Six things we learned from the Russian Grand Prix

Formula 1’s fourth stop of the 2016 season saw the sport visit the Sochi Autodrom in Russia. While Nico Rosberg maintained his perfect record in 2016 by cruising to the finish line unchallenged, there was more than enough going on behind him to keep the fans entertained. As such, there were several interesting talking points that emerged from F1’s visit to Sochi…

Daniil Kvyat is up against it

Local hero Daniil Kvyat suffered a race to forget in Sochi as he limped across the line in 15th place, a poor result which, considered in isolation, is no cause for alarm. What is, however, a cause for alarm is how Kvyat wound up in his finishing position. The Russian youngster endured a difficult weekend at his home grand prix as he barely scraped his way into the third segment of qualifying before being handily out-paced by teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

On Sunday, Kvyat proceeded to throw away his chance of a good result by being over-ambitious on the way down to turn 2, ultimately colliding with Sebastian Vettel and earning himself a 10-second penalty in the process. While there was praise for Kvyat’s brave overtaking attempt at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix two weekends ago, the same cannot be said for his efforts at the start in Russia, which were, frankly, amateurish.

A weekend like Russia will do no favours for the prospects of a young driver believed to be under pressure for his seat. With Red Bull determined to hang on to the services of Daniel Ricciardo, and with Max Verstappen continuing to reel off strong performances at the Toro Rosso junior team, Kvyat has every reason to be worried. Red Bull are not known for their patience, and unless the Russian youngster starts to measure up consistently against the highly-rated Ricciardo, he should not be surprised to find himself without a seat at Red Bull next season.

Williams find some form

Valtteri Bottas

Williams have failed to impress so far in 2016, with the common consensus being that the Grove-based squad have slipped behind Red Bull in the pecking order this season. In Russia, however, the team brought several upgrades to their FW38 challenger, including a new front wing and nose to help the car cope with the Sochi Autodrom’s many slow corners.

The results were visible. Williams showed impressive pace in qualifying, with Valtteri Bottas in P3 and Felipe Massa in P5 (promoted to P2 and P4 after Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty for a gearbox change). On Sunday, Bottas and Massa came home in P4 and P5 to cap a solid weekend for the team.

However, if Williams are to remain competitive for the rest of 2016, more updates will have to be forthcoming to a car that, although it has taken a step forward, remains fundamentally uncompetitive in several areas and is largely being boosted by the Mercedes engine in the back.

Renault open their account

Kevin Magnussen

Renault have been the first to acknowledge that their journey to the front end of the grid would be a long, slow one, with expectations for 2016 kept to a minimum. In Russia, however, the French outfit recorded the first points of their latest stint in the sport as Kevin Magnussen came home in a well-earned 7th place.

While a point-scoring finish is a welcome return for Renault, they cannot afford to rest on their laurels as Magnussen undoubtedly profited from the chaos created by Daniil Kvyat’s first-lap antics. In reality, it is critical to remember that Magnussen and teammate Jolyon Palmer struggled in qualifying on Saturday and ultimately failed to progress to Q2, ending up P17 and P18.

Although the result will undoubtedly boost morale at the Enstone-based squad, it would be premature to say that Renault are ready to consistently bring home points. The long road to Formula 1 glory continues.

Doldrums for Sauber

Marcus Ericsson

While some of their rivals make progress and find form, cash-strapped Sauber continue to face an uphill battle. In Russia, Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson qualified 19th and 22nd (last), split by the two Manor cars of Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto. On Sunday, matters didn’t improve dramatically as Nasr was overtaken by Wehrlein on lap 11 and almost again on lap 28.

Indeed, for several laps leading up to his overtaking attempt on lap 28, the young German kept Nasr firmly within his sights, staying within a second of his Brazilian rival and setting near-identical lap times.

While Sauber’s financial woes are well-documented, and while it is clear that Manor are no longer as far off the pace as they once were, it does not bode well for the Swiss team that they are operating on roughly on the same stretch of tarmac as the Banbury-based squad.

Cracks at Ferrari?

Kimi Raikkonen

Despite securing a podium finish in each of the four opening races of the season, Ferrari have been left frustrated by a combination of reliability issues and on-track misfortune that has left them unable to effectively challenge Mercedes.

With Ferrari big boss Sergio Marchionne adamant that the Scuderia need to start winning races sooner rather than later, the pressure is clearly mounting on the Italian team. Indeed, the relatively sober reception that awaited Kimi Räikkönen after finishing in third place made it clear that unlike in 2015, minor podium placings are no longer a cause for celebration at Ferrari. Rather, they are what is expected from the Scuderia on a routine weekend.

Depending on the point of view taken, Ferrari’s decision to keep Räikkönen out for several laps after Bottas and Hamilton had pitted was either clever or foolish. On the one hand, the strategy Ferrari used made it relatively easy for Räikkönen to jump Bottas, after which he was easily able to pull away from his fellow Finn. On the other hand, the strategy took away all hope for Räikkönen to challenge Hamilton’s Mercedes, as the Finn emerged from the pits several seconds behind the Silver Arrow, a gap he was always going to struggle to bridge.

Realistically, Ferrari were never really likely to challenge Mercedes on raw pace, but taking away Räikkönen’s chance to try wasn’t particularly helpful either.

The aeroscreen makes its debut


As part of Formula 1’s push to make the sport safer, Red Bull trialled their “aeroscreen” concept during the first free practice session in Russia. The aeroscreen, from a visual viewpoint, is a better concept than the halo trialled by Ferrari during pre-season testing, which has allowed it to enjoy a more positive reception from the F1 community.

This, however, raises its own questions. Firstly, if safety is the main concern, does it really matter which of the two concepts is more visually-appealing? Should the question not be which is safer? Secondly, if the aesthetics of the respective concepts are important, is the option of simply keeping the cockpits entirely open (generally considered the best idea from a purely aesthetic viewpoint) not a feasible one?

The debate on safety and whether or not Formula 1 should implement a closed cockpit solution is a complicated one, but F1 should not lose perspective and should remain focused on what it is actually trying to achieve.

Adriaan Slabbert  

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