Bottas takes maiden win

30/04/2017
NEWS STORY

It was Geoffrey Chaucer who first claimed that all good things must come to an end.

And so, it seems, after three years of almost total domination, even if Mercedes reign isn't at an end it is quite clearly under threat.

All the claims and denials of sandbagging were brushed aside yesterday afternoon when Ferrari claimed its first front-row lock-out in nine years. Then again, perhaps that says more about Ferrari.

Admittedly, Valtteri Bottas was only 0.095s off Vettel's pace and might have taken pole but for a minor mistake on his final flying lap, whilst hell-for-leather Lewis Hamilton simply wasn't quick enough.

The Ferraris have pretty much dominated every session, with Kimi Raikkonen appearing much more on the ball than in previous races.

After weeks of badgering from the British media, Mercedes remains loath to issue team orders but Niki Lauda admits that the best way to combat Ferrari, and in particular Vettel, will be to say to whoever has the best chance today of challenging the red cars to be given priority, be it the team's Finnish or British driver.

Ferrari is also playing down the team orders discussion, at least publicly, but its best hope is for Vettel to disappear into the distance this afternoon and Raikkonen to ride shotgun in the opening laps. Whatever happens, at least one of the Ferraris has to be at the front by the end of the first sector.

At the start of the weekend the Red Bull duo claimed that fifth and sixth was the best it could hope for, absolutely everything riding on its massive upgrade due to surface at Barcelona.

However, even that best laid plan was scuppered by Felipe Massa who pulled out all the stops to split the two Austrian cars. When one thinks that only a few months ago the Brazilian had been pensioned off, the fact is that his driving this year has put much younger men to shame, and no we are not referring to his teammate.

Red Bull's plans have been further thwarted by the decision to change the engine on Max Verstappen's car overnight, the team subsequently discovering a problem with the water pump which was replaced only for the new pump to develop a fault, which means work is still ongoing only twenty minutes before the pitlane opens.

Indeed, his Indian Summer is reminiscent of another veteran who found a second wind on joining the Grove outfit, the ever popular Riccardo Patrese.

Behind this lot, and dismissing the likes of Sauber and McLaren for obvious reasons, it really is anyone's guess.

In all honesty, all the usual suspects involved in the midfield battle have been hit and miss this weekend, strong in one session and weak in the next, with disparity between the teams' drivers further muddying the waters.

Overall however, Force India looks good to be in for another points scoring finish, while Toro Rosso - despite Carlos Sainz' grid penalty - should be next up ahead of Haas, where the increasingly annoying Monsieur Moany must surely be pushing his luck.

As ever however, it could all be decided in the first few corners today, as that long, long run to the first corner will allow all sorts of leapfrogging and jostling before the unforgiving bottleneck that is Turn 1.

If nothing else, at least Vettel knows Daniil 'The Torpedo' Kvyat is around twelve spots behind this afternoon.

The pitlane opens and Vettel is among the first out. Verstappen also heads out, no doubt leaving a lot of Red Bull personnel with their fingers firmly crossed.

Air temperature is currently 26 degrees C, while the track temperature is 41 degrees. As was the case on Friday and Saturday it is bright and sunny.

With this very much a one-stopper, it's likely most will start on the ultrasoft before switching to the red-banded supers. However, Wehrlein, Ericsson and Vandoorne have opted to start on the red-banded tyres.

The field heads off on the warm-up lap.

"With just one stop expected, the start will be even more crucial," says Pirelli. "Note that positions 2,4, and 6 are on the 'dirty' side of the grid."

Alonso complains that his ERS is not working, he has no charge - and that's on the warm-up lap.

As the grid forms, Alonso's car stops at the entrance to the pitlane. He climbs from the car clearly disgusted, throws his steering wheel into the cockpit and walks back to the pits.

As a result the field heads off on an extra formation lap.

They're away. A brilliant start for Bottas, while Raikkonen is slow off the line, allowing Hamilton to move alongside. As they head down the main straight, Bottas leads Vettel with Raikkonen, Hamilton and Ricciardo three abreast with Verstappen in hot pursuit.

Hamilton moves from side to side, coming oh so close first to Ricciardo and then Raikkonen however, under braking for T1 the Finn gets ahead almost passing his Ferrari teammate in the process, while Ricciardo gets hemmed in and lose out to his Red Bull teammate and Massa.

Further around the lap, Stroll spins, the Canadian subsequently claiming that he was pushed by Hulkenberg on to the kerb and then spun.

At which point the Safety Car is deployed as Palmer and Grosjean appear to have clashed in the first corner, the Haas hitting the wall in the aftermath. On replay, Grosjean nudges the Renault in T2 which spins and then collects the Frenchman.

Behind the Safety Car it's: Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Verstappen, Massa, Ricciardo, Perez, Stroll and Ocon.

The Grosjean incident is under investigation.

