An Italian in charge of Formula 1. Stefano Domenicali, former team principal of Ferrari and current president of Lamborghini, will become the new head of the circus in 2021. The Imola-based executive, 55, headed the Maranello racing department until the early 2014. The Italian manager will take the place of Chase Carey, CEO and president of Formula 1 since the U.S. group Liberty Media took over the rights in 2017. Carey will retain the position of president, in a form yet to be defined.
Graduated in Economics and Business at the University of Bologna, Domenicali joined Ferrari in 1991, taking over in 2007 from Jean Todt - current FIA president - the helm of the team. In 2014 he resigned from Maranello, in order to move to Lamborghini. He is a highly respected and appreciated figure in Formula 1, a charismatic character with solid management experience. He is also the last team principal with whom Ferrari won a world title, the constructors' championship in 2008. His imminent arrival implies that both the company that owns the commercial rights and the Formula 1 governing body will be led by former Ferrari managers. The formalization comes on Friday, September 25, 2021, through the words of Greg Maffei, president of Liberty Media:
"We are honored to welcome Stefano Domenicali as President and CEO of Formula 1. Stefano will bring the experience gained in the successful history in Formula 1 with Ferrari and the knowledge in the automotive industry with Audi and Lamborghini".
The news of his arrival is being welcomed by insiders as a very positive sign, also because the Italian, in addition to being a profound connoisseur of the sporting regulations, also has a good knowledge at a technical level.
"I am thrilled to be joining the Formula 1 organization, a sport that has always been part of my life. I was born in Imola and live in Monza. I have stayed in touch with the sport through my work in the FIA's Single Seat Commission and I'm looking forward to connecting with teams, promoters, sponsors and many partners in Formula 1 to continue the growth of the business".
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FIA was forced to modify the calendar, cancelling and moving some races; however, the Russian Grand Prix was confirmed on its original date of September 27, 2020. Also in this race, as in the previous first edition of the Tuscan Grand Prix, the participation of spectators in the stands is allowed. Out of the total capacity of the autodrome of about 55,000 seats, fans are allowed to occupy about 30,000 of them. This Grand Prix represents the 322nd race in the World Championship for the Finnish driver of Alfa Romeo Racing, Kimi Räikkönen, who thus equals the record of races held by Brazilian Rubens Barrichello. Sebastian Vettel celebrates his 250th Grand Prix. For Renault it is the 650th race as motorist.
Despite the problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the organizers of the first edition of the Eifel Grand Prix, scheduled for October 11, 2020 at the Nürburgring circuit, announced the presence of 20,000 spectators for the race. For the return of the Turkish Grand Prix, nine years after the last race held in the 2011 season, scheduled for 15 November 2020 on the traditional circuit of Istanbul, 40.000 tickets have already been sold. The organizers of the Grand Prix of Portugal, which marks its return to the world calendar twenty-four years after the last race held on the Estoril circuit during the 1996 season, to be run at the brand new Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimão, announce the sale of 45.000 tickets for the race.
The sale of tickets to attend the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix on the weekend of November 1, 2020 at the Enzo and Dino Ferrari International Autodrome of Imola is also on its way to being sold out. At the opening of the presale, the only 13.000 seats allowed by the region's regulations have been sold out in record time. Says Uberto Selvatico Estense, president of Formula Imola:
"The result of this initial presale is really an exciting signal. This shows how fans, reassured by a system of public management already tested at Misano and Mugello with very positive results in terms of safety, could not wait to return to the stands of the Autodromo. Obviously, social distancing will have to be respected both in the access and in the outflow phases, but this will be possible through the use of dedicated parking spaces for each grandstand. The Covid can bend us but not break us".
On Wednesday, September 23, 2020, talks begin about the possibility of having Saudi Arabia joining the calendar for the following season. The new Grand Prix, the third in the Middle East after those of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, to be held on the roads of Jeddah, the second largest city in the country, would be located immediately before the last race in Abu Dhabi, scheduled for the end of November. There is quite a different situation, however, for the Spanish Grand Prix, which does not yet have in hand the renewal of the contract expiring at the end of 2020, as stated by the head of the Catalan organization, Maria Teixidor:
"We want Formula 1 to remain linked to the Montmeló circuit, as it has been historically. We have had contacts and arranged a meeting with those responsible but, before drawing up the next calendar, they want to make an analysis of the difficult year we are still living. Given the reality of the moment, we cannot get to the renewal as quickly as we would like".
