#1050 2021 Russian Grand Prix

2021-08-11 00:19

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#2021, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Sara Miconi,

#1050 2021 Russian Grand Prix

On Sunday, September 26, 2021, the Formula 1 circus headed to the shores of the Black Sea to compete in the Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom.


On Sunday, September 26th, 2021, the Formula 1 circus headed to the shores of the Black Sea to compete in the Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom. The Sochi Autodrom is a semi-permanent facility located around the Sochi Olympic Park, a complex built for the 2014 Winter Olympics, approximately 30 kilometers southeast of the city center. The track, designed by German architect Hermann Tilke, is 5848 meters long and consists of 19 corners, including 12 right turns and 7 left turns. The Russian Grand Prix has been a consistent part of the calendar since 2014, and all seven editions contested until now have been won by Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton holds the record for the most victories with four successes in 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2019. His teammate, Valtteri Bottas, won the 2017 and 2020 editions, while Nico Rosberg emerged victorious in 2016. Hamilton also holds the track's absolute record with a time of 1’31’’304 set during the 2020 qualifying and the race record with a time of 1’35’’761, set in 2019. The Russian Grand Prix traditionally takes place at the end of September. However, this edition marks the first time in Formula 1 history that the host country's flag is obscured due to compliance with restrictions imposed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) following the state-sponsored doping ruling involving the Russian anti-doping agency. Regarding the Russian Grand Prix, the FIA specifies that the practice starts can only be performed immediately after the pit lane exit lights on the right side, with cars lining up and restarting in the order they arrived. After the collision between Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton in the previous Italian Grand Prix, leading to the retirement of both drivers, the FIA's safety department announced on Tuesday, September 14th, 2021, that they would investigate the incident. Despite occurring at low speed and with the Halo, introduced in the 2018 season, effectively saving the Mercedes driver from potential serious injury, the incident will be reviewed by the race director, Michael Masi, who stated:


"Incidents that look different or unusual and that do not involve cases of violent impacts or the like must be studied. Our safety department will study the incident in detail to try to understand what can be improved for the future. That's why we have all these safety systems nowadays, and we will continue to refine them".


Subsequently, on Thursday, September 16th, 2021, the FIA announced that they would also investigate the incident involving Ferrari's Spanish driver, Carlos Sainz Jr., occurred during the second free practice session. The focus would be on the lengthening of the safety belts at the moment of impact. Race director Michael Masi explained:


"I think the belts are made to stretch; there is a human body inside, so there must be some elasticity. You can't just keep everyone completely tied, there must be some flexibility. So, we will examine the length of the belt, as we do with any major incident or significant incident of this kind, and see what we can learn from it".


Carlos Sainz Jr. also analyzed his incident, without finding a definite answer:


"It was an accident that I could have avoided but that I have not yet understood and for which I cannot give an explanation. The car was very neutral at Ascari throughout the weekend, but I think I just need to fully understand the behavior of the car. It wasn't ideal, especially because I forced the mechanics to do a long repair job, but I'm sure it won't happen again, and I'll learn from it".


On Wednesday, September 15th, Aston Martin announced the start of construction of its new factory at Silverstone in the Northamptonshire region. The expected duration of the works is eighteen months, with completion targeted between late 2022 and early 2023. In the third quarter of the same year, a new wind tunnel is also expected to be operational. Regarding this, team owner Lawrence Stroll expressed his enthusiasm:


"It is stimulating to look at where we are now in terms of the challenges and architectural and organizational ambitions that lie ahead. Our new buildings reflect not only the scope of our determination to become a winning force in the world championship but also the extent of our growth and development as an organization. I strongly feel that each building is a powerful representation of the people working within it. I am excited that we are creating a new home where people can work, collaborate, create, and win together. It's thrilling to think that the entire team will be in its new home by the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our partners working on the project, especially JCB and Cognizant".


Furthermore, the next day, the British team announces that its two main drivers, Canadian Lance Stroll and German Sebastian Vettel, will be confirmed for the following season. Subsequently, on Tuesday, September 21st, 2021, Aston Martin announces that former McLaren team principal from 1989 to 2014, Martin Whitmarsh, will be the new Group Chief Executive Officer of the team starting from October 1st. Whitmarsh will oversee not only on-track activities and development but also the market application of the technical capabilities and intellectual properties of the British team. Lawrence Stroll enthusiastically welcomes the British executive:


"Martin Whitmarsh will have significant responsibilities assisting and supporting me in defining the new strategic direction for Aston Martin Performance Technologies and its subsidiaries, including the crucial goal of transforming Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team into a championship-winning team in the next 4 or 5 years, achieving a business turnover of one billion pounds in the same timeframe. His resume is excellent and successful, spanning the automotive, aerospace, maritime, and renewable energy sectors. In Formula 1, he has achieved a lot, and I am confident that he is the ideal figure to guide us to a successful future".


