Throughout Formula One history we have seen a number of drivers play the part of a dutiful team player, helping their team mate to the world championship. Some great drivers have played the role – Gilles Villeneuve at Ferrari in 1979 held station on may occasions for Jody Scheckter, Ronnie Peterson at Lotus the year before played a loyal second-fiddle to Mario Andretti, for example – and while Valtteri Bottas may not as yet be held in the same regard as those men, there is no doubt that he is a team player of the highest order.
Bottas had taken pole position at Sochi, led the race and was in a fine position to win, but was asked to move aside for Lewis Hamilton, the championship leader. He duly did so, expressing his unhappiness at the request on the radio, but he did so. One has to hope that his day will come.
The race as such was largely uneventful, and Hamilton’s victory allowed him to extend his championship lead even further over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel – indeed, it’s fair to say Ferrari hardly showed up for the party this weekend – to a point where it will now take extraordinary events if the German is to win the race to title number 5.
From the Start
At the lights-out Bottas got away cleanly, behind him Vettel had a go at Hamilton – the two side by side around the first turn – but the Englishman held his place. Behind them Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari had held his place. On the second lap, Raikkonen’s 2019 replacement Charles Leclerc took his Sauber past the Haas of Kevin Magnussen for fifth place – a reminder of the talent that Ferrari believe the young man possesses.
Further back we had the two Red Bulls of Daniel Riccardo and Max Verstappen who had started 18th and 19th on the grid following engine penalties. Notably, by lap four, the Dutchman was already up to 7th position, having passed rivals all over the place in a typically aggressive and ballsy drive.
At the first round of pitstops – the first of the leaders to stop being Bottas as early as lap 11 – we had a nail-biting battle between Hamilton and Vettel. Surprisingly, with the two pitting on consecutive laps – the Ferrari first – Hamilton emerged behind his rival, and was very vocal over the radio about this too. It didn’t take long for Hamilton to get the place back as he executed a brave but perfect move on the German that would seal his position.
With the front runners having made their stops, Verstappen was left out front – running a longer stint on harder tyres – with Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel and Raikkonen running in line. On lap 25 Mercedes gave the order for Bottas to let Hamilton through. The Finn did so, and then told the team he was intending to pass Verstappen for the lead net lap. They replied they would talk about it after the race.
As is usual for races at Sochi, there was little action bar a few moves in the midfield as – once Verstappen had made his stop – all Hamilton needed to do was keep up the pace enough to make sure his team mate did not come under attack from the Ferrari behind him. On lap 52, Bottas came on the radio to ask the team how they were going to finish the race; they replied to ‘hold station’, much to the Finn’s disappointment.
The Mercedes came home 1-2, then, with Vettel and Raikkonen next. Verstappen took a remarkable 5th position, his team mate Ricciardo an equally remarkable of much quieter 6th, and behind them the best of the rest sorted them selves out with Leclerc in 7th for Sauber, Kevin Magnussen having another fine drive to 8th for Haas, and the Force India pair of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez – barred from racing each other here after the disaster in Singapore – taking the remaining points-paying spots.
Hamilton now leads Vettel by a full 50 points – that’s two victories – with 5 races remaining, a gap that is all but unassailable. Bottas, in third, can not mathematically win the title. Mercedes has a lead of 53 points over Ferrari in the constructors championship. The next race is at Suzuka, Japan, and Ferrari will want to get back on pace at one of the greatest circuits in the world.