For the Russian Grand Prix, Pirelli is offering a choice of C3, C4 and C5 compounds, the softest of the range. This is the first time this season that the three best performing compounds have been indicated. There are two zones signalled by the International Automobile Federation where drivers can use the Drag Reduction System: the first zone is between turn 1 and turn 2, with the point for determining the gap between drivers placed after turn 18; the second zone is between turns 10 and 13, with the detection point set before turn 10.
The race director, Michael Masi, establishes that it is not allowed, during qualifying, to slow down in the second DRS zone, in particular between turns 12 and 13, in order to try to create space with the car in front, taking advantage of a lap without traffic. Any driver committing this infraction will be reported to the stewards for violation of the sporting regulations. The FIA designates Turn 2 as a point on the track that drivers cannot cut to avoid losing lap time. If a driver goes beyond the track limits in this corner, his time will be deleted by the stewards. Whenever a single-seater fails to negotiate this corner, the team is notified via the official messaging system. With each additional cut, the driver receives a black and white flag and is reported to the stewards. A route to be followed has also been set up outside the corner, should drivers fail to take it correctly, so that the latter can be safely re-entered on the next lap.
"Any driver who intends to seek a gap ahead in order to take advantage of a lap without traffic should not attempt to do so in Turn 12 and/or 13. Any driver found to have done so will be reported to the stewards for violating Article 27.4 of the Sporting Regulations. Furthermore, any time made in free practice or qualifying with the driver gone beyond the track limits in Turn 2 will be deleted by the stewards. Whenever a single-seater fails to tackle Curve 2, its team will be informed through the official messaging system. On the second occasion that a driver fails to make Curve 2 using the track during the race, he will receive a black-white flag. Any further cuts will then be reported to the stewards. In all the cases just described, drivers will be required to re-enter the track only when there is a safe situation and without obtaining any lasting advantage".
The International Automobile Federation designates former Formula 1 driver Mika Salo as assistant steward for the race. The Finn has served in this capacity before, most recently in the previous race, in the first edition of the Tuscan Grand Prix. Before the start of the race weekend, on Thursday September 24, 2020, the drivers write a letter to the race director, Michael Masi, to review the restart procedures after a safety car period, in order to try to avoid what happened at Mugello, in the Tuscan Grand Prix, which saw several collisions, between different drivers, on the starting grid. GPDA president Romain Grosjean says he and Vettel recently spoke with Alex Wurz and legal representative Anastasia Fowle about the incident before contacting Masi and sending him the letter.
"We talked to Seb, Alex and Anastasia in the GPDA Whatsapp group. We wrote a letter to Michael Masi and tried to figure out what we could do in a better way. I don't think there were any particular things at the Mugello race restart. It was a lot of small factors that caused a very large incident. With a few tweaks, maybe the situation could be improved. That is exactly why we want to talk about it, because we want to prevent such a scary incident from happening again. We were really lucky, because nobody was hurt. It was a high-speed crash".
After two consecutive retirements, in the Italian Grand Prix and in the first edition of the Tuscan Grand Prix, related to the power unit, Honda will mount the third engine on Max Verstappen's Red Bull Racing, as Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda Formula 1 technical director, explains:
"Our priority has been to carefully analyse the reason for Max's retirement at Mugello. Our investigation revealed that the problem was caused by several combined factors, and we were able to apply countermeasures to ensure that the mistake does not happen again".
To make the difference on the fast lap: this is the categorical imperative for Ferrari in view of the Russian Grand Prix, the tenth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, scheduled at the Sochi Autodrom, the 5,848 metre track built along the roads around which the facilities and buildings of the Olympic village of the 2014 Winter Games are located. The circuit is characterized by 18 curves, twelve on the right and six on the left, with almost 1.7 kilometres on public roads. A track where overtaking is very complex, and for this reason the outcome of Saturday afternoon's qualifying will be crucial. As mentioned, for the second consecutive race there will be spectators on the stands: in this case, about 31,000 fans are expected to underline the organizers' will to return to normality, always respecting the anti-Covid rules. And in this regard, Charles Leclerc says he is happy with the return of the public in the stands:
"I am happy to know that even here in the stands there will be some fans. It will be nice to see them, hopefully we can also entertain them a little bit. There are two things that immediately come to mind when I think of Sochi: the long main straight and the rollercoaster. The circuit features one of the longest straights in the championship, followed by an interesting mix of curves, so I would say the first sector is the most fun. Once again it will be important to put together the perfect lap in qualifying because overtaking in Sochi is not easy at all. I must say that I have very pleasant memories of this place, especially of the amusement park next to the circuit. I am reminded of the first time I came to Russia for the Grand Prix, in 2018: with some drivers, we went to Luna Park and had a lot of fun on the roller coaster. It was a nice way to clear our minds before focusing on track activities".
