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Rosberg extends title lead as Vettel crashes out on first lap


We must admit to approaching today's race with a certain amount misapprehension.

As the F1 twittersphere is dominated by thoughts of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, one cannot help feeling a certain amount of déjà vu.

It was on Sunday 1 May 1994 that Ayrton prepared for the San Marino Grand Marino, the third race of the season. Following a spin in the season opening race in Brazil and a start-line accident at AIDA, he had yet to open his points account despite being at the wheel of what was considered to be the best car on the grid. The rest, as they say, is history.

Whilst the exact cause of his accident has never been explained, what we do know is that the brilliant Brazilian was under immense pressure, mostly from himself, and some of the wilder explanations of his crash tend to focus on the man himself.

Whilst trying not to over dramatize, it would be fair to say that Lewis Hamilton, who makes no attempt to hide his devotion to the Brazilian, is not under quite the same pressure, it is fair to say that the Briton will be feeling increasingly frustrated.

Whilst it has not been mentioned, on this day when we all remember Ayrton, it is fair to believe that Lewis would love to open his 2016 win account in memory of the man. Indeed, just over an hour before the race he tweeted: "Remembering the greatest on this May 1st 2016. 22 years. You will be my inspiration today, as you have always been."

Thankfully, despite only managing to qualify ninth following his technical problem at the end of Q2, there have been no further penalties for the world champion, his team has reverted to his Melbourne engine which has had the turbocharger changed along with the MGU-H, control electronics and energy store. However, as all were within his allocation he faces no grid penalties.

So, let's hope that the Briton can make a great start, avoid any incidents up ahead, and give a performance to make his hero justifiably proud.

Teammate Nico Rosberg has played down claims that he has benefitted from Hamilton's bad luck, and rightly so. You don't win six races on the trot due to luck, nor does luck suddenly give you the look and determination of a champion.

Whether the German has the comfortable Sunday cruise today that he enjoyed in Shanghai remains to be seen, but unless Lady Luck decides to start dealing him a few dodgy hands it is difficult not to see him increasing his championship lead today.

Whilst the Ferrari duo look strong, the same cannot be said of the Ferrari, which is increasingly causing us to wonder whether we got our hopes up too soon. Fact is, the SF16-H is just a little too fragile for our tastes.

Whilst Williams looks a lot stronger here, we still have that gut feeling that the Grove outfit is on the slide, though we will be delighted to be proven wrong. Fans of our podcast will know that we have been left increasingly disappointed by Valtteri Bottas this year (and much of last), though perhaps, based on yesterday's evidence, he too has heard the criticism.

Red Bull continues to impress, especially after the tales of woe over the winter, and both Daniel and Daniil should be in for a decent points haul today.

Both Force India drivers are taking part in their one hundredth Grand Prix today, though, thus far, Sergio Perez looks likely to have more to celebrate.

The previous two races at Sochi have been little to write home about, but such is the competitiveness of the 2016 midfield, not to mention the added spice courtesy of the third tyre compound, that we feel today could be an exception.

As if the thought of the Williams, Red Bulls, Force Indias and Toro Rossos wasn't enough, McLaren is slowly closing in and today we have Hamilton to add to the fun and games, not to mention Vettel starting from seventh after his gearbox penalty. Indeed, the German starts alongside Shanghai buddy Kvyat.

Then again, let's not forget, that long, long run to T2, where other than Rosberg, we can expect fun and games from Raikkonen and countryman Bottas, who had one of several controversial tangles here last year.

Haas faces the prospect of a long, lonely afternoon, whilst Renault will be looking ahead to next year, Sauber the next sponsor and Manor...

In terms of tyres, as in 2015 a one-stopper should be the favoured tactic on the smooth asphalt here. Starting on soft or supersoft makes little difference to the overall race time.

Starting on supersofts, the fastest way is to change to softs on lap 18. Starting on softs, it's best to change to supersoft on lap 35.

Some teams may gamble on a two-stopper, which is theoretically the fastest way to do the race but risks traffic. In which case: start on supersofts, change to softs on lap 12, then softs again on lap 32.

An hour before the race and mechanics are still working frantically on Hamilton's car.

The pitlane opens and one of the first out is Rosberg, with Hamilton right behind.

Whilst some, including Hamilton, perform a practice start, others opt to head straight out.

"I think there was a problem," says Verstappen, the engine completely disappeared when I went on throttle. There is an issue."

The drivers assemble for a rousing rendition of the Russian national anthem, Bernie Ecclestone appearing to mouth the words.

As the field prepares to head off on the warm-up lap, the air temperature is 17 degrees C, whilst the track temperature is 41 degrees. It is bright and sunny.

"One important element here," admits Pirelli, "not as many support races as last year. So less rubber on track = trickier getaway?"

All are on the supersoft rubber, aside from Hulkenberg, Gutierrez and Ericsson who are on softs. On the parade lap, unsurprisingly the drivers work hard to generate heat into their tyres.

The grid forms.

They're away. Rosberg leads into T1 then T2 as Raikkonen gets ahead of Bottas going into T2. However, there's mayhem behind as Vettel appears to be involved in couple of separate incidents, eventually spinning and heading into the barriers. The VSC is deployed.

Indeed, the real Safety Car is deployed as the wreckage from Vettel's car is removed from the track. Indeed, Hulkenberg and Haryanto are also out of the race, both involved in a separate incident at the back.

As Vettel commandeers a moped to make his way back to the pits, replay shows the German lining up to take Ricciardo down the inside. However, he is punted from behind by a very fast Kvyat, who knocks the Ferrari into his own Red Bull teammate.

The German is able to continue, though seemingly with a right-rear puncture, only to be clouted by Kvyat again, the clash spinning the Ferrari which then heads into the barriers.

In the other entirely separate incident, Hulkenberg spins after being clipped by Gutierrez catches an entirely innocent Haryanto with Gutierrez getting a thank you clump from the Force India in the process.

As they continue behind the Safety Car, replay shows Vettel, unaware who hit him, screaming into his radio... "Who the f***," he shouts. "I've crashed, somebody hit me in turn two, then somebody hit me again in turn 3, for f*** sake. Honestly, what the f*** is going on here?"

Little does he know that it was Kvyat, twice.

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1. Posted by Nortim, 02/05/2016 23:44

"1st lap, 1st turn again and there was no Pastor to blame him. I think Pastor's ghost is still here.... lol, last race it was in Kvyat's car..."

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2. Posted by Kkiirmki, 02/05/2016 21:24

"Are Vettel and Kvyat the new Hamilton and Massa? The most exciting part of this race was Vettel's expletive ridden tirade, very entertaining."

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3. Posted by Mick, 02/05/2016 12:00 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 02/05/2016 12:08)

"This comment was removed by an administrator as it was judged to have broken the site's posting rules and etiquette."

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4. Posted by Willie, 02/05/2016 0:15 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 02/05/2016 12:08)

"The commentators on NBCSN keep asking what Rosberg did to improve his success rate. Did his attitude mature, did his becoming a father affect him, did Hamilton relax too much, etc.
I think that it's simpler that all that -- Nico just got better with experience, while he is still young enough to have the muscular/nervous-system control to implement it.
Eventually, he will be "past his prime," (Fangio was 48), but for now there are glory days ahead for both Rosberg and Hamilton!"

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5. Posted by rghawk, 01/05/2016 22:17

"oh well, completly chaos at first and Kvyat? uhmm just a 10 sec by crashing someone twice, even three times when you look the first double bump :) Anyway, it was a cruise race for the first 3. Did anyone find himself bored/sleepy half way through the race?"

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