Race Recap: 2014 Russian Grand Prix is like Valencia, but in Russian
We wouldn't know that after qualifying, though, when Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes AMG Petronas finally put in a mistake-free Saturday to line up first on the grid, ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg in second. Valtteri Bottas got his Williams closer than anyone expected, blistering the first two sectors but falling apart in the third and ending up third on the grid. Behind him, Jenson Button impressed in the McLaren in fourth, Daniil Kvyat even more impressive in the Toro Rosso, taking fifth in front of his home crowd. Kevin Magnussen put the second McLaren in sixth, Daniel Ricciardo was the first Infiniti Red Bull Racing in seventh ahead of a Ferrari duo who knew they'd have a hard time, Fernando Alonso in eighth and Kimi Räikkönen in ninth. Jean-Eric Vergne made sure to keep himself in the news with tenth position.
When the lights went out, the most exciting events of the entire race happened in just sixty meters of the braking zone going into Turn 2.
That's when Rosberg, who'd got ahead of Hamilton after the Turn 1 kink down the long drag to Turn 2, locked up his wheels like he was mad at them, overshot the exit of the turn and blasted through the runoff area to stay ahead of his teammate. Rosberg's engineer soon told him to give the position back, having gained an unfair advantage, Rosberg replying that he had to come in and pit anyway since the flat-spotted tire was causing vibrations.
That set Hamilton free to win the race. Although he only put a few tenths into Bottas every lap, he didn't ever struggle, and he put at least a second per lap on everyone behind Bottas. Until the last lap, the only time we saw Hamilton was when we got a replay of him locking up slightly into the technical Turn 13. The only time we heard him was when he'd tell his engineer, "Everything's fine here." And that was your race. It's possible the most exciting part of his day was having Vladimir Putin hand him his trophy.
Almost. At any other track on the calendar, Bottas would have come in second and Button in third, but the grippy Sochi surface and conservative Pirelli tire choice meant that tires didn't wear out. So Rosberg, who pitted at the end of the first lap and grabbed a set of medium compounds, the harder of the two on offer, drove the remaining 52 laps on that set. And because he was in a Mercedes, the Bayern Munich of F1 teams sent to compete with lesser squads, he simply weaved his way through the field from 21st after his pit stop to second on Lap 31. No one expected it, not even Rosberg, who said after the race he was sure he'd have to pit again. When Bottas dropped to third after his pit stop, his engineer told him he'd get Rosberg when the German pitted, but that never happened. When Button's engineer told Button he thought Rosberg would go the whole distance, Button replied, "From when he pitted on the first lap?!" Yes.
So Rosberg claimed the runner-up spot, followed by Bottas, followed by Button.
Magnussen came in fifth, moving up one spot from his grid position when Kvyat's Toro Rosso started going backwards as soon as the race began. Alonso took sixth, after having run as high as fourth for much of the race due to some leap-frogging at the start, but a botched pit stop meant he got released after Magnussen buzzed past the pits and he couldn't get around him again.
Ricciardo came seventh ahead of teammate Vettel, passing his teammate during the pit stops when he couldn't do it on track, Räikkönen and Sergio Perez in the Force India – who'd qualified 13th – rounded out the top ten.
For a better measure of how 'stable' the race was, on Lap 32 of 53, the race order was Hamilton, Rosberg, Bottas, Button, Magnussen, Alonso, Ricciardo, Vettel, Esteban Gutiérrez in the Sauber and Räikkönen, and the only reason Gutiérrez was in there was because he hadn't pitted yet. Once he did, on Lap 39, Perez moved up and that was your race finish.
The win throws another 25 points on Hamilton's Driver's Championship lead, putting him 17 points ahead of Rosberg, 291 to 274. He's also won nine races this year, including two stretches of four-in-a-row, and with 31 wins in his career ties the number of wins earned by British legend Nigel Mansell. The only other two drivers to win four-in-a-row twice in a season, Michael Schumacher in 2004 and Sebastian Vettel in 2013, both won the championship - but they didn't have double points at the last race to contend with. Ricciardo, with 199 points, is now eliminated from mathematical contention of winning the title.
Mercedes' ninth one-two of the season gives it 565 points and the trophy for the Constructor's Championship, the first in its history. Red Bull sits a comfortable second with 342 points, and even though Williams only got one car in the points to get to 216 points, it put more distance between it and Ferrari with 188 points. Before Japan Alonso said that Ferrari would pass Williams in the constructor's battle, but with two of the three races left giving the benefit to power, we wonder about that prediction. Finally, McLaren did a number on Force India; the two teams were just a point apart not so long ago, but after Russia McLaren has 143 points and Force India has 123. Regrettably, it seems Vijay Mallya's squad is doing its end-of-season fade again.
The next race comes to you from Circuit of the Americas in three weeks. We'll see you then.
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