn two when Pascal Wehrlein attempted a daring pass on him. The Manor driver finished well down after his tyres went off, forcing an extra pit stop.

Reliability helps Rosberg

Rosberg is more than smart enough to know he’s had fortune on his side so far this year. And he wasn’t exempt from the problems Mercedes experienced in Russia: he had to manage an MGU-K fault mid-race.

“Reliability is becoming a bit of a concern, as Lewis obviously has a problem yesterday and both cars had issues during the race today.” he admitted after the race. “But we have a great team behind us and I’m fully confident that we will sort this out.”

Last time F1 visited Russia one of those problems practically ended Rosberg’s title hopes. The way the cards have fallen so far this year, they have given him an enviable head start.

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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40 comments on “Rosberg hits a perfect 100 to boost his championship chances”

  1. Nico is in the zone now; something he has never been on his entire career. I’m so glad that he is able to make it 4 out of 4. I hope and wish he maintains the lead for the rest of the season and as a true MGP fan, hope to see that Lewis gets the “true” opportunity to fight for the championship.

    I would love to see Nico lifts the 2016 championship trophy for he is loyal to the team since 2010.

    1. Yeah… 7 in a row… Just amazing streak. Guy certainly deserves it somewhat, he has shown enough against great of past generation and against great of this generation.
      And even Prost won a few against Senna. Maybe Nico can try to emulate that.

      1. Casino Boogie
        2nd May 2016, 3:42

        Wait, what do you mean ‘Prost won a few against Senna’? Prost is one of the legends of the sport and beat Senna a bunch of times, as you’d expect. If Taki Inoue beat Senna a few times, we could use the sentence ‘Even Inoue won a few against Senna’. Granted, that sentence would be followed by a lot of disbelieving expletives, but you get what I mean.

      2. @jureo, Prost won more than just “a few” races against Senna – whilst Prost and Senna were together at McLaren, Prost won 11 races and Senna 14.

      3. @jureo And even Prost won a few against Senna. Maybe Nico can try to emulate that.

        Like Prost was one of those ‘got lucky to be in a good car’. Alain Prost is among the best F1 has ever seen…

        1. @Boogie @anon @xtwl

          I replied regarding Nico chances to win a few championships. Nico has now won enough races to be considered greatest ever nonchampion. He won more than a few.

          Alain for sure was give or take grestest ever. Now Nico can try to emulate that a bit. He is looking good for a championship this year, and arguably has a chance next year.

          He is certainly performing world class in #1 team. Just like Prost at times outperformed Senna he has his chance and is delivering it now 7 races in a row.

          And Lewis like Senna has lots of 1 lap magic, beyond what Prost had.

      4. “And even Prost won a few against Senna.”

        Are you kidding me? Learn some history. Prost is just as much a legend of F1 as Senna.

    2. Until he’s actually under a minimal amount of pressure in a competitive race for the championship, ‘deserves’ seems overblown.

    3. Your post made me throw up a little.

  2. “Rosberg is more than smart enough to know he’s had fortune on his side so far this year”

    At China and Russia, yeah, but in Australia and Bahrain, he got everything together perfectly: both starts, and he had the pace to keep everyone behind. It’s not easy to win 7 races on the trot, so bad luck for Hamilton is just part of it, not all.

    I’m impressed by him. I never rated him high enough, but I might just have to start changing my views. Something got into him that gave enormous confidence.

    1. @fer-no65, I do not think that Keith is talking solely about Hamilton though, because there have been circumstances in other races which have also fallen favourably in Rosberg’s favour which involved other drivers.

      It could be argued that Rosberg was fortunate that, having fallen behind Vettel in Australia, Ferrari made a major error when they chose not to fit a fresh set of tyres on Vettel’s car at the restart. That decision, which guaranteed that Vettel had to stop again, gave Rosberg a major strategic advantage given he could comfortably run to the end of the race on his tyres.

      Given the W07 seems to be fairly sensitive to the wake of the car in front, Rosberg would most probably have struggled to pass Vettel on track (especially given that Mercedes’s advantage over Ferrari in Melbourne seemed to be much smaller than in the subsequent races). If Ferrari had fitted a fresh set of tyres and run Vettel to the end of the race then, if he had managed to stay ahead of Rosberg at the restart, I suspect that Vettel probably would have gone on to win the Australian GP instead of Rosberg.

    2. he hasnt had to worry about lewis in 2 out of 4 q3’s this season.the 2 lewis has been involved in he got pole both times.and in bahrain lewis was crashed into,which took him out of the usual keith tries to twist things,and ends up writing nonsonse.and if nico really had issues,then why did he set super fast laps during that time??

