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.

Check out our Sunday gallery, here.

Elsewhere, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Ericsson, Perez and Gutierrez pit, as Rosberg leads Raikkonen, Bottas, Massa, Hamilton, Verstappen, Alonso, Grosjean, Magnussen and Palmer.

Intriguingly, Kvyat, Ricciardo and Perez have switched to the mediums, whilst Gutierrez has had a new nose fitted. Replay shows Perez had a puncture, though it's not clear how.

The Safety Car pulls off after 3 laps and Bottas catches Raikkonen napping, and Hamilton does the same to Massa. Alonso is up to eighth and pressurising Verstappen.

The first lap incidents are under investigation confirm the stewards.

At the end of the first racing lap Rosberg is already 2.6s clear, whilst Hamilton hunts down Raikkonen.

Kvyat, who is sure to be punished for those incidents, passes Ericsson to take 15th, leaving teammate Ricciardo yet to pass the Swede. However, rather than be passed by Ricciardo, Ericsson re-takes his position from Kvyat, on mediums, who runs very, very wide as he snatches it back. The Russian is taking quite a few risks today.

As Hamilton closes in, Raikkonen tries a move on Bottas but fails. Moments later, the Ferrari driver loses out to a bold move from the Briton in T5. "Get in there," applauds engineer Pete Bonnington.

Lap 7 sees a new fastest lap from Rosberg (41.884) as he extends his lead to 5.395. Bottas remains second ahead of Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, Verstappen, Alonso, Grosjean, Magnussen and Palmer.

At the end of lap 8 Kvyat pits again to serve a 10s stop and go, even though there was no previous warning. Gutierrez has been handed a drive through for causing the other first lap incident.

Next time around the Haas driver serves his penalty.

Can't help feel that Kvyat will need to serve more than a time penalty when Vettel catches up with him.

A great scrap between Nasr and Wehrlein for 14th, the German taking no prisoners and causing the Sauber driver to go wide.

Sainz is the first of the regular stoppers, the Spaniard switching to the soft rubber.

"We have a slow puncture," Nasr is warned, the Brazilian subsequently pitting.

Out front, Rosberg posts a series of fast laps, the latest being 41.454. his lead is now up to 9.509.

Wehrlein pits at the end of lap 13, with Palmer pitting a lap later.

12.230s down on the leader, the next three are covered by a second.

Bottas pits at the end of lap 16, thereby leaving Hamilton in free air, though with Raikkonen 0.7s behind. The Finn, now on softs, rejoins in 7th, 3.7s down on Alonso. Yes, Alonso.

Cameras pick up on Vettel talking to Christian horner on the pitweall. Wonder what they're discussing.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 17, the Briton rejoining just behind Bottas as they head in to T2.

"This is a critical point," Raikkonen is told as Grosjean also pits.

As Hamilton harries Bottas, Massa pits. The Brazilian rejoins in seventh.

A typically bravura move by Hamilton on Bottas who tries to resist but cannot. The world champion sets off after his next target, Alonso.

Having made short work of Alonso, Hamilton sets about closing the 8s gap to Verstappen, as Raikkonen maintains a 15.558s gap to the leader.

Hamilton, 38.5s down on his teammate, posts a new fastest lap (41.260).

Raikkonen pits at the end of lap 20, the Finn rejoining in fourth behind Hamilton but ahead of Bottas. Button also pitted, the Briton rejoining in 15th.

Rosberg pits at the end of lap 21, the German rejoining still leading, albeit his lead now down to 10.216s. Alonso also pits, the Spaniard rejoining in 9th just ahead of Ricciardo.

The other battles to watch are Sainz and Palmer for 13th and Nasr and Wehrlein (again) for 16th.

Verstappen pits from P2 at the end of lap 22, the Dutchman rejoining in seventh as teammate Sainz force Palmer wide as he battles the Briton.

After 24 laps, and with everyone having made at least one stop, it's: Rosberg (Hamilton (+12.6), Raikkonen (+4), Bottas (+3.7), Massa (+8), Perez (+8), Verstappen (+3.9), Alonso (+11.2), Ericsson (+0.6) and Ricciardo (+1.8).

"Do you like my pace," is it good," asks Perez. Indeed they do Sergio.

Meanwhile Sainz has been handed a 10 time penalty for "forcing another driver (Palmer) off the track".

Wehrlein makes a move on Nasr and the two touch lightly, the Brazilian having to run wide in the process. Running right behind is Kvyat, who subsequently nails the Manor.

The stewards are investigating Nasr who, when he ran wide, did not obey the same bollard instruction Hamilton fell foul of.

Ricciardo sweeps by Magnussen to take 8th. However, the Dane fights back and catches the Australian off-guard, allowing Grosjean to pass the Red Bull in the process. Sainz keeps a watching eye.