Meanwhile, on Thursday, September 16th, 2021, McLaren announces that Jonathan Neale, the head of the team's operations office, will leave his position at the end of this season, after a twenty-year experience. Neale had started his career in Woking in 2001 and had been in this position since 2016 after the departure of Ron Dennis. On Thursday, September 23rd, 2021, Haas confirms the current driver lineup, Nikita Mazepin and German Mick Schumacher, for the following championship. Team principal Gunther Steiner says:


"In 2021, we offered both drivers the opportunity to learn Formula 1, and as rookies, they have already accomplished a lot this year. It has certainly been a challenging season with the package at our disposal, but they accepted the challenge and worked closely with the team to learn our methodologies and the rigor required by Formula 1. Now we look forward to 2022 with confidence, determined to provide Mick and Nikita with a competitive package to take a step forward in their careers".


For this Grand Prix, Pirelli, the sole tire supplier, offers a choice between C3, C4, and C5 compound tires, the softest in the available range. Kimi Räikkönen returns to regular competition from this race after skipping the two previous Grands Prix. The Finnish driver of Alfa Romeo Racing had been replaced by the team's reserve driver, Robert Kubica, during the Dutch and Italian Grands Prix due to a positive SARS-CoV-2 test. Räikkönen, in a post on Instagram, announces his return to the track:


"I am fine. See you at the next GP".


The Finnish driver, as usual, remains focused on the work ahead to achieve a good result:


"I am happy to be back in the car after missing two appointments. Obviously, no one wants to test positive, but it happened, and rules must be followed. Now, however, it's all in the past, and my focus is on Sochi. The team has shown good potential in the recent races, and now we need to turn the progress into good results. I don't think this return stirs any special emotions for me; it's just about doing my job and having a good race".


On the eve of the Russian Grand Prix, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner expects a challenging race but is not particularly concerned about the grid penalty Max Verstappen will face for causing a collision with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton in the previous Italian Grand Prix:


"We have to serve a grid penalty with Max, but in Sochi, it's not a significant handicap, given the importance of slipstream in the early corners. I look forward to the upcoming weekend to see how we will handle this situation. I was looking at the results of the Russian Grand Prix, and in 2018, Max went from last to first before his pit stop. We finished in second place in 2020, and it's a circuit where we have never won. It has always been a Mercedes stronghold, like Monza. I have mentally classified these as Mercedes circuits, so it will be a challenge to beat them".


However, the British manager reiterates his opinion on the incident in the Italian Grand Prix, remaining in disagreement with the penalty imposed by the stewards:


"My opinion on the incident has remained the same since I saw it. For me, it was a racing incident after Max saw a gap to overtake. It was an aggressive move, but we saw other aggressive moves in that spot throughout the weekend. Of course, Lewis didn't want to give up the overtaking opportunity, and both knew how it would end. We saw two drivers where one was desperately trying to defend, and the other to attack. Unfortunately, the result was what we saw. The major misfortune was the dynamics of the contact and how the car lifted, especially at such a low speed".


He also defends the approach and driving style of the Dutch driver:


"I believe he understands that he may have a different approach to playing for the long-term championship, but he's also a racer. If he sees a gap, he goes for it, and I suppose the same goes for Hamilton. You have to seize every opportunity that comes your way. Max is driving incredibly well this year, but he has also been unlucky: in Baku, Hungary, and Silverstone. These incidents can also be decisive over a season".


The penalty for the Monza incident will not be the only one for the World Championship leader until the end of the season. Horner confirms that the team is considering the best time to introduce a new power unit to Verstappen's car; based on current championship regulations, this will result in another grid position penalty:


"We have a window of three or four races to decide when to introduce the new power unit for Verstappen. We will decide after qualifying; we tried to consider using the damaged power unit from Silverstone on Friday to avoid introducing a fourth, but it's not a viable scenario. A real shame because it's a unit with very low mileage. Unless there are unforeseen issues, Perez will not have problems until the end of the season".


Max Verstappen looks ahead, accepting the penalty and determined to achieve a good result:


"You can reflect as much as you want, but it's important to look ahead and keep pushing. I still believe it was a racing incident, but we've been given a three-grid penalty, and we just have to work with that now. The Monza race definitely wasn't our day for many reasons, but now I just intend to look ahead to Sochi. The penalty is obviously not ideal, but nothing is lost. That's how I see it. As for the driver's championship, we still have many races ahead of us and a very small margin. We'll try to make the most of the weekend and work with the package we have".


Despite the Sochi track never being particularly favorable to Red Bull Racing, the Dutch driver looks confidently at this Grand Prix, aware of the competitiveness of his car:


"It was nice to finish second last year, especially because it has never been a good track for us as a team. We are more competitive this year, and we have a better package at the moment, so it will be interesting to see how fast we can be there. It will be completely different from Monza, and there might even be some rain. The layout is completely different from previous races, so I'm definitely looking forward to going back there and seeing what we can do".


Finally, the leader of the World Championship dismisses accusations from various quarters that he didn't care about Lewis Hamilton's health after the incident between them in the last Italian Grand Prix:


"There are hypocrites in the world, for sure. I jumped out of the car and looked to the left. He was still trying to reverse, spinning the wheels trying to get out from under my car. So, I think he was absolutely fine. Also, the fact that he flew to the United States on Monday or Tuesday to attend a gala, I think one does that only if one feels well".