  3. OmarRoncal - Go Seb!!! (@)
    2nd May 2016, 0:53

    Many people still claim that it is too early to say this advantage is significant, and that this season is one race longer than ever so it’s more probable for Lewis to climb back. But comparing percentages, Rosberg has already grabbed 19.05% of total possible points (525p), so compared to last year, he would be 19.05%x500=95p. Or another way to see it is the difference to second (Ham). His 43p would be in “old money” a diference of 41p. Of course that a DNF for Rosberg and a victory for Hamilton would decrease the gap dramatically, but it’s time people see Rosberg as a potential WDC, good luck or not.

    1. Rosberg has *always* been a potential WDC, he’s just had the bad luck to be paired with Hamilton.

      I’ll get lambasted for this, but I would say Rosberg is as good as Vettel. His one lap pace is superb, and he’s very good at racing the team strategy. If he (and Vettel) have a weakness, it’s their passing game– both have pulled off some amazing passes in their time, but neither is as consistent at it as Hamilton and Alonso have been over their careers.

      1. You won’t get lambasted, I totally agree with you.

      2. lockup (@)
        2nd May 2016, 8:00

        Rosberg as good as Vettel? I think perceptions of Rosberg are changing just like they did with Button in 2009, as a result of circumstance. I agree neither is quite as good in traffic as Hamilton and Alonso, but Seb has an incredible turn of speed and is awesome on Lap1 and in the wet.

        Rosberg has great speed but he is in the best car (albeit I think he and Hamilton make it look a touch better than it is) but from some points of view his current position is down to two good starts, basically.

        Not that a wdc would be ‘undeserved’, but like many before him it would owe a certain amount to luck, at this point.

        1. MG421982 (@)
          2nd May 2016, 8:46

          No, there’s no luck in Rosberg winning every race this year, let it go, it’s ridiculous!!! He’s been 1st every corner from the start… every race… so, where’s the luck?!? If HAM is so much better, why didn’t he win?? Plus, to recover a difference is something, but passing the car in front… something else! HAM caught easily RAI and BOT yesterday, but he couldn’t pass BOT at all, so where did all HAM’s greatness go that he couldn’t pass an inferior car driven by an inferior driver?!?? Last races he had a similar problem, he underlined it himself during the race – that he cannot pass the car in front!!! So, I think we should drop all this hype about HAM winning if it wasn’t for the tech problems and ROS’ lead gap ’cause there’s no real proof HAM would have won any of the races even if he would have been just 1second behind ROS all race long because, as I said, closing and maintaning the gap is one thing, passing the car in front is another thing.

          1. @corrado-dub It’s Sochi and Williams are quitr OK on straights. Doubt anyone would’ve taken BOT in the 1st stint like that

          2. Wot @corrado-dub? One reason Hamilton didn’t win is he had to back off with a water leak! He did pass Bottas on track. Rosberg’s good fortune has included Lewis being punted in Bahrain, being caught at T1 and losing his wing in China, and his MGUH going wrong twice, as well as the water leak. So Nico’s current massive lead for sure owes plenty to his speed but it also owes a lot to luck as well.

      3. I agree Rosberg could become WDC if lady luck aids him a little here and there to make up for the deficit he lacks comapred to Hamilton. But that is a long way off saying Rosberg is as good as Vettel. Many still rate Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton as the three top dogs with each their strenghts and special abilities. Rosberg is better than Button and current Kimi in my point of view but a long way off the other three.

        1. I agree. Nico has the team behind him. Lewis had to back off due to the water leak, after prevented to participate in Q3. Same scenario at previous races.

          Sebastian has been targeted by Kvyat.

      4. While I agree some of Rosberg’s strengths are similar to Vettel, I will wholeheartedly disagree that Rosberg is as good as Vettel. He lacks two important things that Vettel possesses – 1) Consistency 2) Mental toughness .

        1. I agree!!!

  4. My favourite part of yesterdays race was that indeed Ecclestone was proven wrong. On the grid walk even he was thanking the drivers specifically Hamilton for starting from the back of the grid stating with an overly cheeky smile “well, we’ll see if my idea works.”

    And it didn’t. Hamilton cut through the top 10 like a hot knife through butter essentially leaving only one pass, on Bottas for contention, which was a forgone conclusion and nearly happened in a pit-stop to boot. Hopefully he will stop even mentioning it now.

