Bottas Steals Russian Grand Prix from Ferrari, Scores First Formula One Victory
Bottas held off a hard-charging four-time world champion to win the Russian Grand Prix.
Ferrari couldn't convert their front row lock-out to a race win. Instead, Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas took his first Formula One win at the Russian Grand Prix.
Towards the end, he was under extreme pressure from the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. But Bottas kept his head down and drove a virtually perfect race to victory.
On the formation lap, Fernando Alonso started to complain about "no charge" over the radio. As the cars were forming up on the grid, Alonso's ever-troubled Honda-powered McLaren came to a stop at pit entrance. Alonso hopped out and walked back to the garage. The stranded McLaren caused an aborted start. The field was sent around on another formation lap, to give the marshals time to move the large orange paperweight off the track.
In talking to reporters before heading off for his first IndyCar test, Alonso said, "I will watch the race, eat an ice cream, and you know, wait for the plane." One can only assume the ice cream would come from Kimi's fridge.
When the race finally got started, three of the four top cars all made good starts. One made an amazing start. Bottas, starting from third, immediately passed Kimi Raikkonen for second and then rocketed past pole sitter Sebastian Vettel for the lead. Before the two Ferraris could fight back, the safety car was deployed.
Roman Grosjean hit the high inside curb of turn two with his Haas and bounced into the side of Joylon Palmer's Renault. Palmer then bounced, spun around 90 degrees, and T-boned Grosjean, punting him into the wall. Grosjean could be heard on the radio saying, "Palmer just turned into me", which is true to a point. Palmer only lost control and turned because Grosjean hit him first.
By the time Vettel crossed the start/finish line when the safety car came in, Bottas had already opened up a gap of more than one second. Over the course of the first stint, Bottas grew and maintained a very comfortable lead.
Bottas made his only pit stop on lap 28. The Mercedes crew executed a flawless 2.5-second stop. The rest of the race was now completely in Bottas's hands.
Ferrari kept Vettel out until lap 34. Ferrari knew they wouldn't be able to leapfrog Bottas with the pit stop. The strategy was to have Vettel on better tires at the end of the race.
The plan almost worked. Vettel was able to push and close down the gap to Bottas. At one point, Vettel was even able to use DRS on the front straight. But he couldn't get close enough to attempt a pass.
With a lap and half left, Vettel was shadowing Bottas. There was traffic ahead. Vettel was getting as close as a car length. Bottas managed to get by his old Williams teammate, Felipe Massa, on the front straight to start the final lap. Vettel impatiently tried to pass Massa as well. Vettel timed the move wrong in turn one, couldn't get by. The slight delay was enough to give Bottas some breathing room for the rest of the final lap.
By the time Bottas took the checkered flag, Vettel had caught him again. Perhaps if Vettel had had one more lap, he could have taken victory. But there were no more laps. The day deservedly belonged to Bottas.
So we didn't get the Vettel vs. Hamilton fight yet, unfortunately. But ultimately, watching Bottas take his first Formula One victory by stealing it from Ferrari was just as satisfying. Bottas asserted himself with a calm and controlled drive. Vettel, Raikkonen, and Hamilton have nine world championships between them. Bottas was unfazed by this. He's put both his team and teammate on notice. He will not be relegated to serve as Hamilton's wing-man. Bottas is here to win a championship.
You can see the full race results here.