The Safety Car pulls off at the end of lap 3, as Hamilton asks his crew if there is anything he can do. He is told to bide his time.

Great re-start by Bottas who appears to catch his rivals off guard.

As Hamilton loses ground to Raikkonen, Ricciardo has a right-rear brake fire. The Australian slows and loses a heap of positions as he heads back to the pits his race clearly over.

Out front Bottas is setting a blistering pace opening a 1.8s gap over Vettel who is 2s ahead of his Ferrari teammate. Hamilton is 1.2s down on the Finn and 3.2s clear of Verstappen.

Ricciardo pits and the crew inspects the rear of his car. Eventually the Australia is told to switch off as the issue is terminal.

"I'm getting cut outs in power," complains Hamilton who remains 1.9s adrift of Raikkonen.

No further action to be taken over the Stroll/Hulkenberg incident.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Sochi, here.

Bottas posts a fastest lap (38.847) as the only real battle is that between Magnussen and Sainz for 10th.

Ominously, Verstappen is told to push his brake balance as far forward as possible, clearly a nod to Ricciardo's issue.

Magnussen and Vandoorne are both handed 5s time penalties for exceeding track limits at T2.

Telling his team about an intermittent power issue, Hamilton is advised to find clean air on the straights in order to cool the car.

Another fastest lap for Bottas (38.706) as he builds a 3.1s lead. Elsewhere, Stroll closes on Kvyat who is in 12th.

Magnussen is unhappy with his penalty. "Did you talk to Charlie," he asks, "it cannot be right, it cannot be right."

Magnussen is told to settle down and that despite the penalty he has the "race pace to score good points".

"We are borderline on temps," Hamilton is told, "do what you can". "I'm trying to race," he replies.

A combination of his own issues and Raikkonen upping his pace sees Hamilton fall 3.3s behind the Finn.

As Hamilton asks why his car is overheating, Sainz asks his team if he has a rear brake issue.

"Other cars are struggling also," Hamilton is told, "we're not the only ones." The Briton is now 12.6s down on his teammate.

Lap 16 sees Vettel post a new fastest lap (38.629) as he maintains a 4.4s gap to Bottas.

In response, Hamilton goes quickest in S1. He crosses the line at 38.610 as Bottas posts a new fastest lap (38.404).

Told the gap to Hamilton, Raikkonen replies: "What did you say, I have no idea what you said". The original message is repeated.

"I have blisters on the front left," reports Vettel.

Now Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (38.398) as he closes to within 2.822s of Raikkonen.

Hamilton asks if his car is OK, he is advised that he is "on the limit" but to keep doing what he's doing.

His frustration mounting, Hamilton locks-up as Bottas posts anther flyer (38.350). The Briton is told that his teammate is experiencing similar overheating issues but has the advantage of being in clear air. Well d'oh!

As Verstappen complains his tyre blistering is getting worse, Wehrlein pits.

At the end of lap 21, Massa pits from 7th, the Williams driver rejoining in 10th. Magnussen and Kvyat also pit, the Dane serving his penalty at the same time.

After 23 laps it's: Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Ocon, Hulkenberg, Sainz and Massa.

Vettel posts a 38.197 as he remains 4.3s down on the leader.

Hamilton is told his temperature issue is improving as Bottas is now encountering back-markers. Vettel takes advantage, closing to within 3.4 of the Finn.

As Ocon pits from 8th, attention turns to Ferrari. Having been so aggressive with its strategy in previous races, the Italian team appears to have eased off here.

At the end of lap 27 Bottas pits as does Stroll. The Finn rejoins in 4th behind his teammate.

"Push now, we need everything," Vettel is told.

The cameras cut to a forlorn Fernando Alonso watching events unfold on TV.

"Rear is going, rear is going," warns Raikkonen as Vettel calls for Stroll to be shown the blue flags.

At the end of lap 29 it is Raikkonen who pits. The Finn rejoins in 4th as Verstappen heads into the pitlane. The Red Bull driver rejoins in fifth, not having lost a place due to the gap to Hulkenberg in sixth.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 30, the Briton rejoining in 4th 8.4s down on Raikkonen. Noticeable that there was dust, smoke and even a lick of flame or two from the front-left brake on Hamilton's car.

Matching Bottas for pace Vettel is told to continue as he is. Elsewhere, Raikkonen posts a new fastest lap (37.372).

Told the gap to Raikkonen and the rest Hamilton asks "why so big?" Traffic he is told.

His stop out of the way, Raikkonen queries why he is behind Bottas. "Because he was leading," comes the weary reply.

Vettel is told to "box", but then almost immediately told to "stay out, stay out".

Fact is, at the current pace, Raikkonen looks set to finish ahead of his teammate.

At the end of lap 34 Vettel finally pits. 30.097s later he rejoins in second, just ahead of his Ferrari teammate.