Sebastian Vettel dwells precisely on the importance of the first few days.
"Overtaking is quite difficult, so it will be important to be able to work well right from free practice to maximize the car's potential in qualifying. The Sochi track is very beautiful in the first sector, especially when you take Turn 3 under full acceleration. From the second sector onwards there is a series of medium speed hairpin bends that it is important to prepare well. From a technical point of view, in fact, it is important to manage the braking and the running so as not to penalize the tires. The last sector is less exciting, more driven and with several low speed passages".
After an eighth and a tenth place at Mugello, Ferrari will be in Russia with some new features, as confirmed by sporting director Laurent Mekies.
"There will be small aerodynamic updates on the SF1000, which are part of a path that will be completed in the next few races and that aims to correct, as much as possible, the shortcomings highlighted, also and above all with a view to 2021. The progress expected from this first package is small, but it will allow us to verify its functioning and have a certain basis for subsequent developments. It has been a very difficult season so far, as the results show so; having said that, it is not part of our DNA to give up, under any circumstances. This is the spirit with which we approach the Sochi race weekend on a track that has never been too friendly to us. We will give our best, aware that our direct opponents at this time are many and very competitive".
In this Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton goes after the record of victories held by Michael Schumacher, but it is Valtteri Bottas who conquers the best time in the first free practice session, held on Friday 25 September 2020. The time, obtained with C5 compound tires, the softest available for the season, is however half a second higher than the best time of the similar session in 2019. The track proves to be very slippery and with little grip, a factor that also leads to accidents. At turn 7 both Carlos Sainz Jr. and Nicholas Latifi leave the track. The Spaniard went wide on the kerb and lost the rear end of his McLaren, crashing into the barriers at low speed; the Canadian, victim of a similar incident, crashed at a much higher speed and his Williams was completely damaged.
The race direction is even forced to show the red flag, which interrupts the session, to allow the recovery of the single-seater. Romain Grosjean, on the other hand, is victim of a spin. Behind Bottas are Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Immediately after are the two Racing Points, with Sergio Pérez ahead of Lance Stroll, who, however, has a more updated version of the car. The leader of the world standings, Lewis Hamilton, more focused on finding solutions for the race, sets the nineteenth time.
Bottas confirms himself as the fastest driver also in the afternoon session on Friday. On this occasion the Finnish driver is 0.2 seconds faster than his teammate Hamilton. Also in this session the track is slower than the previous year's edition. The Mercedes are very competitive with the hard tires, in the race simulation, while they seem less fast with the Soft tires, on the dry lap. Daniel Ricciardo is still third, one second behind Bottas. The Australian shows a certain consistency even on the race pace. Behind the Renault driver there are the two McLarens, who abandon the Mercedes inspired nose, used in the morning session. At the end of the tests, Valtteri Bottas confesses to be all in all satisfied with the work done during the day:
"There is definitely more to do, but overall it was a positive first day; the conditions were quite difficult to deal with and that's why there were so many drivers making mistakes. There were a few breaks, and that limited us a little bit. I also had a big blockage that destroyed a set of my tires. The second session was better and we did a lot of laps, but I couldn't do all the sectors well. The first two went very well, but the car was a bit too nervous in the third one, sometimes I did some rally style drifting, which is probably not the fastest solution, so there is still some time to find. We are in good shape though and I'm sure we can make improvements ahead of tomorrow".
While Lewis Hamilton is inevitably less happy:
"The car worked very well, but it wasn't the smoothest day for me, there is work to do tonight, both from a driving and set-up point of view. The day didn't start well. FP1 was pretty poor. I had a blockage in Turn 2 on the soft tire and then, when I went on the hard compound, I completely destroyed them. The second session went much better, but I could not put all the sectors together, so there is still some work in progress. I was a little slow in sectors 1 and 2, but the third one went well. The grip level was pretty low today and that made things difficult, with a lot of releases. But I am sure tomorrow the grip level will be higher and we will all be closer".
There seems to be satisfaction in Ferrari for these first tests, according to Charles Leclerc:
"I struggled a bit more than expected today, but I must admit that even the times I got were better than expected. Now the aspect on which we have to focus more is the balance of the car because there is room for improvement both in terms of pure performance and in terms of driveability. On this track the scenario from qualifying to the race changes completely so it's never easy to find a set-up that is suitable for both configurations. Tomorrow we have a lot of work ahead of us".
