Hamilton eyeing open goal after Verstappen penalty: Five Russian GP talking points

2021 Russian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton has a significant opportunity retake the championship lead from Max Verstappen at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix. Here are the talking points for the race.

Hamilton’s opportunity

Verstappen left Monza with a five-point lead over Hamilton at the top of the championship standings but also with a three-place grid penalty for causing the latest collision between the pair. Hamilton therefore has a strong chance of starting Sunday’s race ahead of his title rival and, therefore, overturning his lead.

Historically, Sochi has been one of Mercedes’ strongest venues. No other team has won a race at the circuit since it was added to the calendar in 2014. They may not enjoy anything like the all-conquering margin they enjoyed in many past seasons, but Mercedes will be the team to beat.

Will Verstappen take a power unit change

As Verstappen is likely to need a fresh Honda before the season is over, this weekend’s race offers a useful opportunity to do that at less cost than usual, as he’s already unlikely to start higher than fourth.

Perhaps more significantly, Sochi is a track with plenty of room for a quick driver to pick off slower cars, as Alexander Albon demonstrated in 2019 when he took a power unit change and raced to fifth (aided by a timely Safety Car).

That said, if Verstappen is quickest on Saturday and therefore bags a place on the second row of the grid, he may prefer to start there. Sochi’s long run to the first braking zone, turn two, offers significant opportunities for drivers to slipstream and take the lead at the start. Pole position is arguably less advantageous here than anywhere else on the F1 calendar.

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Bottas on form

Bottas was flying at Monza
With his future settled and his Mercedes days numbered, Valtteri Bottas was in fine form at Monza, out-qualifying and out-driving his team mate. He was certainly quick enough to win had it not been for his power unit change penalty.

Sochi is also a track Bottas has a great affinity for. He took his first win at the venue in 2017, scored another last year, and probably would have in 2018 as well had he not been ordered to hand victory to Hamilton. But with both Mercedes and Red Bull leaning on their championship contenders’ team mates to play supporting roles, it’s not hard to foresee a repeat this weekend.

More grip, more action?

Sochi’s repetitive, characterless layout and generous asphalt run-off have never been a recipe for memorable races. However its track surface, once extremely smooth, has finally begun to develop the kind of abrasiveness needed to increase grip and tyre wear, encouraging the variability needed to encourage a bit more action.

That should be helped this weekend by an unexpectedly busy support roster. Both Formula 2 and Formula 3 will run triple-header events, significantly increasing the amount of Pirelli rubber on-track, improving grip.

However there is also a possibility of rain, particularly early in the weekend, which may complicate the picture.

Sochi’s days are numbered

This is the penultimate Russian Grand Prix which Sochi will hold before the race moves to the permanent Igora Drive track outside St Petersburg from 2023. It has consistently produced processional races, but the intrigue of one of the best championship fights for years will surely made for a significant weekend, even if it turns out to be short on drama.

The crowd has a new local favourite in the shape of Nikita Mazepin. But unusually, he is not allowed to race under the Russian flag, as has been the case all year, as a consequence of a World Anti-Doping Agency ruling.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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30 comments on “Hamilton eyeing open goal after Verstappen penalty: Five Russian GP talking points”

  1. Like the open goal in Baku?

    1. Ha.. Good one. I’m sure that race stings Lewis. I can’t remember the last time he threw away an opportunity like that.

    2. That was actually a penalty miss.

  2. If Max doesn’t take a new PU at Sochi then that first corner is going to be one of the most exiting of the season so far.

    I always feel tense to the point of nausea at the start of a Grand Prix – I might need a whisky in hand to steady my nerves!

    1. Take that whiskey. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere..

    2. The Honda engine doesn’t seem to have the first lap oomph of the Mercedes this year. It’s usually the Mercs taking advantage if first lap tows. If Max starts 3rd, even if he bas a super launch, I see the Mercs slipstreamining past him into turn two.

  3. On paper, this is Hamilton’s 3rd opportunity for a clean lights to flag win after Hungary and Monza. Hope he nails this one at least.

  4. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    22nd September 2021, 8:32

    Rain should spice up things this weekend. Hopefully there won’t be a repeat of the Spa debacle.

    1. I wouldn’t mind that, this is a track suited to mercedes, so halving points would be nice.

  5. Would be typical if the track surface this time around helps the race here be interesting for a change, only for it to be the last race here before moving to a new place that might well have similar issues. Ah F1.

    1. Isn’t this the second to last race to be held at Sochi? I thought 2022 would still be at Sochi before they moved to Igora Drive?

  6. This season is beginning to remind me of 1994 – a season where (aside from Senna’s tragic death) the championship should have been done and dusted with several races to go if it weren’t for unusual and inconsistent driver/team penalties.

    1. Then and now, the penalty for a technical infringement on your vehicle is a disqualification from the race. Ask Vettel.

      There were now time penalties back then, a stop and go was basically the only measure that stewards had at their disposal.
      Passing a car on the formation lap in a blatant – and very foolish – attempt to intimidate them, deserves a penalty. No question.
      Ignoring a penalty deserves a black flag. No question,
      Ignoring a black flag deserves at least a couple of race bans. No question. At all.

