Welcome back to Sports Obsessive for your Russian Grand Prix 2021 Race Report.
A thriller at Sochi saw Hamilton claim an unprecedented one hundredth race win, with close battles throughout the field and last-minute drama.
Weather and numerous engine changes saw an exciting grid line up, with Norris on pole, followed by Sainz, Russell, and Hamilton. Verstappen, Leclerc, Latifi and Bottas all chose to take engine penalties and therefore started at the back of the grid.
The Russian Grand Prix 2021 Race Report
Off the line, Norris got a great start, but Sainz managed to slipstream past the Mclaren and into first place. There was action throughout the field on the opening laps, the main gainers being Stroll and Ricciardo who climbed to fourth and fifth. Leclerc did well moving from the nineteenth to twelfth, Russell too did well to keep the third position. Hamilton was the main loser, dropping back to sixth.
The first part of the race was dominated by close racing with DRS trains forming and drivers clustered together. Unlike at other circuits, it is possible to pass in Sochi, and passing we got! Sainz and Norris took off and were in a league of their own for this part of the race, and after a few laps of battling Norris took the lead on lap thirteen.
The next set of drivers were led by Russell, the Williams having good straight-line speed and therefore being very difficult to pass. Stroll, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Perez and later Alonso were all on this train. The third group contained more action as hard-charging Verstappen and came through, passing Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc and Vettel.
Pitstops began as early as lap thirteen where Stroll would attempt to undercut rivals, Russell and Sainz also used this early stop strategy. Verstappen on a harder set of tyres was going for a long first sting and made real headway through the field.
A slow pitstop for Ricciardo saw Hamilton released from behind the McLaren. With a mixture of strategies, we were treated to a lot of on-track action as those with fresh rubber come up against those without. Hamilton was a big winner in the pitstops jumping up to the second position, helped by that slow pitstop of Ricciardo, but also running a long stint. As the pitstops and race unfold it becomes apparent that the early stop was probably not the correct choice and those who took it, Stroll, Russell and Sainz had lost out.
As the race settled down again Norris led from Hamilton with a large gap back to third place man Sainz. Again drivers become bunched up and we were treated to good racing. Third place through to seventh ran closely and those at the head of this, Sainz and Ricciardo, would have the slowest tyres come to the end of the race, Alonso, in seventh, should have of the fastest. The late stoppers have huge speed in the latter part of the race and make good progress, Perez and Alonso battling over third after passing rivals, and Leclerc gaining four places in two laps to move into eighth.
Upfront, Hamilton hunts down Norris in what is set to be an exciting battle for the lead. Things look promising for Norris, teammate Ricciardo was able to hold Hamilton at bay for over twenty laps, Norris only needs to do it for fifteen.
But then it happens…the weather change! The rain had been forecast and with only six laps left raincoats to go on in the grandstands. The teams and drivers have some tough decisions to make. Hamilton ignores his first call to come in and change to intermediate tyres, Norris too to stays out. Drivers are sliding all over the road and running wide. Some parts of the track are still relatively dry, others very wet, some teams seem to think the rain will worsen others that it will remain the same.
In a pivotal moment for the race Hamilton comes in for intermediate tyres and Norris doe stays out. Hamilton is now 25 seconds behind race leader Norris on intermediate tyres and the rain comes down harder. Norris is unable to maintain any speed and goes off track: staying out was the wrong choice. As Norris slides wide Hamilton blasts past him. Norris ultimately pits, but it’s too late and he drops down to seventh.
Some drivers nailed the choice of when to come in, Verstappen, Sainz and Ricciardo were the big winners, moving from sixth, seventh, and eighth up to second, third, and fourth as they pitted a lap before the top five ahead of them. Of that top five Hamilton came in first and benefitted greatly from this. Norris, Perez, Alonso and Leclerc stayed out and all lost positions.
It’s easy to say in hindsight when the correct time to the pit was, but ultimately it’s very difficult making those decisions at the time. Norris was adamant he wanted to stay out, and it would have been the correct call if the rain hadn’t worsened. Mclaren must have thought the rain would get no worse, however, the Mercedes weatherman was convinced conditions would deteriorate. Mercedes were therefore persistent in calling Hamilton in, a call that won him the race.
Mercedes– Good strategy, great weather call and another good drive from Hamilton saw him take the victory. They were a little lucky perhaps with the rain, but then again, they dealt with it perfectly. From a poor start, they kept it together, played a long first stint and jumped rivals into second where he harrassed Norris. But it was that call to move to the intermediate tyres that won the race for him. Bottas completely lucked out I think, he wasn’t anywhere in the race and the team brought him in for intermediates at exactly the right time, he jumped eleven places with this stop and finished fifth.
