Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Sochi Autodrom, 2018

2018 Russian Grand Prix Star Performers

2018 Russian Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Valtteri Bottas were RaceFans’ Star Performers of the Russian Grand Prix. Here’s why.


Max Verstappen

Red Bull expected to struggle around the power-sensitive Sochi Autodrom, so both drivers opted to start at the back so they could take new engines. This meant that in qualifying Verstappen only set a time in Q1 which was good enough for third, quicker than both Ferraris. From 19th he was 13th by the end of the first lap. Verstappen continued to slice through the field at an impressive rate and found himself in fifth, only 19 seconds off the lead within eight laps.

He inherited the lead after all the other front runners had stopped and stayed on the soft tyres until lap 43. He switched to the ultra-softs for the remaining 10 laps but refrained from challenging Raikkonen, and saved the engine for races in the future where Red Bull could be fighting for the victory.

Charles Leclerc

Leclerc continued to demonstrate Ferrari have good reason to place their faith in him. He made it into Q3, beating Ericsson by two-tenths, and passed Ocon at the start, fighting him off for the majority of the first lap. On the next lap he went around the outside of Magnussen through turn three, in one of the best overtakes of the race.

He spent the rest of the race with a healthy gap back to the Haas and only had to yield to the much quicker Red Bull drivers. He finished best of the rest for the first time this year and described it as being like a “win” for the team.

Valtteri Bottas

Bottas took advantage of Hamilton’s mistake on his final run in Q3 to take pole by a tenth and a half. In the race, Bottas survived the long first straight and opened up a healthy gap in the first stint. Mercedes used Bottas to slow Vettel to help Hamilton pass.

Once Hamilton got by the Ferrari, Mercedes became concerned about the state of his left-rear tyre. Because of this and, they later admitted, in order to maximise Hamilton’s championship points, team orders were applied and Bottas was told to let Hamilton through. They held position for the rest of the race, Bottas missing out on what should have been his first victory of the year.

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Brendon Hartley

Daniil Kvyat’s confirmation as Pierre Gasly’s replacement for the 2019 F1 season raised questions about whether Hartley will keep his place in the team. He may need to give a better account of himself than this. Hartley was six-tenths behind his team mate in qualifying, unable to replicate Gasly’s high mid-corner speeds.

However the weekend wasn’t without obstacles. Honda decided to save the spec three engine they ran on Friday for their home race next week in Japan, meaning he and Gasly received significant grid penalties. Three laps into the race a problem with his front brakes forced him out.

Stoffel Vandoorne

McLaren knew they would struggle in Russia due to the aerodynamic efficiency problems with their chassis. With Alonso set to take a grid penalty for an engine change, the team tried to boost Vandoorne’s chances of reaching Q2 by using Alonso to give him a slipstream. This strategy didn’t work and Vandoorne was knocked out in Q1, four-tenths off of Alonso.

In the race, Vandoorne started on the ultra-softs and finished 16th on the softs but neither McLaren was a contender for points.

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And the rest

Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Sochi Autodrom, 2018
Vettel backed down in his fight with Hamilton
Despite bringing a substantial upgrade for the SF71-H, Ferrari were further off Mercedes’ pace than usual and seemed to lack their recent straight-line performance. Kimi Raikkonen wasn’t on Vettel’s pace all weekend, but the car wasn’t quick enough to out-qualify the Mercedes pair.

Good strategy work got Vettel ahead of Hamilton but he lost the place a lap later, backing down at turn four after a firm defensive move two corners earlier. He later admitted he would probably have kept Hamilton behind until the end if he’d resisted this attack more firmly.

Hamilton was beaten to pole by Bottas after losing out on pole and ran behind his team mate until the Mercedes pit wall intervened. Daniel Ricciardo came a distant sixth after losing a significant piece of his front wing on lap one which affected his pace until the team replaced it on lap 39.

Having been perplexed by the hyper-softs on Friday, Magnussen qualified best of the rest on Saturday. But he lost fifth place to Leclerc on lap two and spent the remainder of the race keeping both Force India drivers behind. Nonetheless he easily had the beating of Grosjean, who finished outside the points.

Team orders were in use at Force India as well as Ocon and Perez took turns trying to get by Magnussen for the majority of the race. In the end they were unsuccessful but they came home in the points.

Ericsson made another Q3 appearance but was never close enough to contest Leclerc at any point during the weekend. In the race he fell out of the top ten thanks to the charging Red Bulls.

Gasly started from the back thanks to an engine change and suffered a front brake failure three laps in, just like his team mate.

Renault struggled all weekend as they struggled to get anywhere near the points. They qualified 14th and 15th and in the race Hulkenberg was only able to recover to twelfth while Sainz went backwards and finished 17th. Alonso was in a similar situation to Renault thanks to the same power unit and managed to beat his team mate but anything more than that was unrealistic.

Williams experienced the same result as nearly every other race this season. Sirotkin finished last among the finishers in his home race while Stroll climbed to 15th.

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Over to you

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2018 Russian Grand Prix

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Author information

Josh Holland
USA-based Josh joined the RaceFans team in 2018. Josh helps produce our Formula 1 race weekend coverage, assists with our social media activities and...