Nasr is handed a 5s penalty as Ricciardo pits, the Australian switching to softs.

Sainz passes Perez for tenth, but the Spaniard still has that time penalty.

Button passes countryman Palmer for 12th as Alonso continues in 7th.

Check out our Sunday gallery, here.

Perez re-takes tenth from Sainz with a bold move at T2, as Hamilton has cut Rosberg's lead to 10.4s. Sainz tries to fight back but Perez is having none of it.

In 16th, Kvyat is shown the blue flag as he runs nose-to-tail with teammate Ricciardo.

On lap 34 Verstappen becomes the first 'proper' retirement of the day, the Toro Rosso driver pulling to the side of the track. "Something with the engine," he wails.

All of which is good news for McLaren, as Alonso is promoted to sixth.

Meanwhile, Rosberg's lead is down to 7.6s, begging the question; has he eased off or is there a problem?

In response the German posts a new fastest lap (40.450), whilst Hamilton hits back with a 40.266.

Moments later the Briton is told he has a water pressure issue. It won't be terminal, but it will be something to watch out for.

Further back, seventh-placed Magnussen is under pressure from Grosjean, Perez, Sainz and Button.

As Ricciardo passes Ericsson for 13th, Rosberg posts a 39.616, which is a new official lap record.

Following that water pressure warning, Hamilton has eased off, the Briton now 11.155s down on his teammate. Raikkonen is a further 13.6s behind.

At the end of lap 40, a late, and very long, stop for Wehrlein, who switches to the supers.

"The situation has stabilised," Hamilton is informed. Does this mean he can set about closing the 13.079s gap?

Button continues to hound Sainz, though with the Spaniard facing that 10s time penalty, the Briton doesn't have to pass him to take tenth.

That said, the Briton is about to be lapped by the race leader.

Having passed Button, Rosberg closes on the other drivers involved in that five-way battle for seventh.

A very late pit stop for Massa, who fits a set of supersofts for the few laps remaining. With sixth-placed Alonso around 60s behind, the Williams driver could afford the luxury of an extra stop.

Massa goes quickest in S3, could Rosberg's grand slam and lap record be under threat?

Great move by Button which forces Sainz into a mistake at T16, he locks-up and the McLaren driver doesn't wait for an invitation.

Ricciardo passes Palmer to take 12th.

With two laps remaining and a 17.896 lead, Rosberg goes quickest in S1. Meanwhile, Raikkonen has closed to within 8.36s of Hamilton. A strong final sector sees Rosberg post another fastest lap (39.094).

Rosberg takes the flag, having gone quickest in S2 for good measure, ahead of Hamilton, Raikkonen, Bottas, Massa, Alonso, Magnussen, Grosjean, Perez and Button.

Ricciardo is eleventh, ahead of Sainz (including his penalty), Palmer, Ericsson, Kvyat, Nasr, Gutierrez and Wehrlein.

Another fairly lazy Sunday afternoon for Rosberg, who not only joins an elite club of drivers (Alberto Ascari, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel) who have won seven consecutive races, but, more importantly, extends his championship lead to 43 points.

Other than the water pressure, no major dramas for Hamilton, though the Briton will be hoping that the start of the European season will mean a cut down on the dramas and some sort of stability.

Speaking post-race Toto Wolff admits problems with both cars, the team receiving some "strange signals" being received from Rosberg's power unit.

We're sure Ferrari, and others, will feel sympathy for the German team, which despite its issues enjoys an 81 point lead in the team standings.

Fourth and fifth has to be good for Williams, though it will be interesting to see whether the British team will admit to that, whilst Red Bull will be gutted to leave here with nothing.

And talking of the Austrian team, whilst we sided with Kvyat in China, today he was wholly to blame.

Whilst Vettel was the only 'big name' victim today, a mixed up race sees Alonso Magnussen and Button in the points, along with Grosjean. And surely that's no bad thing.

In the ante-room it is some time before Hamilton removes his helmet, indeed he's still wearing it as he is greeted by Vladimir Putin.

Out on the podium Rosberg echoes Schumacher during the glory days, Raikkonen reverts to 'Ice Man' stance and Hamilton looks as miserable as its possible to look under such circumstances.

"It's just four races from twenty-one," insists Rosberg. "Lewis is going to come back, of course, so early days. I'm taking it race by race."

As Putin, via an interpreter informs Rosberg that, thanks to he and his colleagues, motor sport is growing in Russia, the German responds that maybe there will be some great Russian drivers one day.

Talking of which, oh to be a fly on the wall when Sebastian finally catches up with Daniil...

Check out our Sunday gallery, here.

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Published: 01/05/2016
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