Words by Tony Robertson (Twitter: @TonyRob84).
Welcome back to Overtime Online’s F1 column Life In The Fast Lane.
This week saw round 10 of the 2020 Formula One calendar roll around to Sochi, Russia, where Valtteri Bottas took his first race win since the opening race in Austria to deny wannabe record-breaker Lewis Hamilton a record-equalling 91st race win.
The two-week interval between here and Mugello also saw the announcement of a new F1 CEO from January onwards as Chase Carey will be stepping down from his role.
But first, let’s take a look a what happened in Russia.
Qualifying didn’t conjure up any surprises, but it did conjure up a scare for Hamilton as he almost suffered an early exit in Q2 after a red flag prevented his attempt at a flying lap until the final couple minutes on Saturday, leaving him with just one second before he wouldn’t have been able to start another flying lap.
Q1 yet again saw both Haas and Alfa Romeo drivers out with Nicholas Latifi joining them.
Q2 had the most drama of all of Saturdays sessions as a crash from Sebastian Vettel caused a red flag and very nearly a shock early exit for Hamilton. The crash condemned the four-time world champion to P15, while ahead of him were George Russell, Lance Stroll, Daniil Kvyat and last years pole sitter Charles Leclerc.
Q3 saw yet another disappointing qualifying performance from Alex Albon who failed to carry the momentum from his first podium at Mugello to Sochi and came in P10. Next up came the man he replaced in Pierre Gasly and then came a lockout between Renault and McLaren for eighth to fifth as Lando Norris (P8), Esteban Ocon (P7), Carlos Sainz (P6) and Daniel Ricciardo (P5) lined up on the third and fourth rows of the grid.
The main shock here was there was no Mercedes front-row lockout as Max Verstappen ruined the party with what he described as one of his best laps, beating Bottas by less than a tenth of a second.
At the front claiming yet another pole position was car 44, setting a new track record in the process of 1:31.304.
Bottas bought home yet another Russian win for Mercedes as Hamilton got two five-second penalties for two practice start violations.
A look back at the time penalties incurred by polesitter Lewis Hamilton before lights out – which ended up changing the complexion of the Russian Grand Prix#RussianGP 🇷🇺 #F1 pic.twitter.com/3EZ43De2UB
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 27, 2020
Hamilton did initially get given two penalty points on his super licence, which took him up to 10 out of 12 with 12 being an automatic race ban. Although these were retracted after the race when stewards confirmed Hamilton had been given the incorrect information about where to start from his team.
Bottas managed to overtake Hamilton at turn two, while Ricciardo overtook his former Red Bull teammate Verstappen to put himself in third.
However, there was no such luck for McLarens Sainz who ran wide on turn two and ended up hitting the wall upon trying to re-enter the track. This was because he had too much speed trying to go through the bollards which the FIA had set up for those who ran wide to prevent unsafe re-entry and consequently hit the wall and totalled his front left tyre.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 27, 2020
A few turns later and it was Stroll out of the race, with the Canadian’s rear right tyre being nudged from behind by Leclerc and sending him spinning off into the barriers.
Kevin Magnussen should also be commended for his start to the race as he moved from his qualifying position of P18 all the way up to P9 before the laps end. Though of course the naturally superior pace of the cars around him soon made keeping the position an impossible task.
Lap 11 saw a scrap on the pit straight between Norris, Albon and Russell with all three part-time streamers at the back fighting for position on track.
The battle for fifth was raging between Ricciardo and Perez on lap 15. Despite Ricciardo defending well on the straight and at turn two, Perez came out on top as he positioned his car on the inside line around the long left-hander of turn three and forced the Australian wide to make him cede the position.
Mercedes pitted Hamilton on lap 17 despite him asking to stay out for longer, to protect him from an any attempted undercut.
Romain Grosjean had an unfortunate middle part of the race as he was overtaken by drivers from the other two Ferrari powered teams and was forced wide at turn one causing him to lose time going through the bollards of turn two.
Lap 45 coughed up another battle between a trio of cars that once again included Norris and Albon, though this time it was Monza race winner Gasly that joined them instead of Virtual GP winner Russell. Norris on much older hard compound tyres was struggling to keep the other two at bay and maintain a position in the points.
Norris did very well to position his McLaren in such a way throughout every straight and turn that it made it very difficult to Albon to pass him even on the faster medium compound. This skirmish ended up compromising Albon made him turn his attention to defending against Gasly. Fortunately for Gasly the battle for 10th started and finished on the straight as DRS carried him past a stricken Albon.
— ThePurpleSector (@PurpleSector50) September 27, 2020
Three laps later saw a matchup between Albon and Gasly, but this time Norris could offer no defence as Gasly got the move done at turn two. Albon also managed to get past later on as Norris pitted onto softs for a go at the fastest lap of the Grand Prix.
A relatively quiet day for Bottas who took his second win of the season ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton also meaning this was the sixth time this season these three drivers had been on the podium together in 2020.
Yes, Valtteri!!! 💪
Bottas takes his second win of 2020! 🏁🏆👏
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 27, 2020
Further down the order, Renault had a strong race, with Ricciardo finishing in fifth despite picking up a five second time penalty at turn two for not following the race directors instructions, and Ocon in seventh. Perez bought home another fourth-place finish for Racing Point while Leclerc once again scored points for Ferrari, ending his race sixth.
It was a Red Bull drivers only party for the rest of the points, with Daniil Kvyat putting in a strong performance with a bold strategy to claim eighth with Gasly coming in ninth and Albon in tenth.
McLaren will be the first team to want to forget about all that has happened in Russia as they have lost a lot of breathing room from Racing Point and Renault in the fight for third, with now just seven points separating third and fifth in the constructors.
Bottas will need to carry on with performances like this if he is to cut Hamiltons 44 point lead down anymore before the season ends and challenge for the World Drivers Championship.
While Verstappen achieved the driver of the day vote, I think Kvyat’s performance went under the radar for many and as such I would give him driver of the day.
New F1 CEO announced:
Ex-Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali has been confirmed as F1’s new President and CEO from January 2021 as Chase Carey will step down and assume the role of non-executive chairman.
Mr Carey has held the position of President and CEO since 2017 when Liberty Media took over the sport. He has agreed some massive developments with the teams during his time, including many new technical regulations and this year, in particular, agreeing a budget cap in future seasons and striking a new Concorde Agreement with the teams until 2025.
Mr Domenicali has been around in Formula 1 for many years, first joining Ferrari in 1991 and only leaving the team in 2014 after becoming team principal in 2008.
On the F1 website, he said: “I am thrilled to join the Formula 1 organisation, a sport that has always been part of my life.
“I was born in Imola and live in Monza. I’ve remained connected to the sport through my work with the Single Seater Commission at the FIA and I look forward to connecting with the teams, promoters, sponsors and many partners in Formula 1 as we continue to drive the business ahead.”
Liberty Media have confirmed that Stefano Domenicali will take up the role of President and CEO of Formula 1 in January 2021
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 25, 2020
With new regulations set to come into play from next year and a new era the year after, let’s hope Mr Domenicali can steer the sport in the right direction.
That concludes this weeks column. Stay tuned for round 11 which will take us back to the Nurburgring which wasn’t actually going to be on this years calendar until COVID-19 changed everything.