2017 Russian Grand Prix Star Performers

2017 Russian Grand Prix

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Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg were F1 Fanatic’s Star Performers in Russia. Here’s why.


Valtteri Bottas

Bottas was on it all weekend in Sochi
This was a coming-of-age performance by Bottas. He was expected to shine at Sochi, a track he has always gone well at. But by conclusively beating his thrice-champion and winning from off the front row he comfortably exceeded those expectations.

Bottas was faster than Lewis Hamilton in every session during the weekend and out-qualified his team mate by almost half a second. He executed his start perfectly and seized the opportunity to pass both Ferraris.

That allowed him to unleash the strong pace he had on the ultra-soft tyres, giving him enough of a margin to stay ahead of Sebastian Vettel once the pit stops were done with.

The final laps were tense as Vettel applied serious pressure. Ferrari told their man Bottas would crack, but he never put a wheel wrong. While Vettel was tentative in dealing with the lapped Felipe Massa, Bottas wasted no time in picking off Pascal Wehrlein just six corners from home.

This was a top-drawer performance, and if he’s got a few more up his sleeve he will definitely be a title contender this year.

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Sebastian Vettel

Vettel may have started from pole position and failed to win, but this was still an excellent drive from him too. He has good cause to feel it was only a stiff headwind which cost him a third victory.

Having been unable to keep Bottas behind, Vetel made a decent fist of closing on the lead Mercedes in the second half of the race. His pace on the super-softs was excellent, and he nearly got within striking distance at the end. Perhaps he could have been more aggressive with Massa, but Vettel knows titles aren’t won by risky moves in traffic on days when your closest rival is already behind you. He may have lost this battle, but he’s winning the war.

Nico Hulkenberg

Having failed to make it beyond lap one on his last two visits to Sochi, Nico Hulkenberg could be forgiven for being a little circumspect at the start this time, and he slipped back two places.

He was able to regain them over the course of the race, suggesting Renault have been able to improve their long run pace, even at a track where they expected to have difficulties. Hulkenberg ran a long first stint but just ran out of time to launch an attack on Esteban Ocon for seventh.


Romain Grosjean

Grosjean had a weekend to forget
Have a look at the team radio highlights from practice and qualifying to see just how bad a time Romain Grosjean had trying to sort out his Haas. The team arrived at Sochi with a plan to test Carbone Industrie brakes but ditched them on Friday evening. However once back on Brembos Grosjean still wasn’t happy.

He might have got himself beyond Q1 had it not been for another unfortunately-timed yellow flag. That left him at the back of the pack, and an optimistic first lap move on Jolyon Palmer finished off a miserable weekend.

Jolyon Palmer

Palmer’s Russian Grand Prix didn’t go any better, though to begin with it was not for reasons of his own doing. A chassis change and power unit replacement left him short of practice time.

He made matters worse by crashing in qualifying, however. That left him well out of position near the rear of the field where he tangled with Grosjean at the start.

Lance Stroll

Stroll took the curious decision not to do a qualifying simulation lap on Friday. That gave him more sets of the softer tyres to experiment with on Saturday, but even so he failed to get the most out of them. He ended up almost a second off Massa – a driver whose qualifying record last year was weak.

In the race Stroll got off the line well but wasted his start with a spin. To his credit from there he drove a better race and posted his first finish, though his position relative to Massa was flattered by his team mate’s two punctures.

And the rest

After a great start, Verstappen had no one to race with
Hamilton never got a handle on his Mercedes though it seems some technical problem contributed to his race result. Raikkonen enjoyed a much better weekend, but was frustrated to miss out on his first pole position for nine years by such a slender margin.

Max Verstappen made a feisty start but then had no one to race with: his team mate retired early on and Massa dropped back due to punctured tyres. The Force India pair quietly accumulated more points, Sergio Perez leading the way and Esteban Ocon putting in a solid drive.

Tenth was probably the best Carlos Sainz Jnr could hope for at this track while Danil Kvyat was unimpressed with the timing of his pit stop. Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne picked up needless penalties, though the latter at least got to start this time, which was more than could be said for his team mate.

The Sauber drivers pitted after the first lap to get rid of their super-soft tyres which would have been a sound strategy had they found more performance or durability from the ultra-softs.

Who was the best driver in Russia?

Which driver impressed you the most during the Russian Grand Prix weekend? Cast your vote here:

2017 Russian Grand Prix

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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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43 comments on “2017 Russian Grand Prix Star Performers”

  1. How is Hulkenberg a star of the grand prix finishing behind the force india pair who started the race behind on the grid.

