Roundup from 2018 Russian Grand Prix weekend as Formula One made the 4,863 mile trip from Singapore’s Marina Bay to Sochi Autodrom, Russia.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton arrived in Sochi with a 40 point lead over Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari but this weekend proved to be eventful across the entire grid, so what lessons can we learn from this weekend?
Team Orders Decides Title?Embed from Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton might be 50 points clear of Sebastian Vettel in the championship but could team orders decide who ultimately wins the title?
As unpopular as team orders are, Mercedes are probably validated in telling Valtteri Bottas to let Hamilton pass because his now 50 point lead offers breathing room in case the Brit suffers two retirements and Vettel wins both of those races.
That however doesn’t excuse what Mercedes did mid race as Bottas didn’t get a decent chance to try and reclaim the lead from Verstappen who hadn’t pitted at the time, whilst Hamilton claimed lead and win as a result of Dutchman pitting rather than through an overtake and therefore denied Bottas a confidence boosting first win of season.
Ferrari meanwhile aren’t in a position to use team orders with Kimi Raikkonen set to depart at end of season, so he will be going for as many podiums or wins that he can get regardless of what Vettel needs to snatch the title from Hamilton’s grasp.
Team orders therefore could well be key to the destination of the 2018 F1 Drivers’ Championship.
Force India Hits Back
After a tough Singapore weekend, Force India definitely hit back here to reduce the gap to McLaren in race for sixth.
Esteban Ocon in particular impressed with a strong weekend within the top ten of every session. Although his seat is in doubt for next season, the Frenchman is definitely ‘moving in a good direction’ with this car because Force India’s upgrades are definitely working.
Sergio Perez however should be delighted with his weekend, having sat out FP1 for Nicholas Latifi but to be right on the pace throughout rest of weekend is commendable and a true demonstration of Perez’s talents.
Although ninth and tenth might be disappointing, there are a lot of positives with the biggest being the drivers’ maturity in letting each other try and beat Haas’ Kevin Magnussen before switching back.
Now that is proper teamwork and fairness on show despite Team Principal, Otmar Szafnauer felt ‘a little frustrated’ at the car’s true pace not being fully extracted.
All in all, this has been a great weekend for the team who can go to Japan full of confidence next weekend.
Leclerc Stuns under RadarEmbed from Getty Images
Whilst attention has been elsewhere on the frontrunners and Force India, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc has quietly impressed this weekend.
Friday was pretty much normal for Leclerc in midfield, apart from the embarrassment of being beaten by Antonio Giovinazzi in FP1 then Marcus Ericsson in FP2.
Saturday however saw a drastic improvement as the Monegasque qualified in a season’s best seventh place which he put down to “improved (my) driving” before finishing in that position on Sunday as best of rest.
In a weekend when penalties, title fight and etc. have dominated talk, Sauber and Leclerc has done a brilliant job under the radar with the soon to be Ferrari driver describing the result as ‘a good reward for all of the hard work we put in week after week.’
Now, can they repeat this performance next weekend in Japan?
One of the biggest lessons that F1 needs to learn from this weekend is that the current grid penalty system for power unit changes is farcical.
Fernando Alonso and the pair of Red Bull and Toro Rosso drivers all took grid penalties for changing their engines, yet their starting positions were decided right at start of FP1.
That approach effectively renders Q1 pointless with the back five starting positions pretty much already confirmed, thus costing both Williams and Stoffel Vandoorne a decent chance to make Q2.
Instead we had the bizarre situation of only ten cars setting times in Q3 because both Renaults knew they could save tyres and still start just outside of top ten with free tyre choice, whilst Red Bull and Gasly were starting at back anyway.
From a spectator perspective both trackside and at home, that type of situation isn’t good for the sport but from a racing perspective, if likes of Force India, Sauber and Haas knew what Renault were doing then they could of avoided pain of starting on Hypersofts by setting their lap on the Ultrasofts.
Something therefore needs to be done so that we don’t end up with possibility of what would effectively be a redundant Q1 with knock on effect of a uncompetitive Q2.
Young Drivers Impress
First Practice saw four teams give their reserve/test drivers a run out and some impressed more than others.
Lando Norris stood out after beating the outgoing Vandoorne at McLaren by 0.165s but the biggest surprise came at Sauber.
Having been confirmed as Kimi Raikkonen’s partner for next season at the Swiss team, Antonio Giovinazzi stunned many with a strong performance as he finished tenth.
That result also saw him better Charles Leclerc’s time by 0.342s as well as outpace the experienced French duo of Romain Grosjean and Pierre Gasly and fellow FP1 guest, Norris.
Renault’s Artem Markelov meanwhile had a solid if unspectacular FP1 debut in 15th and a near full second off Nico Hulkenberg, although he can take heart from beating Vandoorne, Brendon Hartley, both Williams and Force India’s Latifi.
With Giovinazzi and Norris already racing in F1 next season, Markelov’s performance in just that session is proof that he has the talent to be a decent driver in a midfield team if given a chance and time.
As for Latifi, he needs another F2 season if he is to demonstrate why he should be given a race seat in F1 because 2018 has been quite challenging for the Canadian and not a true picture of his potential.
Missed any of the first ten race weekends and want to get up to date? Click on any of the hyperlinks below to go and check out my round up of the weekend/s.
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