A trend also confirmed by Sebastian Vettel:
"We will only have a reliable picture of the situation tomorrow, but overall today was a positive day. I think there is still room for improvement even if I fear that in qualifying many cars will be very close together. Leaving aside the first two cars in the standings, you can understand why this Friday was not bad after all. Here in Russia it's never easy to put together a lap without smearing, but tomorrow it will be crucial to do so. Not making mistakes when a few thousandths separate one car from the other can make the difference. This will be our main goal".
Lewis Hamilton is able, in the third free practice session, to beat his teammate, Bottas, seizing the best time, 1'33"279, however still higher than the best time of the similar session in the 2019 edition of the race. Bottas finishes seven tenths from the time of the reigning World Champion, while in third place climbs Carlos Sainz Jr., close to the Finnish driver’s time. Hamilton complains about the little grip on the track, despite the 40 °C asphalt temperature.
Ricciardo, who had a positive Friday, is penalized by a broken mirror and gets only the tenth time, while the other Renault driver, Esteban Ocon, is fourth. Max Verstappen, sixth, is very fast only in the first sector of the track. At the end of practice, Alfa Romeo Racing is fined €1.000 by the FIA on two occasions, as Kimi Räikkönen exceeded the speed limit twice in the pit lane. Red Bull Racing is also fined 300 Euros; in this case it is Max Verstappen who exceeds the speed limit in the pit lane.
Saturday, September 26, 2020 the asphalt temperature is lower in Sochi, with 34 °C, compared to free practice. The first driver to set a benchmark time during Q1 is Valtteri Bottas, in 1'32"656. The other Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton, sees his first time cancelled, due to exceeding the track limits. The time obtained was however very high, compared to Bottas' time. Sergio Pérez is second, however, behind Bottas. Behind the Mexican is Charles Leclerc, 0.2 seconds behind, while fourth is the other Racing Point driver, Lance Stroll. Carlos Sainz Jr. comes in third shortly after. Kevin Magnussen also sees his first chronometric survey cancelled, exactly as happened to Hamilton, for having gone beyond the track limits at the second corner.
After Daniel Ricciardo takes fifth, Lewis Hamilton finally manages to set a valid time, climbing immediately to the second place, 0.3 seconds behind Bottas' time. Max Verstappen improves, getting the fifth time, while Esteban Ocon tries to use Medium compound tires, but without getting a time that would allow him to enter the next phase. With less than two minutes to go before the end of the session, the drivers most at risk of elimination attempt one last fast lap. Kimi Räikkönen, author of a spin, lets the drivers behind him pass. Nicholas Latifi climbs up to fifteenth, before being eliminated by Ocon, who is third. Antonio Giovinazzi climbs out of the danger zone, but his time is beaten by Romain Grosjean. The other Haas of Kevin Magnussen does not improve, while Sebastian Vettel conquers the eleventh time. George Russell also improves, climbing to thirteenth place. The two Ferraris are the last two cars qualified for Q2. Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Latifi and Räikkönen remain excluded.
The second phase opens with the arrival of a light rain, so that the drivers opt for dry tires anyway. Bottas, Hamilton and Verstappen choose Medium tires, unlike the other drivers who are on Soft tires. Bottas sets a time of 1'33"056, beaten by Hamilton's 1'32"085. Lando Norris is third, very close to the Finn's time. Also Leclerc, fourth, is less than 0.2 seconds from Bottas' time. Shortly afterwards the race direction announces the cancellation of Hamilton's time, again for having gone beyond the limits of the circuit. Sainz Jr. and Pérez take the lead, beaten later by Daniel Ricciardo.
Russell decides to make only one attempt in Q2: the British driver gets only thirteenth, however ahead of Vettel. Hamilton remains fifteenth and last, with no valid time. The difference between the time of the third and the tenth is only 0.201 seconds, a margin that forces all the drivers in contention for Q3 to attempt a fast last lap. The Mercedes drivers are still on Medium tires, with Bottas setting the best overall time in the first sector. The other driver who had opted for this compound in the first phase of Q2 was Verstappen, who decides to switch to Soft tires.
Valtteri Bottas is second, behind Ricciardo, while Sebastian Vettel crashes into the barriers. The race direction red flags the session when there are just two minutes to go. The one who is penalized is Hamilton, who did not finish his lap. When Q2 is resumed, Daniil Kvyat is the first of the row of cars coming out of the pits, while Hamilton is only the seventh in the long row of single-seaters, ready to return to the track. The Briton, now on Soft tires, manages to start his last attempt shortly before the chequered flag. On his opening lap he is also forced to overtake a couple of drivers. Max Verstappen does not improve and therefore will start the race on Medium tires; his teammate, Alexander Albon, is seventh, just ahead of the Dutchman. Hamilton finishes fourth, thus gaining qualification for the decisive phase. Leclerc, Kvyat, Stroll, Russell and Vettel are eliminated.