Consequently, after 34 laps Bottas leads Vettel by 4.7s though the German's tyres are 7 laps fresher. Raikkonen is third, 2.9s down on Vettel, but 14.9s clear of Hamilton.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Sochi, here.

A further 21.4s behind Hamilton is Verstappen, who leads Hulkenberg, Massa, Perez, Ocon, Sainz and Stroll. The remaining 5 drivers are a lap down. Incidentally, Hulkenberg has yet to stop.

The cameras cut to Vladimir Putin being greeted by Bernie Ecclestone and the FOM crew.

Hamilton is told that Verstappen is 21s behind. "Why am I concerned about him?" he asks, only to be told that Mercedes want a safety car window.

A big, big lock-up for Bottas in T13, which not only gives him a nasty looking flat-spot on his left-front but allows Vettel to close to within 2.44s. Vettel is advised of the Finn's mistake.

After 39 laps, Vettel is now 1.8s behind Bottas, as Hamilton is appraised of the situation.

Sainz, who earlier expressed brake concern, is told that there is something "strange" at the rear of the car.

At the end of lap 40 Hulkenberg finally pits, the German rejoining in 8th.

Suddenly Vettel is just 1s down on Bottas.

Massa makes his second stop at the end of lap 41, the Williams driver switching back to the ultras. The team subsequently reports that he had a puncture.

As he is given some advice, Bottas calmly replies: "The remaining laps, I want less talking."

After 44 laps, Bottas maintains a 1.9s lead as Vettel appears to ease off, possibly anticipating a late attack. Raikkonen is a further 7.3s back with Hamilton now 16.7s adrift.

Whatever that "strange" issue is on the Toro Rosso, Sainz is holding on to 10th. Stroll, in eleventh, is currently 6.1s behind.

In 7th, Ocon has Hulkenberg and Massa closing in. Ericsson is also hounding 14th placed Vandoorne.

"Keep putting pressure on him," Vettel is told. "He will make a mistake." The German is currently 1.2s down on Bottas as he turns up the heat.

Lap 48 sees Vettel post a new fastest lap (37.329) as he closes to within 1.3s, just outside DRS range.

Verstappen reports debris in T5.

Another lap, another fastest lap, Vettel posts a 37.312 but Raikkonen goes even quicker (36.844).

As Bottas closes in on Massa to lap the Williams, Vettel is just 0.787s behind.

On-board with Vettel clearly shows the Mercedes ahead struggling for grip.

They begin the final lap but Massa doesn't make it easy for Vettel, making him go around the outside. "What was that?" complains the German.

Bottas takes the flag, a first and well-deserved win for the Finn. Vettel is second ahead of Ferrari teammate Raikkonen, making it two Finns on the podium.

Hamilton is fourth, ahead of Verstappen, Perez, Ocon, Hulkenberg, Massa and Sainz.

Stroll is eleventh, ahead of Kvyat, Magnussen, Vandoorne, Ericsson and Wehrlein.

A maiden win for Bottas and a performance which will hopefully cause the Hack Pack to stop pressurising Mercedes to invoke team orders.

Despite Hamilton only managing fourth, the result sees Mercedes retake the lead in the Constructors' Championship, albeit by just one point.

Furthermore, Force India's record of getting both cars home in the points continues, this time its drivers finishing sixth and seventh.

"Brilliant, well done!" the Finn is told over the radio. "To the race team and the factory, thanks for making this possible," he politely replies.

Pulling into Parc Ferme and lining up behind the Number 1 marker he climbs out of his car and steps up on to it, the Mercedes driver clearly loving the moment.

"Is this your first," asks Vettel in the podium ante room. "It is yeh," comes the reply. "More than 80 races!"

On the podium, Bottas receives his trophy from Vladimir Putin, the Finn understandably beaming.

"It took quite a while for me, but definitely worth the wait," he tells the crowd. "The team made it possible. We've had a tricky beginning of the year, again today the fight with Ferrari was very close. But I'm just very happy now.

"I had a good start, and managed to get the inside of Turn 1, that was okay," he continues, "but I'm more happy about the safety car restart. For me the only goal is to be world champion... I'll keep pushing for that."

"I tried everything to catch Valtteri," admits Vettel, "I thought maybe there would be an opportunity on the back straight, but it doesn't matter, this is the man of the race today. This is his day."

"I have had a little bit of a rough start to the season, far from ideal, so this weekend has been a step forward," says Raikkonen. "But we still only finished third, so we keep trying and improving. I'm sure we'll get there."

While the sense of anticipation in the closing stages was an ever present, the fact is that once again this was a very processional event, with almost no overtaking and the field spread out pretty evenly after just a couple of laps. The lack of pits stops only adding to the frustration.

That said, a well-deserved victory for Valtteri, and one which will hopefully stop the calls for team orders.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Sochi, here.

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Published: 30/04/2017
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