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26 comments on “2018 Russian Grand Prix Star Performers”

  1. I pretty much agree with your write-up.

    My stars were Verstappen and LeClerk (that overtake was immense).

    Kudos to Perez and Ocon for not taking each other out – I was convinced they’d bash into each other!!!

  2. Stars: Bottas, Verstappen, Leclerc, and Magnussen.
    Strugglers: Vettel, Ricciardo, Renault, and STR.

    1. Without explanation this looks weird, if not ridiculous, @jerejj.
      With explanation you probably struggle to teach the same conclusion.
      E.g. Magnussen might have had a good Saturday, but he got overtaken by more cars this Sunday than there were total overtakes last year on this same circuit.

      1. @coldfly That’s because he managed to keep the ‘faster in this race’ RPFI-drivers behind him all the way till the chequered flag. That’s why I have him on my ‘stars’ list. Being able to keep a faster car behind for so long isn’t an easy task.

        1. @jerejj, Sochi is one of the most difficult circuits to overtake; hence my reference to last year.
          Nothing special he did on Sunday IMO.

        2. Agree – MAG did an excellent job. Defending from lap 2. He couldn’t do anything against LEC. Ferrari must have put his motor on another program. Remarkable how he just left Haas and Fi with a 15 sec gab on first stint – very few laps..No way MAG could defend against such pace..
          Think MAG was a starperformer

    2. Strugglers: Vettel

      Wait what? Just no. What possible justification could you have for that?

      1. Yes, I think it’s the only real one that is off for jere, ferrari was subpar this race, had red bulls not started in the back I’d bet on ferrari ending up even further behind than they did.

  3. Leclerc, bottas defiantly stars, Verstappen did well but the car was the star.
    Vettel struggled but but again tactics and a car that is not a Merc did not help him. Ricciardo….the car struggled, even he can do only so much.

    1. So, if VER drives well it’s the car. If RIC doesn’t drive well it’s the car.

      1. I did say Verstappen did well, and he did. But he did not do anything that several other drivers have already done this yr in a superior car. I think is drive in Singapore was better.

    2. You are such a hoot.

      When VER has mechanical DNFs it’s because he overdrives the car somehow. And you mention that RIC is so much better because he doesn’t.

      But when VER hits the limelight, it’s suddenly primarily the car and RIC can only do so much against a struggling car if he’s in the shadow.

      1. I voted for VER as the driver of the weekend, but analyzing better, LEC was the best. Too bad I cannot change my vote. He out qualified his team mate, whom is a much more experienced driver, and managed to be the best of the rest finishing way ahead of his team mate. Now VER gave a good spectacle, but he only managed to stay ahead of his team mate. I would make a huge difference if he had beaten RAI. Other thing about LEC is the maturity of this guy. He is fast and do not make mistakes. VER is fast, and reaching maturity now, but if you look at the beginning of this season and the last two, the name VET gave him ($#!+head) was appropriated. LOL. Another thing I like about LEC. He is a gentleman…and this is another quality all the reporters on the track always emphasis. RIC and RAI are also nice to media…but all the rest of the grid, just listening to the interviews, you will notice that their EGO are bigger than themselves. LOL.

        1. Look at ver in his first year in tr. Immense fast, great overtaking and hardly an error.
          Look at the first races with leclerck and notice the differences.

        2. @mauromori

          Verstappen put himself in a great position to win if there was a safety car by overtaking so well at the beginning. When that didn’t happen, a safe 5th while saving the engine was the best move. A perfect race given what was within his control.

          That said, I did vote for Leclerc.

          1. A good comparisation between Leclerc and Ves is if Lecrerc starts his first gp in a Ferrari and wins it.

        3. The team mate of Leclerc is Markus Ericsson. If you cannot out perform him as teammate you should not be in F1.

          1. Auchh..! Then half of the drivers should leave soon…

        4. Hamilton gave verstappen that nickname, not vettel.

      2. You are such a hoot.

        Thanks :)

        When VER has mechanical DNFs it’s because he overdrives the car somehow.

        Not every time.

        But when VER hits the limelight, it’s suddenly primarily the car

        In modern F1 unfortunately more often than not it is primarily the car.

  4. People aren’t going to like this, but the best overtake was Hamilton’s past Vettel. That was immense, maintaining traction and speed on the outside to set himself up for a relatively simple pass at the next corner. Also deserves bonus marks for avoiding a collision at the last millisecond when Vettel moved twice and almost put an end to both their races.

    1. Totally agree

    2. the best overtake was Hamilton’s past Vettel

      Better than the overtake of LEC on MAG?

      1. Good question, just looked at them both again, Hamilton’s was probably technically more difficult, on the edge, Leclerc’s more gutsy. Pretty even really but Hamilton had one shot really to make it happen and it meant a big difference to the championship – including meaning Bottas could let him past :0P

      2. LEC overtake on MAG was just a pass… His car was much faster than both Haas and Fi. Look at the first stint – he gained more than 15 sec… It was crazy. I doubt LEC is so much better than PER, OCO and MAG – believe Ferrari told Sauber how to setup the car and engine.

    3. Agreed.
      Keith should open a discussion thread about that.

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