    1. Because the Renault lacks a lot of race pace compared to the Force India’s. The Renault’s probably about on par with the Toro Rosso or Haas on race pace, considering how Palmer’s done in the races he hasn’t retired in.

      1. But it wasn’t anything to do with Renault’s race pace, Hulkenberg just had a bad start and fell behind that’s how he fell behind the FI’s.

        1. I think it was. Even after the bad start, if the race pace of the Renault and the Force India was similar, Hulkenberg would’ve been much closer to Ocon right from the start than he was, as we both know he’s a better driver than Ocon right now. He may not have been able to overtake him, as it seemed impossible, but he’d at least have been able to stay within ~2 seconds.

          1. @hugh11

            Yes the FI has better race pace than the Renault and Hulk is a better driver than Ocon. But ultimately the reason Hulkenberg finished eighth not sixth is due to his bad start. If he stayed ahead of Perez off the line he would have stayed sixth because of the lack of overtaking opportunities.

        2. The start here is a particular case: Very long straight-ish, which also climbs a bit and a strong head wind. Mercedes power is a big advantage in such a case. But here it was already over for Kimi and Hulk due to a bad getaway.
          Both Mercs and Vettel started OK, but best start was Verstappens, I believe. Bot had the tow of Vet, so Vet was a sitting duck.
          After the first laps the race was processional: cars couldn’t get close enough to use DRS, and finished in the expected order. Luckily at least Vettel tried to get close, because the rest was utterly boring.
          Grosjean should at least apologize to Palmer: His, and only his fault.

    2. I think Palmer is making Hulkenberg looking like a lot better than he is performing. He is good but Renault’s car is much better this seasons, maybe he is just running above average like Massa.

      1. What is your above thought based on? How do you know that Massa is performing just above average? How do you know that Bottas extracted the most out of his Mercedes in the race? Can anyone prove that he couldn’t have finished 5 seconds ahead of Vettel?

        Why is Alonso’s career between 2010-2013 praised by so many, even though Massa performed relatively poorly? People think that Alonso dragged a dog of a car to places it didn’t belong. Can that not be true for Hulkenberg as well? Can you prove it’s not?

        Also, can it not be that the Ferrari in those years was actually NOT a dog of a car? Maybe Alonso was performing above average, and Massa below average (Just an example)?

        Truth is, we don’t know. It all comes down to how the viewer looks at the situation. As a Hulkenberg fan, I was very happy with his performance in Russia(barring the race start).

        Also, you say that Renault has improved this season, but tbh you can’t really know by how much, can you? At the moment, it is only as good as the places Hulk has taken it too. If Hulk was having a bad time, qualifying around 14th every race and finishing thereabouts as well, everyone would have thought Renault to be almost as bad as last year.

      2. It could be the other way around, we think the Renault is much better this season because Hülkenberg makes it look like that. Maybe we shouldn’t take the Renault’s fastest lap/stint for comparison with last year, because that does involve a driver change, but just compare the pace of Palmer as the constant when figuring out how much Renault has improved or not.

        1. Everything is relative. You can think Williams have a good car because Massa makes it look like that. All we can make is some comparisons between drivers that shared the same car. The only link between both is Barrichello, since Barrichello raced alongside Schumacher and Hulkenberg. Barrichello could manage to be sometimes faster than Schumacher and most of the time close behind. At his first year in Ferrari Massa scored 3/4 of Schumacher points. We can say that Massa in comparison to Schumacher was very close to Barrichello level. At his first year at Williams Hulkenberg scored 2/4 of Barrichello points. For me it says something.

          Lets’ go back to nowadays. Massa was really close to Bottas for 2 years and a bit behind in the third year, now Bottas is almost at the same level as Hamilton and Vettel. This put Massa in a good position. Also is notable that he is faster this year than in his previous year. Also, if you think Williams made a car that is better than Massa is showing, you have to assume that they made a car in RBR level, since there’s no much more significative engine advantage anymore. And that’s hardly probable.

          It’s difficult to say how much faster Renault’s car is but it’s pretty reasonable to say that Hulkenberg is performing above average.

          I really think Hulkenberg, Perez and Massa are the best of the rest. Worth to mention Sainz and Ocon, both are young and showing that they can improve a lot yet.

  2. I think even Hamilton fans will agree that Lewis struggled in Russia: never getting it right in FP, then in spite of having the same settings as Bottas’ being more than 0.5 seconds off pole and ending the race in a lonely fourth, 36 seconds behind his victorious team mate. Worst of all, neither Hamilton nor Mercedes could find any obvious reasons for his poor showing.

