2015 Russian Grand Prix Review
Sochi's practice sessions, already sabotaged by rain, culminated in a red flag after a monumental shunt for Sainz in the Toro Rosso. Despite being stuck under the Tecpro barrier, Sainz still managed to shut the car down in the proper way. The team didn't push him to race on Sunday, and his presence in hospital on Saturday meant qualifying wasn't possible for him anyway. Thankfully, he did seem largely unharmed. He was kept in hospital for most of Saturday but during qualifying a statement came out saying that he wanted to race.
Mercedes needed to beat Ferrari by just 3 points in Russia to claim their second consecutive Constructors' Championship victory.
Q1 saw the Manor pair falling, Merhi beaten by Stevens before taking a penalty for a new engine. Ericsson fell 17th with Alonso squeezed out by the sister Sauber. Alonso was then dropped to 19th and last for an engine penalty, Merhi dropped from now 18th to 18th (not a typo!) thanks to his own penalty.
Q2 was a lot less busy now drivers were starting to settle into the circuit. Kvyat just missed the top 10, followed by Nasr, Button, Maldonado and Massa.
Hamilton slipped while warming up and parked the Mercedes, gifting pole to Rosberg while the championship leader settled for 2nd. Bottas took 3rd from the Ferrari pair led by Vettel, the two Force Indias with Hulkenberg in the lead, then Grosjean, Verstappen and Ricciardo.
Toro Rosso spent the night building a replacement chassis up for Sainz after his release from hospital and passing of initial FIA medical checks. Although Sunday morning's would be the decider, it was looking increasingly likely that Sainz would be on the grid in Sochi, against the better judgement of colleagues such as Vettel and Perez.
Carlos Sainz made the start in Russia having been cleared by the F1 medical team on Sunday morning.
The first braking zone brought out a Safety Car thanks to a crash between Ericsson and Hulkenberg that also spun Verstappen and gave him a left-rear puncture. Grosjean also pitted and changed to the harder tyres as well as changing the nose and changing the angle.
The Mercedes pair led from Raikkonen, Bottas, Vettel, Perez, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Button and Nasr. Massa, Maldonado, Alonso, Merhi, Stevens, Sainz, Grosjean and Verstappen completed the field.
Bottas annihilated Raikkonen on the restart, re-taking 3rd before the braking zone. Nasr took 9th from Button, Massa also closing.
Rosberg reported a broken accelerator, but was informed that the brake pedal would override any sticking throttle. A terrible exit from the first braking zone lost the lead for Rosberg. Another dodgy corner let Bottas into 2nd. He coasted into the pits and retired the polesitting Mercedes, giving Hamilton one less threat. Somewhere amid the chaos at the front Massa had cleared Button for 9th, Maldonado then stealing the last point in the lead Lotus. Sainz soon followed suit, Button's McLaren falling backwards towards Grosjean in 13th.
Grosjean obliterated his Lotus in turn 3, bringing the Safety Car out again. A few more cars pitted to take advantage of the neutralised race – Ricciardo pitting along with Perez, Button, Alonso, Merhi and Sainz. If I missed anyone I apologise: Grosjean's health was a more immediate concern.
Vettel forced Raikkonen to yielding for 3rd place. Further back Sainz was all over Ricciardo, Verstappen waiting in the wings – only to report that the youngster's tyres had no more grip.
Sainz was investigated for crossing the pit lane line illegally, gaining a 5 second penalty.
Bottas pitted on lap 26, ceding position to Vettel as Hamilton tore away into the distance. Vettel's later stop kept the Ferrari ahead, Raikkonen unable to follow suit.
Perez had quietly risen to 3rd, but the tyres needed a lot of nursing to hold that position. Behind the Force India, Bottas and Raikkonen were waiting. Ricciardo was between Perez and Bottas until lap 45 when Ricciardo's power deficit proved too much for the Red Bull. It was surely only a matter of time before Raikkonen followed suit. Of course, as soon as I typed that Raikkonen made a couple of unforced errors and lost a lot of ground to the Red Bull.
The left front brake of Sainz's Toro Rosso failed and promptly parked him in the wall. One of the vertical parts of the rear wing fell off once he drove off again and the Spaniard was forced to park in another runoff area.
Raikkonen made the move on Ricciardo at the next attempt, the Red Bull perhaps with some sort of issue that prevented hard racing by the Australian – proven by the retirement that then struck him as well. At least that Red Bull was undamaged, unlike Sainz's Toro Rosso. Later radio messages suggested it was a suspension issue.
Hamilton's lead looked safe enough, but the team were monitoring “suspect” elements of the rear wing of the remaining Mercedes. The pit wall recommended he not use DRS if the opportunity arose.
A last-minute lunge from Raikkonen punted Bottas into the wall and out of 3rd place after the pair had cleared Perez's ailing Force India. Raikkonen was rightly put under investigation for a desperate move that wouldn't have paid off had even Senna or Schumacher tried it.
The Mercedes won from Vettel, Perez, Massa, Raikkonen, Kvyat, Nasr, Maldonado, Button, Alonso, Verstappen, Merhi and Stevens. Retiring were Ricciardo, Sainz, Grosjean, Rosberg, Hulkenberg and Ericsson. Although he didn't finish, Bottas was classified just outside the points in 12th place.
Raikkonen was given a 30 second penalty for his collision with Rosberg, while Alonso received a 5 second penalty. Raikkonen was demoted to 8th while Alonso stayed 10th. This means that Mercedes has taken the Constructors' Championship for the second consecutive year.