When Nico Rosberg decided in the immediate aftermath of his championship triumph to retire from F1, Mercedes faced a race against time to appoint a replacement.
The decision to hire Valtteri Bottas was criticised by some as too safe an option. Not one likely to beat Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight.
But just four races into his Mercedes career, Bottas defied the doubters and took his first grand prix victory in fine style.
Pole no advantage for Vettel
If you’re a Ferrari fan, you’re forgiven for not finding the irony amusing. For the first time in nine years the red squad had the front row to themselves, but they’d done it at one of the few circuits where it could work against them.
From the start/finish line at Sochi, around the curving turn one, the drivers would accelerate flat-out for almost a kilometre before touching the brakes for the first time. The two Mercedes on the second row had their maximum power available, and a headwind blowing from the west meant the slipstream would be even more powerful.
Making life even more difficult for pole sitter Sebastian Vettel, he pre-start preparation didn’t go according to plan when part of his dash display failed to respond properly before the formation lap.
“I didn’t get a proper read of how the grip was at the grid, so I think I ended up maybe a bit too conservative,” he admitted. Then the first start was aborted when Fernando Alonso’s McLaren broke down, so Vettel had to bring the field around one more time.
His final getaway was “good”, but not good enough. Behind him Bottas had already passed Kimi Raikkonen. “I had a look in the mirror, mine was I think better than Kimi’s. I saw Valtteri coming and I thought ‘OK, it will be close’ but it felt like I had a tent dragged behind me and he was gaining a lot.”
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Vettel estimated the headwind took 10 to 15kph off his top speed. Bottas sprang out from behind him as they left turn one. “He was able even before we hit the braking to come back and shut the door. So I did well but nothing I could have done, I had the outside line but nowhere to do so in reality that’s part of where we lost the race.”
Vettel had to wait until the end of the race for his other chance to pass Bottas. Behind him Raikkonen fought to keep Hamilton behind, using the slipstream from his team mate as they approached turn two and neatly slowly at the apex to box Hamilton in. A snap of oversteer at turn four put the Mercedes back on his tail, but then the Safety Car was deployed and the scrap was over.
“We were just not quick enough”
Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer triggered the yellow flags. Both had endured miserable weekends: Palmer with mechanical difficulties and a crash in qualifying, Grosjean with seemingly incurable set-up problems and yellow flags in qualifying. Their paths converged at the apex of turn two with race-ending consequences for the pair of them.
Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne took evasive action across the turn two run-off but failed to return the track correctly and both collected five-second penalties. Vandoorne also took the opportunity to pit and discard his super-soft tyres as did the Sauber pair, the only other drivers who hadn’t started on ultra-softs.
The restart was a critical moment for Bottas. This was the first time he’d led an F1 race at a restart, and he’d spun his Mercedes behind the Safety Car in China. But he nailed it, putting his foot down at turn 14 just as Vettel was working some more heat into his ultra-soft Pirellis. He had more than a second in hand by the time they reached the starting line: it was “kind of a surprise”, he admitted afterwards.
By getting into clean air at the start Bottas had put himself in position to use the superb long-run pace he’d found on the ultra-soft tyres on Friday. “We were just not quick enough to stay with him,” Vettel admitted. By lap 20 Bottas was five-and-a-half seconds ahead.
At this point Ferrari’s slightly better tyre life began to tell. Over the next six laps Vettel upped his pace, taking around half a second a lap out of Bottas and halving his lead. Mercedes duly headed off the threat from Vettel by summoning Bottas for his sole pit stop on lap 28. Vettel stayed out seven laps longer, and though he fell behind Bottas after his stop he now had fresher tyres and better pace.
This wasn’t the case for the other Mercedes. Hamilton, who’d been shaded by Bottas throughout practice and qualifying, was having a dreadful time. Running in the slipstream of his team mate and the Ferraris, he was repeatedly told to find fresh air to cool his radiators.
Mercedes realised that leaving him out for a long first stint and hoping for a Safety Car was their only hope of bringing him home any higher than fourth, and it was a forlorn one. He ended the race 36 seconds adrift, ten second of which he lost over the final half-dozen laps.
The usual Sochi parade
As the leaders gradually converged at the front it brought life to an otherwise lifeless race. F1’s fourth race at Sochi conformed to the same pattern established by the first three.
The little-used, billiard table-smooth surface extracted little from the tyres, rewarding conservative strategies. The layout, most of which is 90-degree corners, doesn’t challenge the drivers or cars.
Sergio Perez’s comments after his uneventful run to sixth place were typical. “The race today was not especially exciting for me because I was always on my own in clean air – chasing the cars ahead and pulling away from the cars behind. So there were no on-track battles and I could simply focus on managing my race and bringing home the points.”
And as usual Russian president Vladimir Putin turned up at the world capital of state-sanctioned doping for ‘bread and circuses’ purposes. But as the final laps ticked away it wasn’t certain who would win the dash to the chequered flag and an awkward chat with him in the green room.
