By Gary Becker
Valtteri Bottas rocketed his Mercedes from his second row starting position, past the two Ferraris, and into the lead at lights out to start the Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom. From that point on Bottas drove the race of his life holding off a charging Sebastian Vettel in the late stages of the event to claim his first Formula One victory.
"It’s going to take a while to sink in." said Bottas "Normally I’m not that emotional but hearing the Finnish national anthem was very special for me. It’s all a bit surreal, the first win and hopefully the first of many. It was definitely one of my best races ever. The pressure from Sebastian wasn’t too bad; the main issue was with the lapped cars, trying to get past those. It was tricky to pass them without losing time. I also had a lockup with about 15 laps to go that hurt the pace, but it was manageable. I asked for a bit of radio silence just to get on it and focus. I’m sure this victory will give me lots of confidence going forward. I knew I could do these results, I always trusted my ability, but this result confirms it."
Bottas held the lead until he pitted for the mandatory tire change on lap 28 of the 52 lap race handing the point position over to Vettel who remained on circuit wearing his starting ultra soft tires until lap lap 35 when Vettel pitted, returning to the race 4.5 seconds behind Bottas.
From the point on it was a race to see if the Ferrari, now on fresher tires, could catch the Mercedes. Lap after lap Vettel chipped away at Bottas' lead closing to 1.8 seconds with ten laps to go. With five laps to go the margin was 1.4 seconds.
As the laps began to run out on Vettel he finally worked his way to under the magic second point allowing the Ferrari to use the Drag Reduction System with only two laps to go. On the last lap Bottas was able to work the Williams of Felipe Mass between the Ferrari and himself. Massa did Vettel no favors making the German work his way around the Williams, losing precious time and any chance for victory.
“I think my getaway was ok." said Vettel of his race "Maybe I could have been a bit more aggressive. There was a delay in turning the lights off, so that I didn’t get a proper reading of how the grid was. Still, I had a good start but we had a strong head wind all day and Bottas could get a massive tow, so there was nothing I could do. Valtteri had a great race. He drove better than the rest of us so he deserved to win. Towards the end I was flat out, I had a feeling that I could get into DRS distance, maybe on the back straight, put some pressure on him and, who knows, lead him into a mistake, but he made none. What happened with Massa was just a bit of a misunderstanding, I wasn’t sure where he was going, but I did not lose the race at that point. Now we look ahead to Spain. We had a good answer about our car in Barcelona during testing days and I don’t need to think about the championship. We had a very good start. We are here to win, to do our best, but we can still learn and improve. The speed was there today, but we could have done better. Yet, we have a strong car and a strong team and there is a lot of positive aspects.”
Finishing behind Vettel was the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen who battled with Lewis Hamilton to hold third place at the start of the race and drove on to earn the final step on the podium.
“Overall, it has been a more positive weekend compared to the first three races." said Raikkonen "I was happier with the car and when I needed to push I could get the lap time out. The race was decided at the start and I had a pretty bad one. I thought I was losing a lot, but I managed to get the position back and stay there. My car was good all the way through the race, but after that, not a lot happened. We tried our best but there was not much to do, I was just holding my position. So, obviously, I’m happy for the podium, but I’m disappointed to lose a place at the start instead of gaining one. Now we need to keep working; small details can make a big difference in the end. I’m very happy for Valtteri who won his first race, I’m sure he will have a bright future.”
Lewis Hamilton brought the second Mercedes home in fourth place after battling overheating problems most of the event and was never a factor in the race for the win.
"A big congratulations to Valtteri." Hamilton said "He did an exceptional job today and he really deserves it. He’s been fast all weekend and he’s done such a good job for the team. He’s a fantastic teammate to work with and it’s such an amazing feeling winning your first Grand Prix. For me it was a very tough weekend. I just wasn’t quick enough. I’ve never had cooling issues like that before but it meant I was out of the race from the get-go. I think I had the pace to fight with Kimi, but the car just kept overheating. Ultimately, if I had better pace then I would have been further up. At least I got some good points for the team. I’m just hopeful that I can pick up the pace at the next race."
Rounding out the top five was Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen who finished more than a minute behind Bottas.
“The start was very important today and ended up being the only action of the race for me." said Verstappen "I managed to get past Felipe and Daniel and from there on it was a very lonely race. I could see the cars in front of me pulling away and I was pulling away from the cars behind so I just tried to manage the car home. After the issues we had this morning luckily nothing upset me or the rhythm during the race so I just had to bring it across the line. The mechanics did a really good job sorting the issue in such a small amount of time and giving me a car to complete the race in P5. The pace was not so bad in the last stint which is another positive to take away from this tough weekend. Towards the end you naturally start to turn things down on the car to be safe. We maximized the opportunities we had so now we can look forward to Barcelona, the upgrades are coming and we can hopefully start to get involved in the fight at the front. Barcelona is obviously a very special track for me following last year’s race so I am excited to return and see what we can do.”
Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo had an even worse outing failing to finish the event, his second DNF of the season.
“The start felt pretty good initially, I seemed to get away quicker than the guys in front which backed me up and meant I lost momentum." explained Ricciardo "I was then a bit of a sitting duck on the outside line losing track position but it looked like it would be a good battle from there. After the safety car I looked in my mirror to see where the Force India was and I noticed that the right rear brake was on fire, I reported it to the team and they told me to bring the car back to the pits slowly. Unfortunately the issue could not be fixed and I had to retire from the race. It was early in the race so I don’t know how much the safety car and two starts impacted us but the team will obviously investigate that. It’s frustrating, on a Sunday you just build up for the race and try to store up your adrenaline to use at 3pm but today it was over very quickly and unfortunately I didn’t get as much of a fight as I would have liked. We don’t know how much the new package will give us until we get it on track in a few weeks but we are hoping Barcelona is the first step to getting closer to the leaders.”
Ricciardo did not have an exclusive on having a bad day. Fernando Alonso's McLaren didn't even finish the formation lap. On the first lap of the race Renault’s Jolyon Palmer collided with Haas’ Romain Grosjean badly damaging both cars and requiring an appearance by the Safety Car.
“We had a great start and I was on the inside of Palmer under braking." said Grosjean "I don’t know why he turned in. I was there and then he turned in. I tried to get as much as I could on the apex, but he just hit me, spun and came back and hit me again. The car was badly damaged and our race was over. I was full of hope that we could understand what was going on over the weekend, get some more mileage and understand things so we can perform at the next race. Though we were maybe not going to score points today, it’s always good to be able to see what we could do.”
For Bottas the win marks his first in 81 Formula One starts. It was also the 400th podium finish for Mercedes. In the Driver's Championship Vettel leads with 86 points followed by Hamilton with 73 points and Bottas with 63 points. Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport with 136 points leads the Constructors’ Championship by a single point over Scuderia Ferrari.
2017 Russian Grand Prix – Race
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1h28m08.743s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.617s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 11.000s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 36.320s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:00.416s
6 Sergio Perez Force India 1:26.788s
7 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:35.004s
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:36.188s
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1 Lap
10 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1 Lap
11 Lance Stroll Williams 1 Lap
12 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1 Lap
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1 Lap
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1 Lap
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 Lap
16 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 2 Laps
- Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Brakes
- Romain Grosjean Haas Collision
- Fernando Alonso McLaren Not started
- Jolyon Palmer Renault Collision
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