      He could have cantered to the title, but he shot himself in the foot. It is as much a driver error as crashing out while in the lead, imho.

      1. Ignoring a penalty deserves a black flag. No question,
        Ignoring a black flag deserves at least a couple of race bans. No question. At all.

        I can’t disagree. One of the first things any driver is told in any motorsport setting is that you must obey directions of the marshals, stewards and race control. If you are penalised, you serve that penalty. If you disagree, you can argue/appeal later, but you do not ignore it under any circumstances. Ignoring will lead to disqualification, ignoring disqualification will lead to very serious consequences, and rightly so.

      2. Yes, I guess it was unusual for a driver to disobey those rules, especially when he was going for an easy title otherwise.

      3. Patrick Head has since admitted that Hill was told to deliberately drive slowly to the grid to try and make Schumacher’s car overheat and break down, so there are questions over whether it was more of a case of Hill deliberately going slow and encouraging Schumacher to overtake him on the formation lap or risk overheating.

        There is also the issue that, if it was such a heinous offence, video footage of that race also shows Alesi overtaking Hakkinen during the formation lap – but that wasn’t investigated, let alone penalised.

      4. I suggest you read around on the team radio for Silverstone because he was getting a lot of mixed messages, not helped by the penalty being issued in the incorrect manner (from memory, it was issued too late).

        1. @jhg103 I have never read a Schumacher transcript from that GP, but you seem to have a link? You seem to have a good memory, much better than people who really have to read up before making claims.
          Benetton indeed claimed the stop-and-go penalty was communicated incorrectly. The stewards and the FIA disagreed.

          But even then, their behaviour is the equivalent of a football player getting an unwarranted red card yet refusing to leave the pitch. Just plain unacceptable. Inexcuable. Indefensible.

          @abon: I have never heard that Head story. Given that Williams has a pretty solid reputation (compared to f.e. Briatore and Walkinshaw or even Ron Dennis or Jean Todt), I would require proof before believing it.

          Secondly, the explanation doesn’t make sense. Schumacher almost immediately overtook Hill – who would allegedly have driven at the exact speed that would have messed up the Benetton while still preserving his own car (and not perturbing any of the other competitors). Exactly as many loose ends as you would expect in a conspiracy theory.

          Thirdly, As for Alesi overtaking Hakkinen. Alesii started 4 Hakkinen 5.

          Fourthly, repeatedly overtaking during a formation lap was not a heinous offense. It was a stop-and-go penalty offense. Refusing to respect the black flag was the heinous offense. Please, do not claim that the race ban was inflicted because of the formation lap antics.

  7. The weather forecast will probably dictate whether Red Bull takes the PU allocation penalties for this race or later.
    Yes, the 2019 race shows Sochi Autodrom isn’t a terrible track for starting further behind, but so do 2018 + 2014 (ROS), 2015 (MAS), & 2016 (MAG, GRO). Most relevantly ’18 & ’19 for RBR.

    Having F2 and F3 on the same weekend for a change doesn’t necessarily equate to more grip/action for F1, as previous seasons show. Time will tell.

  8. I assume they are moving it to St Petersburg because the Sochi experiment has kind of failed – in that it hasnt caught on as a place from Europeans to holiday in Summer or Winter despite the huge sums paid to host the Winter Olympics and a place on the Grand Prix calendar.

    However St Petersburg is a popular destination and easy to get to (unlike Sochi that you have to fly into Moscow normally and then back out). The track was always a strange compromise but actually quite unique in the first sector. The F2/3 races there have been utter chaos but F1 consistantly seemed to fail to produce good racing.

    1. I just had a look at the sort of weather St Petersburg has this time of year. About 9-12c and damp.
      800km from the Arctic Circle. Thermal undies recommended.

    2. @mrfill Igora will definitely have to be in the Northern Hemisphere summer, meaning either June or July because of summer break timing.

    3. @Gavin Campbell Funnily, the Sochi-Adler location is more central for global travel.

  9. Well it seems to be a circuit that McLaren does OK at and Ricciardo doesn’t mind it either. So it could be interesting for RB and another podium for McLaren.

  10. Checo has a new job. Messin with Mercedes.

  11. Re the paragraph on Verstappen, am I correct in thinking the author means the highest place he could possibly start is 4th? After all he has a 3 place grid penalty. It would seem quite unlikely though.

    1. @phil-f1-21 Hence the mention in the article of a potential second-row start.

      1. My powers of deduction are amazing!

    2. If he is quickest and one of those immediately behind him also take penalties, he might start further up. Very unlikely, but possible.

  12. I think open goal is a bit strong. I expect Max to be in the fight for pole and likely able to qualify 2nd or 3rd at worse. The long run into T1 could see him directly behind Hamilton on the first lap. Let’s jot forget this is a track Bottas has always gone well at, and one Hamilton tends to have his struggles at. I wouldn’t be surprised if Max outqualified Hamilton and is ahead or directly behind within a lap.

    Hamilton will also need a new engine at some point, so Mercedes may choose now just as RedBull might. Let’s wait and see, but I feel this is anything but an open goal for Hamilton.

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