    1. As a Hamilton fan I can confirm, I’ve always found this sort of thing odd with Hamilton, some weekends he can’t get comfortable with the car in practice and then he just seems to be abysmal in qualifying and the race, we saw it a couple of times last year as well.

      1. I agree. But I don’t think ever in his career he lacked pace this much compared to a teammate. Which makes me think it has to be something more than simple lack of pace.

    2. I would have put HAM amongst the ‘strugglers’; Raikkonen got his when on a similar deficit to his teammate.

      HAM’s still one of the best out there, but this was a weekend to forget.

      1. Agreed. Seems odd to leave Hamilton out of the list. A weekend to forget.

  3. I would give a very honorable mention to Ocon as well. Perhaps better even than Hulk. Not only for this race but for his entire season so far he has been totally consistent. I suspect that in the next few races, he may come up to par with Perez.

    1. Yes, very good to be this close to Perez already.

    2. nickpkr251
      7th May 2017, 4:17

      4 to 0 in races , 3 to 1 in qualifying, 22 to 9 point yes absolutely on par

  4. Palmer and Stroll cement their legacies as the worst F1 drivers in years. Unlike Stroll, Palmer has no excuses though… I’d rather have Chilton or Yuji Ide in the seat. At least the latter would provide some amusement for the mechanics.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      1st May 2017, 18:41

      I still think we need to give Stroll more time. This it effectively his first race as he retired early in all of the previous 3 races. Only one of them he was slightly to blame for. The other 2, he was not at fault in the slightest. Other than his spin (which was much less costly than Bottas’s spin in China), he didn’t have a terrible race. Give it another 2 or 3 races before we judge him.

      With Palmer, I agree, he is really under performing. Maldonado did a perfectly decent job in 2015 and had several stand out races. Better than any we have seen from Palmer I’d say. So in my view, Renault would have been better off keeping him especially if he still had his sponsors rather than bringing in Palmer. But then we should have at leased got the chance to see Palmer perform for a year. We did, and he did not impress.

      This last race though, I think he was rather unlucky. He missed a lot of practice which was not his fault. He did make a mistake in qualifying but it’s not like we haven’t seen much better drivers crash in qualifying. Hamilton made one in Baku last year. The lack of practice will maybe have had a little effect on Palmer.

      The crash in the race was more due to Grosjean really. Palmer could only get slightly further out the way than he did. But the gap Grosjean went for was still too narrow and Palmer had a Sauber to the left of him so He couldn’t really do anything. But yes, we should have a better driver that replaces him next year.

    2. I don’t get why not to mention Massa who qualified ahead of a Red Bull with a slower car. He was above average in 3 of 4 races this seasons, Hulkenberg isn’t doing something much better than him, maybe worse.

      Grojean is showing how overestimated he is, he is struggling to have an overwhelming performance against Magnussen who wasn’t really faster than Palmer. If you compare Hulkenberg to Palmer and Grojean to Magnussen, the difference between them should also be evident.

      1. after quali they found a bargeboard missing, a damaged and loose floor,

      2. Hulkenberg is doing what Kev should of done last year (all be it in a better car). The difference between Magnussen and Palmer, was that Magnussen delivered on occasion when he got the chance and he’s already done better than Guttierez 4 races in. Grosjean for me edges Kev and can hit the higher notes, but where as Kev is often just anonymous when Grosjean is bad he’s woeful. All said and done though Perez is the man to step up.

        1. Agreed – I think Perez is a better and more mature driver now than he was at McLaren. It’s weird, because it seemed like a step down at the time but he definitely made the right move in going from them to Force India, to say the least! I’d love to see him have another shot at a ‘big’ team though where he’d have a realistic chance of winning races. I must admit that before his unexpected McLaren move I had him down as Massa’s probable replacement at Ferrari, but I don’t know whether he’d be in consideration for them now. Overall it’s been a very handy start to the season for Force India – their closest rivals seem to be Williams, but they’re only getting points with one car right now, whereas Ocon is usefully contributing to FI’s points tally.

          I think Hulkenberg’s made a decent start to life at Renault, I was expecting him to get the better of Palmer and he’s been doing the job so far, though it does seem to be a bit of a trend for him to qualify better than he races. On the plus side, he’s kept away from incidents so far – last year he got caught up in a few accidents in races where he’d probably have been in the points if he’d finished, and this accounted significantly for the points gap between him and Perez in the end.

    3. I’m still on the fence regarding Palmer… Although he didn’t perform particularly well against KMag last season, he did start to come through towards the end of the season. He has had problems with the car this season and to a point, I wonder if he is in a Vandorne/Alonso type scenario with his pairing with Hulkenburg…

      With McLaren, we know that Alonso has been making the car dramatically over perform. Hulkenburg, like Alonso has a good few years experience of race driving (and across disciplines), whereas Palmer only has only his experience with the Lotus spec Renault of last season. He has had issues with the car and we don’t know how well he would have done on Sunday (had RG not taken him out of the race). I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt for a few more races, to see if he is capable or not.