Bottas hangs on
“Over the last laps I want less talking.” Bottas was feeling the heat as Vettel’s Ferrari grew larger in his mirrors over the final laps.
He also had to contend with traffic. Increased turbulence from the new cars has made backmarkers a greater problem for the leaders this year. Turn 13, the first of a cluster of six slow corners, was the worst place to come across one. At one point Bottas got Carlos Sainz Jnr between him and Vettel here, buying himself a precious half-second of breathing space.
As they came around to begin the final lap Vettel was poised to strike, just inside DRS range. Bottas had his old team mate Felipe Massa ahead who was quick but running out-of-position due to a puncture-inflicted pit stop. This was looking close.
Luckily for Bottas he made it by the Williams as they reached turn two. That left Vettel needing to pass in the rapid turn three, where a race-long build-up of marbles awaited to catch him out. He hesitated, then dived for the inside line into turn four, but the damage was done. Vettel being Vettel, he vented on the radio, but later accepted he “did not lose the race at that point”.
Heading into turn 13 for the final time Bottas was bearing down on Pascal Wehrlein. He scrambled around the Sauber but now Vettel was back with him. They reached the line separated by just six-tenths of a second. If Vettel had just one more lap – if Alonso hadn’t broken down – he might have made it.
It wasn’t as close behind them. Behind Hamilton, Max Verstappen was a full minute adrift in the only remaining Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo having stopped after the Safety Car period when he looked in his rear view mirror and noticed his brakes were on fire. The Force India pair were a minute and a half behind, Esteban Ocon impressive just eight seconds behind his more experienced team mate.
Ocon had the flying Nico Hulkenberg on his tail. The Renault driver had lost ground at the start but run a long, 40-lap opening stint on ultra-softs then charged after the Force India over the final laps. They crossed the line 1.1 seconds apart.
Sainz took the final point while Lance Stroll posted his first finish in 11th. Daniil Kvyat gave his team an earful after slipping to 12th, complaining about his strategy. He later softened his stance in an official statement released by the team, saying he was “maybe a bit too hard” on them, and perhaps remembering what happened to him after this race 12 months ago.
Bottas wins in style
Bottas took his first grand prix victory in style. Hamilton’s race problems notwithstanding, he was clearly the quicker of the two Mercedes drivers throughout the weekend.
And this was no straightforward cruise to victory from pole position: Bottas seized his only opportunity to get ahead and had to resist a faster car at the end of the race. This was surely at least as impressive as any of his predecessors’ wins in a more superior car over the last three years.
“Apart from one lock-up under braking there was no mistake under pressure from a four-time world champion,” said Toto Wolff. “And we had quite some vibrations on both tyres after the lock-up.”
Has Bottas now given Mercedes all the justification they need to offer him a long-term contract? A glance at the points gaps between the Mercedes and Ferrari team mates shows the silver team have every reason to feel satisfied with their latest driver appointment.
2017 Russian Grand Prix
- Sepang pays Haas compensation for Grosjean’s 2017 crash
- F1 better without “artificial” overtaking – Vettel
- Honda unreliability “completely unacceptable” – Alonso
- Maiden victory earn Bottas first Driver of the Weekend win since 2014
- 2017 Russian Grand Prix team radio transcript
2017 F1 race reviews
- Rosberg denies Hamilton a winning end to his championship year
- Rosberg frustrates Hamilton as Vettel gives hope to Ferrari
- Rosberg gets his revenge as Hamilton holds back
- Hard-fighting Hamilton pounces on Rosberg error to seal third title
- Rosberg’s misfortune brings Hamilton within touching distance of title
33 comments on “Bottas defeats the red army to join the grand prix winners”
30th April 2017, 22:38
I’m really glad his first victory came without Hamilton having a reliability or team error to blame, and at a race where Mercedes didn’t have a margin over every other team. He landed an honest fair and square solid win.
Despite what Vettel said he didn’t just win the race at the first corner, his opening stint was a monster I couldn’t believe he was pulling the gap he had out over Hamilton. And then he was a cool as you like with a charging Vettel breathing down his neck.
Best of all the championship being between Vettel and Hamilton is no longer a foregone conclusion as Bottas is now closer to Hamilton than Hamilton to Vettel. I’m looking forward to Hamilton digging deep to come back at him.
1st May 2017, 3:55
Loup Garou (@loup-garou)
1st May 2017, 7:12
My sentiments exactly. I have always thought that Bottas was a great driver and would come into his own in a competitive car. I have a feeling Hamilton will find it a lot harder than he – and some of his fans – believe to beat his teammate from now on.
I sincerely hope that Merc will give Bottas a fair deal from now onwards.
1st May 2017, 16:27
Get real, it was no monster! 5sec gap after 20 laps is a monster gap???
1st May 2017, 16:53
I think he is referring to the gap to LH after 20 laps.
1st May 2017, 17:20
Yes, the 5 second gap over a faster car is quite impressive, but the gap he managed over an equal car with probably the fastest driver in F1 deserves a lot of respect.
