It’s fair to say that in its brief existence the Russian Grand Prix has not commanded universal popularity. Sochi is viewed by some of an uninspiring track. Its debut race last year was dull as ditch-water. Fuel saving was rife. Tyre degradation and therefore variation was near-zero. Overarching it all were concerns about the Russian governing regime, and that its President Vladimir Putin associates himself closely with the event.
And to some extent it was more of the same in the second visit this time. Putin was there again. Tyres ran all day. And for at least some of the way the entertainment was scarce. Plus the outcome – Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory, controlling the race from a way ahead from an early stage.
Lewis’s way is cleared early
He relied a little bit on luck. His team mate Nico Rosberg took the pole and rebuffed him at the start to lead and it looked like we were all set for an intriguing battle. But almost immediately Nico spoke on the team radio of having a throttle problem. For a lap or two it looked like he might be able to manage it but come lap seven he sank down the order and parked up at the end of the tour.
This left Lewis on easy street, both in the race and in the championship. He now as good as has his mitts on his third title, only needing a handful of points over Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel in the next race to make it final. And this owes near-nothing to luck.
Vettel again didn’t need much luck either, as he seems to be every time in 2015 he was a clear best of the rest in the race and rose to a maximum possible result. This time he was fifth from the off, but passed his team mate Kimi Raikkonen after an early safety car period then vaulted Valtteri Bottas on strategy which put him second. He then kept Lewis as honest as he could, even with its transparent futility.
Frolics further back
And despite the parallels outlined at the outset the race did have a bit more about it than that 12 months ago. This was thanks in part to two safety car periods, the second of which came at a tantalising point that wasn’t quite early enough to do your solitary pit stop ordinarily but might still be worth a punt. Most of those from Sergio Perez in P5 downwards did try it, and this did a lot to give Checo an unlikely yet refreshing podium finish. He looked good for it by running third for a lot of the way, only to lose out to Bottas and Raikkonen on the penultimate lap. Then the pair collided on the last lap giving Perez the place back.
The misjudgement was Kimi’s and he indeed got a post-race 30 second penalty, dropping him from his eventual P5 finish to P8 in the results. No consolation for Bottas who was out on the spot. It also meant that the constructors’ title was tilted definitively to Mercedes. Another thing like last year. Another thing that nevertheless didn’t owe anything to luck.