Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas on the podium in Sochi

Russian GP - Stat Wrap

By Sean Kelly
C4F1's Virtual Statman

Mercedes-Benz and Russia…. the love affair continues.

Fully 107 years after the inaugural Grand Prix on Russian soil, the German manufacturer kept up its 100% record in the event thanks to Valtteri Bottas’ victory on Sunday afternoon, in the first race this season to take place with a substantial fan presence.

Georgy Suvorin got the ball rolling in 1913 when he took victory in St. Petersburg at the wheel of a Benz, 13 years prior to their merger with Mercedes. Willy Scholl won the second and final event using a similar car the following year, with a century passing until the combined Mercedes-Benz team picked up where they left off in Sochi’s inaugural F1 event in 2014.

The first win for Bottas since the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix meant that polesitter Lewis Hamilton has to wait at least another two weeks before tying Michael Schumacher’s 91 career wins, although that may not be a bad thing as it means his next opportunity will fittingly come in Schumacher’s homeland of Germany, on which he won nine times overall.

Returning to Bottas, a ninth career win for the Mercedes-Benz team surpasses the Juan-Manuel Fangio’s total for the team, meaning only Nico Rosberg (23 wins) and Lewis Hamilton (69 wins) have been more successful at the wheel of the Silver Arrows (or in the case of 2020, Black Arrows).

Having been the only man to finish on the podium in the last four Russian GPs, he now adds Sochi to the Red Bull Ring as the only circuits on which he has taken multiple race victories in his career. Both this win and his maiden victory at Sochi in 2017 were taken from third on the grid, the only races won below the front row at this venue.

We’ll never know if Bottas could have beaten Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight on Sunday, but we do know the winner came from the side of the garage that made the fewest mistakes. An ill-conceived idea to perform practice starts far beyond the pit exit saw Hamilton hit with a pair of 5-second penalties, costing him time that he never regained.

Hamilton had already sailed close to the wind on Saturday afternoon, when a track limits violation saw his first Q2 laptime deleted, before an unfortunately-timed red flag – caused by Sebastian Vettel’s accident – left Hamilton scrambling to get across the line with barely one second to spare in order to set a time good enough to progress to Q3.

Having survived, Hamilton went on to claim a 96th career pole position and surprisingly his first in Sochi since the inaugural event in 2014, but the penalties on Sunday not only cost him victory but also second place.

It’s not often that we can say this, but Max Verstappen’s Red Bull was a surprise podium finisher this weekend. It sounds counter-intuitive but neither the Dutchman nor Red Bull had ever qualified on the front row or finished on the podium in a Russian Grand Prix prior to this weekend.

Rather ironically given Mercedes’ utter dominance of this event, Verstappen received an inadvertent tow from Valtteri Bottas at the start of his final Q3 lap, helping him pip Bottas to the front row by 0.099s and ending a run of seven consecutive front row lockouts for the Mercs.

Second place was a reasonable result to celebrate his forthcoming 23rd birthday this Wednesday, as Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas shared the podium for the sixth time this year and the 11th time overall, only three short of the most common podium trio of all-time, the Hamilton/Nico Rosberg/Sebastian Vettel trifecta that dominated the podium in the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

It has barely been advertised, but Mercedes-Benz are also on the cusp of a record that has stood unchallenged for nearly 40 years. Sunday was the 227th consecutive Grand Prix in which a Mercedes-Benz engine has scored points, only one short of the all-time record, set almost single-handedly by Ford’s all-conquering DFV V8 engine between 1967 and 1983. Not since the 2008 Japanese GP at Fuji have we seen no Mercedes-powered cars in the points.

As always with points records, there is a caveat. Ford achieved their run of 228 in a row at a time where points were only awarded down to sixth place, whereas since the 2010 season points have been awarded to tenth place.

One of the drivers who has been part of that run is Sergio Perez, whose Mercedes-powered Racing Point finished fourth on Sunday, giving the Mexican what was surprisingly his best result in F1 since finishing on the podium in Azerbaijan more than two years ago.

Perhaps the surprise derives from the fact that he has qualified fourth so often. Sochi was the ninth time that Perez has started fourth on the grid in his career – and the fourth time this season alone – yet he has still never started a Grand Prix in the top three after 184 starts.

Part of the reason he lacked a good finish this year was down to his poor getaways, as he was the only man other than Lewis Hamilton to have not gained a position on the first lap this season. Even Sunday was no different, when he was shuffled back behind the Renault duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon.

Ricciardo survived a self-inflicted time penalty for running wide during Renault’s request for their drivers to swap position and ended the day in fifth place, his fourth consecutive top six result in 2020 and his best-ever result in Sochi.

His teammate Ocon was beaten to the finish by Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, for whom sixth place represented the best finish for a Ferrari since the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, five races ago. In the ongoing poor campaign for the Scuderia, Sebastian Vettel crashed in qualifying and neither car qualified in the top ten for the third time in the last four races.

Toro Rosso – as was – had never finished higher than tenth in their Sochi history, but both AlphaTauris – as are – managed to do so on Sunday, with ninth-placed Pierre Gasly being headed home by teammate Daniil Kvyat.

Kvyat has only finished in the top eight on 5 occasions in his 82 starts for this team, but after finishing seventh last time out at Mugello, he made it two in a row by claiming eighth place on home ground in Russia, where the mercury was pushing 30 degrees C for most of the weekend.

While the returning fans were basking in late summer heat by the Black Sea, the Nurburgring 24 Hours was red flagged for over nine hours due to incessant rain. In two weeks’ time Formula 1 ventures back there for the first time since 2013.

Bring an umbrella.