Red Bull– Should be over the moon with Verstappen’s result, again I think they lucked out a bit with the weather at the end and moving onto wets at the right time. They should be very happy with the second having started twentieth! They strategically took an engine penalty at Sochi, drivers are limited to the number of engines allowed per season, if you go over the allocated number you are given an engine penalty. To therefore get this out of the way and still finish in second-place is a major boost for them in the championship. It is thought that Hamilton will need to take another engine and therefore will be given a penalty at some point during the rest of the season and it is unlikely he will get as good a result as second from it. As for Perez, a slow pitstop saw him drop a little further down than he should have been unfortunate, but he clawed his way back up the order well. The decision to stay out and not change onto inters was what was costly for him today; Checo came in ninth after fighting for the third position.
Mclaren– Heartbreak! Norris ran an impeccable race right until those last laps. The decision to stay out was commendable, but ultimately the wrong one, such a shame. These sort of conditions need big calls and sometimes they work out, anyone seeing Brad Binders epic Austrian MotoGP victory in Austria earlier this year will tell you that! But, sometimes they don’t work out, and Norris can tell you that! Still managed to come in with some points in seventh though. Perhaps the team need to invest in whatever weather radar system Mercedes have! Ricciardo, a strong showing for him, despite not having the outright pace of Norris. He did time the pitstop well however and came in fourth.
Ferrari– Should be very happy with this performance. Sainz was fantastic in the opening part of the race and again managed to pit for inters at the right time to come in third. If it weren’t for the late minute shower he would have been a lot further down the order as his early stop left him with very old tyres toward the end of the race. Whether it was impeccable knowledge that the weather would come at this time, or they just lucked out completely, who knows! As for Leclerc, he had a very good race, scything through the field. Unfortunately, he didn’t get so lucky with the rain, running wide on slicks and pitting later for the inters, dropping him out from the points into fifteenth.
Alpine– Alonso had another stormer, the late stop strategy worked very well for him, and he was surging at the end, but obviously, the rain put pay to that. He was battling for third with Perez when the rain came, and they continued battling on a slippery track on dry tyres. He just stayed out a lap too long on the inters, which lost him a few spots at the end. Started sixth and finished sixth, but that doesn’t tell you the story of his great race today. As for Ocon, we saw very little of him. He was one of the few drivers not to be in amongst the trains of drivers and seemed to have a lonely race! He finished fourteenth.
Alpha Tauri– A forgettable race! Tsunoda had very little pace and got a bad start, he came in the seventeenth. Gasly was furious with poor qualifying performance, went for the late one-stop strategy, which was probably the right call, was shunted in the closing laps by Stroll and only came in thirteenth. Probably annoyed not to capitalise on the chaos to gain points, but that would have been the only way for points as they struggled for pace this weekend.
Aston Martin– Stroll got a great start and showed pace in the opening section of the race. The early stop for the Canadian initially seemed the right call, but as the race unfolded it seems the late stop was the better option. As the rain came down Stroll was lucky to finish after bumping into his teammate twice, running off and hitting an Alpha Tauri! Still, he made it over the finish line in eleventh. Vettel was furious not to qualify higher and didn’t make great gains in the race, coming in twelfth. I think this was a good reflection of their pace, but the coming together of two Aston’s possibly cost them a place or two, so they’re probably disappointed not to capitalise on the chaos of the last few laps.
Williams– Russell did an impeccable job in qualifying and for the opening section to keep the third position. Ultimately the Williams didn’t have the pace to maintain that position and once he pitted he couldn’t really get back into contention. But, despite all the chaos he came in with another point for the team in tenth. Latifi started down the back due to an engine penalty and didn’t make a great deal of progress, retiring near the end of the race.
Alfa Romeo– Giovinazzi didn’t make much headway in the race finishing 16th. A returning Raikkonen however had a great race with an eighth-place finish.
Haas– Schumacher retired and Mazepin rounded up the final finishers in eighteenth.
After all that drama and chaos at the end, we had a Hamilton-Verstappen 1-2! Huge congratulations to Hamilton and the Mercedes team on a good race, and the Brits 100th race win. Verstappen and Red Bull will be over the moon to finish with a second position. As for Norris, absolute heartbreak—his time will come, I’m sure of it.
The driver of the day: Norris
Honourable mentions: Hamilton, Alonso, Perez, Verstappen
Russian Grand Prix Race Results
- Norris (Fastest Lap)
We’re off to Turkey! Last years race was a thriller that saw Hamilton clinch the title in difficult conditions. Hopefully, we’ll get another classic.
Where to Watch
USA: Sunday 10th October Live on ESPN race start at 8:00 am EST
UK: Sunday 10th October Live on Sky Sports F1 race start at 1:00 pm GMT
Highlights on Channel Four, Sunday 26th September, time TBC
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