In Q3, Ocon sets a time of 1'33"117, before the other Renault driver, Ricciardo, beats him with a 1'32"364. McLaren's Sainz Jr. got in between the two French cars, before Pierre Gasly took second. The arrival of the Mercedes drivers overturns the classification: Bottas is first, with 1'32"184, beaten by his teammate Hamilton (1'31"391). Max Verstappen is in third place, ahead of Ricciardo. Shortly after the Mercedes cars come out of the pits, with Bottas ahead of Hamilton, who risked being rear-ended by a Renault at the exit from the pits. Bottas makes a small mistake and is already 0.16 seconds behind in the first sector. Hamilton, instead, is still able to improve in the same sector. Bottas is 0.5 seconds behind the reigning World Champion, who ends his lap with the track record of 1'31"304. Sixth is Ocon, while Ricciardo is fourth and does not improve. Pérez gets the third fastest time, before the arrival of Verstappen, who also beats Bottas, and takes second place.
Lewis Hamilton gets his ninety-sixth career pole position. It is the fifth start in first position for Mercedes in the Russian Grand Prix. At the end of qualifying Nicholas Latifi, Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen and Lewis Hamilton are summoned by the stewards for not having followed the instructions imposed by the race direction on the outside of the second corner during Q1. Apart from the cancellation of the relative times, for all four drivers no measures are taken. At the end of qualifying, Lewis Hamilton, as soon as he got out of the car, was moved by yet another milestone in his career, and was happy to see the fans in the stands:
"First of all I have to say a big hello to the public. I have missed them so much this season and it is great to see the people in the stands again. I hope everyone is wearing a mask and is safe. I have also seen fans wearing masks and Black Lives Matter shirts and I am honoured and happy for their support of such an important cause. Session one was one of the worst and most absurd of my career. My heart was in my throat until the end. They took a time off, I wanted to stay out but the pit lane told me to come back in to put on new tires and the red flag came out. In addition, I will not have the right tires. It is nice to be on pole but this is probably the worst circuit to be on, especially with the slipstream the cars have experienced this year. It will be easy to be overtaken at the beginning because of the difference in tires and it will be difficult to win the race. But I will try to stay positive and figure out how to keep up. We will see if we can get a good start first and then we will see".
Max Verstappen is not completely satisfied with the qualifying result, more than anything else because he does not think he has found the right compromise with the balance of the car:
"I think we were struggling a little bit to find the right balance on this track which is quite slippery. Even this morning we were not happy, and during the qualifying we worked to get the balance right. In Q3 in particular the last attempt was not bad. I did not expect second place on the grid and I am very satisfied. If I get a decent start, then there is a big slipstream effect. Hopefully we will have a good positioning and then we will see what will happen in turn 2. It will be interesting also for the strategies tomorrow".
Despite the third place gained in qualifying, Valtteri Bottas does not despair and indeed is convinced that he can win the race:
"I did well all weekend, I had a good pace. In Q1 and Q2 I did well. In Q3 I thought I had gained in some points but obviously there was still margin. Here it is hard to find the right temperature for the tires. In the first attempt of Q3 I had the tires too cold and then in the second attempt I thought I went faster. I do not know; we have some question marks. But the third place is still a good starting position here and I will have the right tires. I once started third here and then I remember how it went. I will try to repeat that. I think I have a good advantage in the first stint with the right tires. Everyone is still in the game".
Charles Leclerc, who was excluded from Q3 following the accident with his team mate, is particularly nervous. The chaos created by the red flag after Vettel's accident, in which Leclerc avoided his teammate by a few centimetres, preventing a dangerous crash, forced all the drivers to restart with a couple of minutes to spare for the fast lap. The Monegasque was asked by the pits to cross the finish line quickly, then paying for the proximity of Kvyat's AlphaTauri and the consequent elimination in Q2.
"I was getting into a rhythm. I preferred to start eighth with no tire choice. They were telling me on the radio that I only had one or two seconds to start the lap and instead I think there was more, as Ocon was behind and managed to make the lap. I am angry, I need to work off the anger and calm down. The race is tomorrow, where you put points in. It was a tough weekend; I did not drive well until today. I was picking up pace in qualifying, I am sorry we did not see what we had as potential. We will try to maximize the result with what we have".