Fer no.65 (@fer-no65)
30th April 2017, 23:03
In just 4 races he proved himself. Yes this is a good track for him but he showed Lewis the way all weekend long. And after being put in place in Bahrain following another carreer high for him with pole position.
Well done to him! and good news for all us… now it’s a 3 way battle!
30th April 2017, 23:05
That historical inspired headline – brilliant. Well done!
Happy that Bottas won in this race.
Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)
1st May 2017, 8:49
@xenomorph91 @repete86 @fritzo Glad you liked it :-)
1st May 2017, 10:26
I guess the red army reference because they are in Russia but if anything it makes 0 sense.
1st May 2017, 12:49
It’s called humour. Red army in this case is also Ferrari, so it’s a great pun. It makes perfect sense.
1st May 2017, 16:14
@robbie Yeah it’s quite good. @keithcollantine Great job, with the historical references in relation to this event, gave me a good laugh.
2nd May 2017, 3:24
..and guess which notable country able to resist the red army?
OmarRoncal - Go Seb!!! (@)
30th April 2017, 23:10
So Bottas should thank Honda for letting him win the race with a lap less to defend.
Of course just joking.
1st May 2017, 1:15
I know this may seem overly-optimistic and biased to some but I absolutely like this 2017 season so far! After a few seasons I finally feel proper F1 is back. It is so close between Mercedes and Ferrari and every race so far could have been won by the other team. Bottas is also showing championship aspirations and while Kimi is unlikely to join their season-long fight, he may play a very important role in it with a win or two hopefully. And Red Bull could impact title battle when they improve their pace. Behind them a very competitive midfield battle, with each team topping at least one qualifying/race amongst themselves. Tyres looks racier this year and DRS impact has lessened, making passes more interesting (even if the total number dropped). The only sad thing is McLaren performance, even having 2016-like competitiveness would make it a lot better with Alonso and Vandoorne at least able to normally fight in midfield. On the positive said, Alonso’s appearance at Indy would make it the most-anticipated non-F1 race in a long long while. And hopefully Honda ensure reliability for Monaco and JB can nick some points.
2nd May 2017, 18:03
Overly optimistic? If anything, I think a lot of people are too pessimistic. Granted, I only started watching F1 recently–part way through the 2016 season–but I can’t help thinking I came in at a great moment. I think the 2017 campaign so far has been scintillating, notwithstanding the doldrums of the last race in between the opening antics and the final chase.
1st May 2017, 1:18
Brilliant drive by VB and a well deserved first win. Thank you to both VB and SV for giving us a thrilling end to this boring and tedious F1 race . Not only are the races here boring but so is the awful bland circuit, the sooner this race is removed from the calendar the better, we lose Germany and France and then have to suffer this …. another Bernie masterstroke.
1st May 2017, 4:37
Modern hockenheim, modern nurburgring and rubbish magny cours were not much better.
1st May 2017, 1:29
Omg, that headline.
1st May 2017, 1:33
It just makes this year so much better! Shocking race though has to be said
1st May 2017, 1:55
Funny how people were saying that Bottas wasn’t that great because he couldn’t beat Massa. Now he’s a winner. Just goes to show how important team and car are in F1.
1st May 2017, 1:56
1st May 2017, 13:40
Or it just shows how underrated Massa is.
1st May 2017, 6:10
Keith, the best headline ever.
Ferrari, Seb fan
1st May 2017, 8:52
3 way fight for title?
1st May 2017, 9:58
It does make you wonder though whether it matters which driver is in a car. Takes away much of the glamour of drivers. If driver X would be HAMs team mate he sooner or later would have won a race too…
1st May 2017, 12:16
Seriously? Sure you didn’t miss his 9 podiums with Williams? It’s not as if Rosberg has been replaced with someone like Palmer or Ericsson. And has it ever been any different in F1 that having a competitive car helps you win races?
David Not Coulthard (@davidnotcoulthard)
1st May 2017, 10:51
I see you were still watching when EJ appeared.
Michael Brown (@)
1st May 2017, 11:39
1st May 2017, 14:50
Keith, your headline was more exciting than the race
2nd May 2017, 9:33
I always thought BOT, after he got going, would potentially be a tougher opponent for HAM than ROS was. I rated him higher than ROS on wheel-to-wheel racing and wet racing in particular, but was uncertain how he compared in qualifying where ROS has always been strong. The first 4 races have provided useful insight. It feels like BOT’s industry off the track is really beginning to pay off.
Sundar Srinivas Harish
2nd May 2017, 16:52
Topping Rosberg is a tall order, the man seemed to have a way of getting under Hamilton’s skin! :P
Rosberg was also very intelligent driver, and excellent with his strategies. If Bottas develops the same kind of abilities, Merc will have yet another world champion in their hands.
2nd May 2017, 18:06
Early in the race, Stroll got clipped by someone and spun, before turning around and starting his recovery drive (which evidently went alright for him). Does anyone know who it was that hit Stroll, or what happened? It’s not a big deal, I’m just surprised that I don’t seem to see any mention of it anywhere. The US coverage never mentioned it again after it happened.
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