Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2020

Bottas and Hamilton may prefer second to pole at Sochi

2020 Russian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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As Formula 1 tracks go, Sochi Autodrom could hardly be more different to the championship’s last venue, Mugello.

Where Mugello crested and plunged, Sochi is flat; Mugello offered a mix of medium-to-high speed bends, Sochi is largely 90-degree turns; Mugello had vast gravel traps awaiting the incautious, Sochi has extensive asphalt run-offs (although, as Carlos Sainz Jnr and Nicholas Latifi showed today, its unforgiving barriers are reachable).

But there is one key aspect in which they are very similar, which will have a crucial bearing on Sunday’s race and possibly Saturday’s qualifying session. The run from the starting line to the first corner is very long.

As we all know, current F1 cars are very draggy. That’s how at this race in 2017 Valtteri Bottas was able to go from third to first at the start, passing the Ferraris which had locked out the front row of the grid. That’s why Ferrari tied themselves in all kind of knots last year trying to co-ordinate their drivers and see off the threat from their slipstreaming rivals.

Barring some unexpected drama, Mercedes don’t have to worry about the two red cars – or indeed any other cars – keeping them from the front row on Saturday. As ever, Sochi looks like a bogey track for Red Bull. The Renault-powered cars led the opposition on Friday, but over a second off the W11s.

So Bottas and Lewis Hamilton are likely to have the front row to themselves. Ordinarily whichever of them is ahead could expect to have a significant advantage. But given the long run to turn two at Sochi, that might not be the case.

In three of the last four races, Hamilton has denied Bottas pole position by less than seven-hundredths of a second. Bottas has looked in great shape this weekend on a track where he has historically gone well.

What an irony it would be if he finally beats Hamilton to pole position at the one track where he doesn’t necessarily want it. And what an even greater irony it would be if he were to make another of his recent poor starts from pole, lose the lead to Hamilton, then slipstream back ahead of him again…

Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Sochi Autodrom, 2020
Stroll was “over-driving” updated Racing Point
Red Bull are concerned about the pace shown by Renault, and McLaren are in close range as well. Racing Point aren’t behind, though Lance Stroll is running the only example of their new aerodynamic upgrade again this weekend, and didn’t have a straightforward Friday.

“I think Sergio [Perez] was a lot more comfortable with the car to start with,” said technical director Andrew Green.

“Lance wasn’t that uncomfortable with the car, he was just more uncomfortable with the way he was driving. Whenever we asked him about the car, he said ‘the car’s OK, I just can’t put a lap together, I just need more time to think about this’. There was a bit of over-driving going on, for sure on that side. I think Sergio was a bit more relaxed and just went in and progressively built up, I think Lance might have gone in a bit too quick.”

Between those four teams, the fight at the front end of the midfield looks riveting. But Mercedes remain as strong as ever, and on the evidence of day one at Sochi it’s hard to imagine we’re going to see anything other than a continuation of their unbeaten streak at this track on Sunday.

Which of their drivers takes the big trophy could well come down to which one of them doesn’t get pole position.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Valtteri BottasMercedes1’34.9231’33.51950
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’37.7161’33.78651
3Daniel RicciardoRenault1’35.4301’34.57749
4Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren-Renault1’36.9701’34.72344
5Lando NorrisMcLaren-Renault1’37.1101’34.84761
6Sergio PerezRacing Point-Mercedes1’35.7961’34.89058
7Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’35.5771’35.04852
8Charles LeclercFerrari1’36.8961’35.05258
9Esteban OconRenault1’36.0611’35.13951
10Sebastian VettelFerrari1’36.3231’35.18358
11Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’36.7061’35.21060
12Alexander AlbonRed Bull-Honda1’36.2541’35.24255
13Daniil KvyatAlphaTauri-Honda1’36.2301’35.46159
14Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’37.2301’35.51656
15Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’37.7841’35.56342
16George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’37.5951’35.57554
17Lance StrollRacing Point-Mercedes1’35.9651’35.62755
18Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’37.4301’35.72954
19Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’37.2011’36.05353
20Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’37.6491’36.85856

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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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9 comments on “Bottas and Hamilton may prefer second to pole at Sochi”

  1. I reckon Lewis has to go for pole no 96 and deal with the race on race day. He has 8 chances to get to 100 this year, I don’t see him giving one up.

    1. I think you take each session as it comes and try your hardest. Trying to get second is a dangerous game that could leave you further down.

      If Hamilton is second at turn two, I still can’t see Bottas beating him.

      If Bottas is second at turn two, the race for the win is over – barring misfortune or mistakes.

      Bottas is a beaten man this year, fast but just not there in the race. Whatever the reason, he hasn’t been able to match Hamilton in any race after Hamilton got into his stride.

  2. I am sure Lewis can wun from pole..

    Bottas is also overdue on a victory. He needs to make a series of wins to have a chance next year.

  3. Many people said it was within RP’s right to kept Perez out of the loop in his last races with the team.

    Now it’s look like Sergio started to withhold his insights on how to attack the apexes. Otmar should be smarter and should’ve known by blatantly prioritized Stroll, backlash like this would happen.

  4. It’s Bottas’ luck to be good at a track where pole is a disatvantage.

    But why isn’t the grid more spread if this is known to be unsporting?

  5. In 2017 and last season, this might’ve been the case, not for the rest of the previous events. The pole-sitter didn’t lose the lead into T2 in 2014, ’15, ’16, and ’18. In the inaugural race, Rosberg from P2 got side-by-side and slightly ahead only to lose out entirely by going off the track. The point is that being on pole on tracks where the run to the first braking zone is long or long-ish isn’t necessarily always a disadvantage.

  6. Then why not move the grid a few hundred yards down the track?

    It’s not like the haven’t got the room at Sochi.

  7. Hamilton has demonstrated what happens when you give people of colour an opportunity. Lewis lived with prejudice all his life and still excelled. Black excellence! Go Ham. You will win again this weekend starting 1st or 2nd.

Comments are closed.