But Ferrari's sporting director Laurent Mekies explains:
"Today was a qualifying that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth in many ways. Sebastian crashed into the barriers, fortunately unhurt, but the impact caused a lot of damage to the car, which will mean a lot of work by our mechanics to restore it. With Charles, who had the chance to enter Q3, it was a very exciting end to the qualifying session. In such situations we know it is difficult for anyone to have a clean lap, and today, only four cars managed to improve their times in the final two minutes of Q2. Charles managed to start his lap on time, but unfortunately, with too little gap to the car in front of him, he could not improve. For our part, in the future, we will try to help him better evaluate the available margin. Tomorrow the race will be long and challenging from many points of view and anything can happen. We will give our best to collect as many points as possible".
On Sunday, September 27, 2020, before lining up on the starting grid, Lewis Hamilton makes two practice starts in areas of the track not pre-determined by the race direction. For this reason, the Briton receives two penalties of five seconds each, to be served during the pit stop. The penalty will be communicated only during the tenth lap of the Grand Prix. The driver is also deducted two points on his Super license, one for each penalty received.
Before the race, Racing Point does not receive any necessary investigation from the stewards and therefore no penalty is given to the team in this race or in the following ones, for using on its cars the same brake air intakes used from the first edition of the Styrian Grand Prix until this one. The stewards execute the sentence issued by the Federation before the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix and the decision taken in the previous race, in the first edition of the Tuscan Grand Prix, not to assign any penalty both in that race and from now on, as it had happened between the Hungarian Grand Prix and the Italian Grand Prix, because in the sentence issued it is made clear that the contested parts are regular for the technical rules and illegal for the sporting ones.
At the start, the sprint of the two Mercedes is perfect, so much so that Valtteri Bottas overtakes Max Verstappen and places himself second behind Lewis Hamilton. The Finnish driver also tries to pass the reigning World Champion at the first braking, but without success. In the middle of the group, Carlos Sainz Jr. cuts the first chicane but, at the moment of his return to the track, he violently hits the protection wall and destroys the front of his McLaren. Shortly afterwards, Lance Stroll and Charles Leclerc make contact, with the Racing Point car crashing into the wall. The race direction sends the safety car on track.
On lap five the race resumes with Hamilton ahead of Bottas, Verstappen, the two Renaults, then Sergio Perez, Pierre Gasly and Leclerc. At lap ten the British driver's margin over Bottas is 1.7, 2.8 over Verstappen, 4.8 over Esteban Ocon and 5.6 over Daniel Ricciardo. On lap 15 Ricciardo passes Pérez, before entering the pits, to mount Hard tires. On lap sixteen Lewis Hamilton also stops, serving a ten second penalty. The Briton too opts for Hard compound tires; he re-enters the race in tenth position.
Two laps later, Gasly and Ocon also make their stops, using hard tires. On lap 20 Pérez stops, while Valtteri Bottas gets the fastest lap. The Finn leads with over seven seconds on Verstappen and twenty-seven on Leclerc, who has climbed to third place. Hamilton is soon fifth, detached however by almost forty seconds from the top of the race. Ocon, eighth, leaves the way clear for his teammate, Ricciardo, who is quicker.
Between the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth lap the first two drivers stop, but the classification remains unchanged, with Bottas in the lead while Verstappen rejoins the track third, behind Daniil Kvyat. The Dutchman immediately recovers the second position. Further behind Vettel, seventh, manages to keep behind the two Renaults and allows Leclerc to widen the margin on the two French cars. Daniel Ricciardo overtakes Sebastian Vettel on lap 27, but the Australian is penalized five seconds for exceeding the track limits.
The Monegasque driver pitted on lap 28 and fitted Hard tyres; he re-entered the race sixth, behind Ricciardo, but ahead of Ocon. On lap 30 Hamilton overtakes Kvjat and returns to third. Shortly afterwards the Russian goes to the pits for a tyre change. Now the classification sees, behind Hamilton, Pérez, Ricciardo (who actually has a five second penalty), Leclerc and Ocon. The standings in the points zone remain frozen for several laps. On lap 41 Vettel passes Romain Grosjean for 14th place. The French Haas driver hits the styrofoam signs indicating how to re-enter the track at turn two. The next lap, the race management imposes the virtual safety car, which lasts just one lap, to allow the marshals to reset the signs.