      Stroll, doesn’t have the luxury of saying his car is under performing. Massa is making the Williams look like a very good car and potentially the 3rd best on the grid. With the exception of Bahrain where Sainz took him out, he has made some severe race ending errors and does not look comfortable in a F1 car. I’ll give him another couple of races..

  5. Season Star Performers:
    +4: Vettel
    +2: Alonso, Perez, Hulkenberg
    +1: Verstappen, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Wehrlein, Bottas
    0 : Giovinazzi, Ricciardo, Massa, Ocon, Vandoorne, Kvyat, Ericsson, Sainz
    -1: Magnussen, Grosjean
    -2: Raikkonen, Stroll
    -3: Palmer

    1. PS this is a simple running tally of @keithcollantine‘s Stars/Strugglers ratings for the season!
      (some people mistakenly believe this is my rating)

  6. Season (incl Russian GP) Star Performers:
    +4: Vettel
    +3: Hamilton
    +2: Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Perez
    +1: Ricciardo, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Ocon
    0 : Giovinazzi, Massa, Vandoorne, Kvyat, Grosjean, Ericsson, Wehrlein, Alonso
    -1: Magnussen, Grosjean
    -2: Stroll
    -3: Palmer

    Russian Star Performers:
    +4: Bottas
    +3: Vettel, Raikkonen
    +2: Perez, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Massa
    +1: Verstappen, Wehrlein, Ocon
    0 : Giovinazzi, Ricciardo, Vandoorne, Kvyat, Ericsson, Hamilton,
    -1: Magnussen, Stroll
    -2: Grosjean, Alonso
    -3: Palmer

    1. @macleod looks good in Russian Star Performers but small suggestions
      Vettel in +4 : He cant do more considering he lost it in a long long straight where Merc has advantage and its not like he made a mistake at start as well the tow killed his chances and bottas by the time of braking zone to t2 was ahead of Vettel to dictate the line. He drove as good as Bottas through out the race.
      Hulkenberg in +3 : He lost in first corner vs the Merc powered engines but gone very long in US on 1st stint and almost caught Ocon. Considering the pace difference between Renault and Force India i think its fair to give him +3 than +2 for Russia.
      Grosjean -2 in over all standings than -1 in my view he did a great Q in Australia but since then he was loosing himself every weekend

    2. @macleod Wehrlein +1? Struggled in qualifying and would have been last if he didn’t cause that yellow flag. In the race he was +30 seconds after Ericsson. I would rate him -1 or -2.
      Grosjean and Palmer should both have -4…

      1. Maybe your right i was just generous i think but -4 the lowest i want is -3 and Grosjean was bad enough for -3 or -4. So i added the suggestions this is what you get.

        Russian Star Performers:
        +4: Bottas, Vettel
        +3: Raikkonen, Hulkenberg
        +2: Perez, Sainz, Massa
        +1: Verstappen, Ocon
        0 : Giovinazzi, Ricciardo, Vandoorne, Kvyat, Ericsson, Hamilton, Wehrlein
        -1: Magnussen, Stroll
        -2: Alonso
        -4: Grosjean
        -5: Palmer (just because i can)

  7. Bottas was faster than Lewis Hamilton in every session during the weekend and out-qualified his team mate by almost half a second. He executed his start perfectly and seized the opportunity to pass both Ferraris.

    As someone who has been a strong advocate for Bottas’ since his runs with Williams in FP back in 2012, this is music to my ears (or should that be eyes). After two weeks of lsitinging to journalists basically saying “so you are going to have to be Mercedes number 2 driver now yeah”, to put in such a strong showing is just what the doctor ordered.

    Now he’s got one under his belt, he will crack on and win more. This is not just a two horse race. :)

    1. Right on time to avoid falling to that tendency indeed @geemac. I am glad that Bottas now showed that he can be the one to salvage the situation when his teammate doesn’t show up. I hope he will be winning more and really being part of the battle for the title too.

    2. This is exactly why they hired him. If HAM struggles then Bottas is there to win and vice versa. Only if 1 driver is really struggling will they give them race orders

  8. “While Vettel was tentative in dealing with the lapped Felipe Massa, Bottas wasted no time in picking off Pascal Wehrlein just six corners from home.”

    Vettel was blocked by Massa who conveniently let his former teammate through with no resistance. As for picking off Wehrlein, it is no great task to pick-off a lapped car. This article reads like it was written by a Bottas fanboy!

