Formula 1 2020 Russian Grand Prix was held on 27 September at the Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia. The race was the 10th round of the F1 2020 season and 7th time that it was held at this circuit. It also became the first circuit to hold the race with spectators with some 30,000 fans allowed to attend the race on Sunday.
Mercedes has won all the races held at the Sochi Autodrom since it was inaugurated back in 2014. Lewis Hamilton came into the weekend on the back of a stunning Tuscan Grand Prix win and only needed to win in Sochi to equal the record of 91 race wins by the great Michael Schumacher.
Hamilton blitzed the field on Saturday by taking the pole position with a new record of accomplishment, but two penalties before the start of the race ended his chance of winning the race. Valterri Bottas took a well-deserved second win of the season ahead of Max Verstappen.
Pre-Race Preparations Thursday
Six previous Russian grands prix were held in dry conditions, and this year the race is being held at the same time of the year. The weather outlook smashed any hope of the rain during the weekend. So the race weekend was expected to be dry.
McLaren introduced upgrades to the front of the car, which included a new front wing and an upgraded nose cone design similar to those of Mercedes and Renault. The team hopes this will unlock more potential for the next season’s car.
Renault announced that Fernando Alonso would test for the team this year to better prepare for his return with the Alpine Racing team in 2021.
In another update, it was announced that Ferrari’s ex-team principal Stefano Domenicali (CEO of Lamborghini) would replace current CEO of F1 Chase Carey from 2021 onwards.
Friday Practice: Mercedes duo leads ahead of Red Bull and Racing Point
Mercedes has held the fortress of the Russian Grand Prix since 2014. By the end of the practice sessions on Friday, it did not seem like anyone could conquer the fortress.
On single-lap pace, the Silver Arrows were ahead of their nearest rivals by 1.1 sec. The nearest rivals – Red Bull, Renault and Racing Point – were all equally matched on the short runs. McLaren was fifth on the list, two-tenths down on Racing Point. Ferrari looked much better compared to their recent form and was only one-tenth behind McLaren.
Crunching the numbers of the race simulations by the teams put Mercedes on top. Red Bull was very slow compared to them and was 1sec/lap slower. Racing Point third-fastest 1.4 sec/lap slower and Renault completed the top 4 with an average lap time 1.5 sec/lap slower than the Mercedes. Alpha Tauri 5th, McLaren 6th, Alfa Romeo 7th, Ferrari 8th, Alfa Romeo 9th and Williams 10th.
Lewis Hamilton topped the morning practice session on Saturday. He set a lap time, which was quicker than his teammate, by 0.7 sec. Bottas finished just a tenth ahead of flying Carlos Sainz. McLaren’s Spanish racer set an impressive time late in the session and regained the confidence he lost after a crash in the first practice session on Friday. Renault Esteban Ocon was 4th quickest of the leaderboard. The Racing Point of Sergio Perez was on his heels.
Qualifying: Hamilton takes P1 for the F1 2020 Russian Grand Prix
Valtteri Bottas went quickest ahead of his teammate by nearly three-tenths of a second. Hamilton ran wide at the last corner, so his first flying lap time was deleted and had to go again to set the time. The track limits at the final corner and the first corner made life very difficult for the drivers. Saturday’s star, George Russell, again managed to reach the Q2 ahead of his teammate Latifi. Both the Alfa Romeo and Haas drivers also joined Latifi in the Q1 elimination club.
Q2 started with drivers reporting of a few drops of rain that made racing difficult for some drivers. Sebastian Vettel crashed out on his second flying lap in Q2, resulting to the red flag being deployed. The clock stopped at 2:15 with Hamilton yet to post a time. When the session restarted, he crossed the line with only 1.25 sec left on the clock to start the lap. He qualified for the last part of the session but on soft tyres compared to the medium on Bottas's car. Leclerc, Vettel, Stroll, Kvyat and Russell all failed to reach the Q3 session.
The scare in Q2 did not put a dent in the champ's confidence, and instead fired him to set a new track record at the end of his first run in Q3 – 1:31:391 sec – which was 0.7 sec ahead of his teammate. Hamilton still went slightly faster in the next round and broke his own circuit record by less than a tenth. He grabbed his 96th pole position by setting a time of 1:31:304 sec. Verstappen put in a brilliant final lap to snatch P2 from Bottas. Sergio Perez also powered his Racing Point to 4th ahead of a hooked up Ricciardo. Sainz qualified 5th, Ocon 7th, Norris 8th, Gasly 9th and Albon 10th.
Sunday Race: Perfect start turns sour for Hamilton
Saturday was not perfect for Hamilton even though he took the pole position. Sunday started even worse when he did two practice starts at the end of the pit lane outside of the designated area. The incident was noted, and the investigation was underway.
Hamilton had a perfect start, nailed the first corner, and stayed in the lead thanks to the superior grip from his soft tyres. Behind him, Bottas slotted into second ahead of Verstappen. Bottas apparently could not overtake his teammate on the start because a bee on the visor bit him and unsettled his vision.
Behind the two Mercedes cars, many drivers could not brake in time and take the escape route, which passes through bollards so you can rejoin the track safely. Verstappen was the first one to take the route and was followed by fast-starting Sainz. However, he misjudged the angle, whacked his front left with the barrier, and ended his race. He slid across the track and his teammate Norris had to act fast to avoid getting crashed yet still picked up some damage. Norris got dropped to the last position and pitted for new hard tyres at the end of lap 1.
On lap 7, race stewards handed Hamilton two five-second penalties for the unsafe practice start before the start of the race. This ended any chance he had of winning the race after starting on less durable soft tyres. Hamilton pitted on lap 16, served his 10-sec penalty, and changed to hard tyres.
Verstappen pitted on lap 25 and emerged in P4, crucially ahead of the British champion. Bottas pitted on lap 26 and switched to hard tyres, emerging back out in the race's lead. At the end of lap 32, Bottas was leading from Verstappen and Hamilton. The midfield battle, which was led by Perez, was going very well. Ricciardo received a 5-sec penalty for exceeding track limits at turn 2.
At the front of the field, Bottas was trading fastest laps and cruised to the lap 53. This ended the 8-race winless streak, and he took a well-deserved second win of the season. He also gained substantial points for the championship compared to his teammate. Verstappen took a well-deserved podium after two consecutive DNF’s. Hamilton crossed the line in third place and felt like the steward's decision robbed him of the win.
The F1 2020 Russian Grand Prix midfield battle was won by Sergio Perez, who finished ahead of Riccardo. Leclerc finished 6th for an improved Ferrari, Ocon 7th, Kvyat 8th, Gasly 9th and Albon 10th.
F1 2020 Eifel Grand Prix
The F1 community travels to the home of the Mercedes AMG F1 team for a race at the iconic Nurburgring track. Let us see if Hamilton can equal the record of 91 race wins at the home of Michael Schumacher. Come back to this blog next week for another exciting race!