Bottas leads by over eleven seconds from Verstappen, while Hamilton is almost twenty-one seconds behind. In the final laps Verstappen reduced the gap to the Finn, but he easily managed to finish in first place, also setting the fastest lap. For the Mercedes driver it is the second win of the season, the ninth total in his career. He was followed in second place by Max Verstappen, who beat Lewis Hamilton in third. At the end of the race the British driver regained the two points on his Superlicence that the FIA had taken away from him. In addition, the Federation fined the German team €25.000 for the first penalty only, removing the two points previously awarded to the driver, one for each penalty received.
Sergio Perez achieved another excellent result, finishing fourth in his Racing Point, followed by Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc, making a comeback in his SF1000, Esteban Ocon, Daniil Kvyat, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, in the other Red Bull. It was unfortunately a bad day for Sebastian Vettel, who could not get his car beyond a 13th place finish, and was even lapped.
In Sochi, therefore, the historic hooking of Lewis Hamilton to Michael Schumacher to the record of Grand Oremi won does not happen: in front of over 30.000 spectators, wins the other Mercedes, that of Valtteri Bottas. But the Briton ruined his race, even if it was his track engineer’s fault, who gave him the wrong information. Mischievously, Valtteri Bottas comments on the well-deserved triumph at the end of the race:
"What a feeling. It's been a while since my last win, but I knew there were opportunities for the race and things luckily went the right way this time. It was difficult at the beginning because a bug hit my visor just as I was about to brake, so I couldn't see well and that's why I went long. However, I knew it was a long race and with the medium tires there would be a chance. Then Lewis got the penalty and, when I had clean air, the pace was very fast and I was able to control everything without too many worries. Now I have to keep it up. There are still a few more races and you never know what can happen, so I will keep pushing without ever giving up and we will see what happens at the end".
While Hamilton, at the end of the race, takes the defeat with philosophy:
"First of all, I want to say thank all the fans who came here during the weekend, I hope they enjoyed it. It was not a great day for me, but that is how it goes. We have to reflect and figure out exactly why we took these two penalties. Obviously they sent me back quite a bit and the first stint on softs was difficult, but I tried to go as long as I could. I think I did well with that set and then tried to recover as much as I could. It was a bad day but I am happy to have got the podium anyway and put some points in the pot, without losing more than I could have. Congratulations to Valtteri for the victory".
Verstappen, who is now further and further away from being able to aspire to a championship victory, is content with second position:
"Today we can be really happy with this second place, especially on a circuit where we have never been very competitive. We scored a good number of points as a team, and we needed it after the last few outings. At the start, there was really low grip on the inside of the grid, and that cost us quite a bit; the first few corners were interesting, we kept calm and I quickly passed Ricciardo. I then struggled to follow the Mercedes with the medium, due to oversteer; switched to hard, however, we were much more competitive and I could focus on the race, which we handled well. It is nice to be back on the podium and, on this track, we can be satisfied to be only 8 seconds behind Bottas".
It should be a happy day for Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff; however, the Austrian manager misses no opportunity to highlight his doubts regarding the future in the reigning World Champion team.
"Perhaps my role in the future will be different from the current one. We do not want to create a bottleneck for our young talent, who cannot advance, so we have to take a look at every role, including that of team principal. I am co-owner of the Formula 1 team, so I am certainly not saying “okay guys that's it for me, I am out”. We are thinking, instead, about my position in the long run. There is a great bond between me and Lewis, which has grown year after year. We have been through some difficult times and we have not always agreed, but we have always put our differences behind us in order to grow together. We know that when complicated times come, we can count on each other. That is why working with him is a pleasure and I am convinced that we can still achieve great things together".
Ferrari conquers a sixth place with Charles Leclerc, while Sebastian Vettel does not celebrate his 250th Grand Prix as he would have liked: only thirteenth, just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen who equals Rubens Barrichello in the ranking of Grands Prix disputed: 323. For Ferrari, the day was less negative than expected. Credit to Leclerc who drove a generous race. He postponed his pit stop until the very last moment, savouring for a few moments the thrill of second place, then he finished sixth, a position that allows him to hook up with Stroll in the general classification, with 57 points, forced to retire by the Monegasque for an involuntary touch during the first lap that sent him spinning, without consequences, against the barriers. A fate that, just after the start, also befell Sainz, who crashed his front tire into a wall after going too wide in a curve.
"I would say that today's race was quite positive, since we started from the tenth position on the grid and managed to finish sixth under the chequered flag. Obviously the sixth place is not usually a result for which we can be particularly happy, but today was the best we could get. At the beginning it was difficult, since my start was not the best and so I entered in turn 1 after losing some positions. Fortunately, I was able to immediately recover, and from that moment on my performance was very good because we had a very good pace. In the first stint I was competitive with the Medium tires, which I was able to make last a long time, by concentrating especially on this aspect, after we had noticed some degradation in Friday simulations. I think that today we have been able to maximize our potential, and this is the most important thing. It was a positive weekend, which also helps us from a mental point of view".