    1. If FM blocked SV he would have been penalized. There wasn’t even an investigation. As SV said right after the race, he just didn’t know which side of the track FM was going to go, but then he got by and it was never going to be enough to catch and pass VB anyway. It can come as much down to where they were on the track and how that relates to FM’s ability to pull aside, as anything. Would be a different story of course if all the post-race headlines were screaming quotes from SV that FM cost him the race win. But nothing.

  9. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    2nd May 2017, 13:24

    What I love about how Valtteri reacted to what was undeniably the high watermark of his career to date, is that it was understated beyond even Finnish convention. Underpinning that moment was a starkly vivid relief tinged with a subtle frustration that he had not managed to win previously. It was a race that says tremendous things about his ability to attain higher things: 1) he clearly has a tremendous belief in his own ability, and 2) when opportunity came knocking, unlike Hamilton’s last Finnish teammate, he was able to produce his best performance level when the stakes were higher than ever.

    I think we all took a somewhat cynical view of Bottas’ reportedly troubled Bahrain race. Yes, he evidently suffered with the tyre pressures in the first stint, but the fact that his pace never truly recovered was rather symptomatic of a driver overcome by the occasion of his first pole position. Compound that with an influx of harsh and evidently unnecessary questions about #2 drivers from the assembled press, and you would say that the pressure had never been higher for Valtteri coming into the weekend.

    He responded with cool, calm, cognizent clarity, and produced his best form and focus under pressure as only the greatest racing drivers can. Super impressive…

    1. @william-brierty Can’t entirely agree with you, as I was not one who took a cynical view of Bottas’ Bahrain race. My approach all along has been to give the guy some breathing room as the newbie on the team going up against no less than LH, and being finally in a true win-capable car for the first time in his F1 career. Bahrain could have been the worst ever day in his life and he still would have laid his head down on his pillow that night and thought to himself how lucky he is to have the car to answer to a bad day.

      Pressure? Yeah ok, perhaps of the early season type, with everything still to play for, but I think he likely feels more stoked, and is likely having way too much fun for that to creep in too much. If anyone should have pressure on them then and now it should be LH. Pressure from already having questions directed toward him about #2 status on the team? Wouldn’t surprise me if VB realistically already felt himself a natural #2 (not in a defeatist way whatsoever) given his newness to the team and his opponent, with every opportunity now to do something about it given the car he finally has.

      Nothing I’m saying is meant to take away from the praises you have heaped on VB…I just see it slightly differently. I also think Nico indeed produced his best performance level throughout 2016 and it won him the WDC.

  10. …Bottas would crack, but he never put a wheel wrong

    …well, almost.

    He had a lockup near the end that looked serious, he was fortunate not to come out of it with a square wheel. His pace was not much affected, but I’m pretty sure he got some nasty vibrations.

    More importantly, he kept his cool. Another mistake like that and it would have been Seb’s race.

  11. ILuvSoundtracks (@)
    4th May 2017, 14:24

    Why can’t Stroll show his true performance and not be dreadful all the time?

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      4th May 2017, 21:28


      Remember that he has only had one full race. The first 3 races, he had to retire and 2 were not his fault in the slightest. And even the incident with Perez was very unlucky. I think we need to give him a chance to finish several races before we call him dreadful all the time. The spin he had here in Russia was a lot less costly that what Bottas did in China.

  12. Perez the most underated driver of all times is so constant it goes unnoticed, I think he is leading Force India right since his arrival.

  13. I was surprised that Hulkenberg was mentioned as a Star Performer. You can blame Renault’s lack of race pace all you want, but he had a bad start which put him on the backfoot. Bottas and Vettel deserved to be Performers; I would put Perez amongst them instead of Hulk for a very solid performance. Palmer once again had a bad weekend; the Palmer we saw toward the end of last-season has completely disappeared. Why he is even in F1 is beyond me. He’s not even a pay-driver like Stroll.

    Russian Performers:

    Bottas – 5/5
    Vettel – ⅘
    Perez – ⅘
    Ocon – ⅘
    Räikkönen – ⅘

    The Rest:

    Hamilton – ⅗
    Hulkenberg – ⅗
    Verstappen – ⅗
    Sainz – ⅗
    Massa – ⅗
    Stroll – ⅗
    Vandoorne – ⅗
    Alonso – ⅖
    Ricciardo – ⅖
    Kvyat – ⅖
    Wehrlein – ⅖
    Ericsson – ⅖
    Magnussen – ⅖

    The Strugglers:

    Palmer – ⅕
    Grosjean – ⅕

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