    1. lockup (@)
      2nd May 2016, 7:47

      I don’t know @tristan. On one hand Bernie’s mixed-up grid gave us the Seb bleeping melodrama, Lewis and Nando’s eerie T1 judgment, and Lewis passing Felipe, Kimi and Valterri; but on the other we lost a race for the win and the only car that might have held onto the Mercs. It’s close I reckon.

      1. If we had Vettel in the mix, surley Lewis wouldnt catch him napping like Kimi.

        Then we would have one more battle and final result would be Ros, Ham, Vet…

        Ferrari were 20-30s slower.. Just appaling. Race that promotes strong aero and power. Something Mercedes clearly have.

        So Eccelstone can hide his reverse grid where sun dont shine.

        With top 10 reverse we would have Lewis start P1 and run away with it… How enjoyable race then.

        His desire for gimicks is ruining the sport.

        1. Very true @jureo, we’d have had a long-anticipated Lewis vs Seb. Seb is very good defensively as you say.

  5. “Suddenly Rosberg’s lap times rose and it seemed the chase was on: by lap 36 his lead was down to seven-and-a-half seconds.”

    This paragraph lends itself to the interpretation that Rosberg was actually losing pace. I think that’s silly, because this situation was quite obviously caused by Rosberg having to lap a bunch of back-markers while Lewis had the track to himself. The fact that Rosberg suddenly went 2 seconds faster after clearing the lapped cars, clearly shows that there was no connection between his performance and the temporary loss of time. Tellingly, Hamilton’s gap bounced back to 13 seconds after a few laps in traffic.
    The next paragraph, where Lewis asserts he had a chance to win the race if not for the water leak, is just wishful thinking, bordering on the delusional. He had a gap of 13 seconds to close, with 13 laps to go. How on earth was that going to happen? His team mate showed zero signs of losing pace, except for a couple of laps in heavy traffic (duh). From lap 22 to lap 30, Hamilton had fresh tyres and was driving in clean air, there was no indication of a water leak yet. Nevertheless, the gap stagnated at circa 13 seconds.
    If he had actually shown signs of getting closer during that stage, I’d be able to see his point. But that was not the case. Rosberg only ever lost time when he was stuck in traffic, and that wasn’t even a ‘real’ loss of time, since Lewis was bound to lose just as much time upon getting in traffic himself.
    I can understand why he’s frustrated, and that he likes to think optimistically. But at the end of the day, his apparent dislike for objectivity makes his statements terribly uninspiring to read.

    1. You must have watched a different race. Hamilton brought the gap down to 7 seconds or thereabouts at a point. And, he was lapping faster than Rosberg even after he cleared traffic up till the radio message about water pressure.

    2. Just what was in my mind. Hamilton had absolutely no chance to cut down Rosberg’s lead by 12 odd seconds, not matter how great a driver he is.

      1. no* matter

    3. They may be uninspiring @banana but if you wanna claim the high ground on objectivity I think you should read his statements more carefully. What he said was “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I could win it,”. That is: in the car, at the time, his mindset was that a win was not impossible.

      He didn’t know the gap coming down to 7s was down to traffic, did he? As far as I’m aware he hasn’t made that claim since the race. So it looks Hamilton 1, Banana 0 on objectivity at this point :)

  6. Hamilton lost the equivalent of around 43 points in 2007 with just 2 races remaining in the season. Yet some people think this year is done and dusted with 17 still to go :D

    1. Agree. Far from it. Nico has the momentum, but that can swing in a couple of races as we have seen in the past.

      If I had to speculate, I’d say the points deficit will be cut to 23 points or less by the end of the Canadian GP.

  7. they dont swap alonso mechanics around,or vettels.but when lewis was buttons teammate,they swapped mechanics around.and the same has happened now lewis is nicos teammate,,,and you have to wonder why.

  8. Considering how he behaved with the fans in Melbourne I hope Rosberg wins this one. Anyone there at the signing on the Thursday will know what I’m talking about. I’ve always wanted Hamilton to beat Vettel’s count of 4, but I’m warming to Rosberg and hope he achieves a championship. One will do, like Button.

    1. “Considering how he behaved with the fans…”

      Considering how Rosberg behaved on track in 2014, i hope he never wins another thing in his racing career.

      1. Sad day for you, he seems to be winning a lot.

        1. Indeed.

          Worry not, his competitor has his arms tied behind his back lately, he will be back though.

  9. Every driver in F1 history that has won 4 races in a row in a season became the WDC.
    The season is long, but no signs so far that Rosberg will be any exception.

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