While his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, is less optimistic:
"It was a rather boring race, in which we had no particular strategy options. My start, on the dirty side of the track, was not the best and so I could not take advantage of the accidents and the problems of others. When we restarted after the Safety Car, I found myself stuck in traffic, and I struggled to stay close to the cars in front of me. In the middle part of the race the car was faster than yesterday in qualifying, but I had problems in managing the tires, certainly not helped by the fact that I was constantly following other cars. Today I did my best, but I could not be fast enough. I had some bad luck during the first lap because I did not know where to go with all that traffic. There were a lot of drivers on the track, I found myself stuck in terms of strategy. Am I satisfied with the race? No, absolutely, it was a difficult Sunday. I ran out of tires very quickly and I did not have the pace, following other cars does not help but still it was a difficult race. I think I did the best I could with the car I had and I am happy about that. But I was definitely not happy with the way I got stuck behind other cars. If this is a car that loses on the rear? It is not just the rear, the problem is the whole car".
Instead, Ferrari's team principal, Mattia Binotto, seems rather serene, admitting:
"A step forward, at least compared to the last races, both in terms of result and competitiveness. This is how one can summarize the verdict of this weekend. Charles' sixth place came at the end of a very solid race in which he pulled out all he could from the package available: aggressive in the very first stages and then managed with great maturity for a driver who has yet to turn twenty-three. Sebastian was not able to finish in the points zone, getting stuck in traffic in the decisive stages of the start. We had brought a few small aerodynamic updates here in Sochi: nothing major in terms of performance, but a step in the right direction for the development of the car. In a championship where the balance of power in the middle of the pack is very close, little is needed to make progress. We have to continue in this direction and this is what we will do from the next round, in two weeks at the Nürburgring".
During the seventh lap of the Russian Grand Prix, when Lewis Hamilton suffered a double penalty of five seconds for having tried, in the pre-race, to start outside the specially prepared zone, the British champion was very critical in defining the commissioners' decision. The panel of judges, led for the occasion by the ex-Ferrarista Mika Salo - who was also in the eye of the storm for a suspected leak of information with the Finnish television, which seemed to know the details of the penalty even before it was made official - was highly criticized on the radio by the reigning World Champion, who at one point even closed the question with a laconic sentence: they are trying to stop me in every way.
"I have to take a good look at what the rules are and figure out what I did wrong. I am pretty sure no one has ever received two five-second penalties before for something so ridiculous. I did not put anyone in danger, I have done it on a million tracks and I have never had any notes, but that is the situation here in Sochi. What is certain is that they are trying to stop me. I just have to keep my head down and watch what happens".
And Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff also stated at the end of the race:
"Regarding the penalty, we have to analyse why we made this mistake. But it is an interpretable rule and an unlikely penalty. The stewards say that that was not the place to try the start and I agree. But in the Race Direction notes it is written that you can make starts after the lights on the right and this is what Hamilton did. This is a new case and there could be discussions. I think sometimes things go wrong for him and if you are the leading driver sometimes you have to accept that this happens to you. To all of us, though, the penalty seems harsh. As we have always done in the past, we win and lose together. We analyse what we could have done better and what we can do better in the future. Renewing congratulations to Valtteri, because a win is still a win".
But on that note, race director, Michael Masi, responds:
"From my point of view it is all very simple. If Hamilton has something to ask, as I said before both to him and to all the other drivers, our door is always open and we are very happy to discuss anything with them. The FIA is the regulatory body and it has to administer the regulations. We have the stewards who are an independent panel of judges and whenever there is an infraction of the rules they have to intervene, regardless of whether it is Lewis Hamilton or any of the other nineteen drivers on the grid. If there is an offence, the stewards have to judge it on its merits and fairly and correctly in all the circumstances, considering all the key elements in each and every one".
In Sochi, Bottas managed to make the most of the ten-second penalty given to the World Championship leader. Lewis thus fails to match Schumacher's record of ninety-one victories. For the British champion it was a Grand Prix of chase. However, in two weeks, on the Nurburgring circuit, in the native land of the legendary German driver, Hamilton will try to conquer the record, getting closer to the seventh title of World Champion, which, race after race, seems to be more and more in his favour, while McLaren, Racing Point and Renault will continue their chase for the third place in the constructors' championship, which would guarantee large sums of money to ensure a good budget cap, regardless of the fact that, from 2021 on, it will be equal for all.