Lewis Hamilton, regarding the Championship challenge, highlights a difference between him and his rival, namely their different experiences, especially in this situation:


"I put all the energy I have into staying ahead, as we are fighting for the championship. I remember when I was fighting for my first title, whereas now I'm in my tenth fight. I remember what it was like then, and I know all the pressures I felt that have eased with experience. I think the important thing is to keep fighting hard but fairly. I have no doubt that we will both be professional and have learned from past experiences".


According to the World Champion's opinion, this aspect may have contributed to the Monza incident, involving the two title contenders:


"I don't expect a driver to back down, but that's not how I approach any other. I think we should all be a bit smart to understand that there's no chance of taking a corner in certain ways. It's just about having the right approach to get to the second corner. This balance can be found through experience, which allows you to understand that a victory is not decided at one point, but it can also be built with other opportunities. As I've said before, I know what it's like to be in the heat of your first battles; you're impatient, and you experience different emotions. I'm confident that we won't have any more incidents as the year progresses".


The British driver from Mercedes is sure that Verstappen may feel some pressure in managing this entirely new situation for him.


"Obviously, he won't admit it, but I don't want to make assumptions. I'm just saying that I remember it was all difficult and intense. I felt many emotions and sensations that I tried to manage as best as I could, but it's clear that there can be great pressure. Working in a great team, there is a lot of self-esteem, and the immense desire to win puts pressure on you. I'm just saying that I fully understand and emphasize it, but you can continue to grow. Compared to my first championship, it's easier for me to handle pressure today. I've been here for a long time, and everything is simpler from this point of view now. In the first year, I was very young, and I didn't have the tools to endure it like today".


Unlike Red Bull's Dutch driver, Lewis Hamilton does not expect the introduction of a new power unit in the upcoming races, with consequent grid penalties:


"As things stand now, I believe everything is under control, but there is still a long way to go. At the moment, we haven't planned to replace the engine, and I hope that doesn't happen. However, I cannot predict the future".


Mercedes' previous results on this track are encouraging for the reigning world champion. Nevertheless, Lewis Hamilton still expects a very challenging race:


"I didn't know, we entered a much more competitive season, and it will be like this until the end of the year. I'm sure there will be a tight fight this weekend, and it will be tough. Also, because the forecasts indicate rain in the coming days".


Sergio Perez is also optimistic about the upcoming race; the Mexican is satisfied with the performance of his car, even on circuits that seem less suitable for the characteristics of the RB16-B:


"At Monza, we were much closer than we expected, so I think we will have excellent chances to be even faster, hoping to overtake them. We had some consecutive races that were not convincing, and unfortunately, we lost a podium due to a penalty. However, if we analyze what we have shown on the track, we can still be satisfied. This is a track I like, it's fun, and it suits my driving style; it's a track where tire wear is limited, except for the rear ones. I think it's an aspect that has served me well in the past and has always allowed me to get good results here".


Fernando Alonso, on the other hand, is more realistic about the chances of his Alpine from now until the end of the season:


"I think we are the fifth or sixth fastest team, so to get on the podium, we really need a very chaotic race. Without that, I think, by performing well, being in the top 6 or top 7 is the maximum position. We have achieved this goal in several races this year. So I am happy with the consistency. You have to be super lucky to get on the podium; I haven't been so far, and I don't expect to be in the remaining races. If it comes, of course, we will gladly take it, but I think we need to work on realistic expectations".


The weather forecast is not encouraging, and the two-time World Champion hopes that rain does not compromise track safety too much:


"For Sunday, we cross our fingers and hope it's not too wet or that it doesn't rain too much because visibility will be really bad, and we certainly don't want to see anything like Spa".


Finally, the Spanish driver expresses his great esteem for Max Verstappen:


"At the moment, Verstappen is the only one I wouldn't challenge on equal terms in Red Bull. I have great respect for Max, I don't think there are many drivers who could race with Red Bull in the Dutchman's environment and manage to beat him; right now, I consider Verstappen the best driver in the paddock. To talent and speed, he has now added a certain maturity, so I think it's very difficult to beat him. I think he is the favorite for the title this season and for those to come".


Daniel Ricciardo arrives in Sochi with great confidence and enthusiasm after his victory at Monza, hoping that it bodes well for the rest of the season:


"Two weeks after Monza, it's still nice to think about being on the top step of the podium. We couldn't have wished for a better way to complete such a perfect weekend, competing at the top of the grid and having the opportunity to win. The one-two finish is the result of the hard work put in by myself and the team. From the beginning of my journey with McLaren, I've consistently focused on adapting to the new car, and the team has always been by my side. It's satisfying to have closed the circle with this victory, circling the winners' ring at the headquarters of a team I've been a part of for six months. It was the boost we needed. I enjoyed the moment, but now it's time to focus on Russia. I want to replicate the performance of Monza this weekend, scoring as many points as possible to help the team in the Constructors' Championship. Sochi will be a challenging circuit for overtaking, so it's important to do well in qualifying to have a better chance of scoring points on Sunday".


For his teammate Lando Norris, morale is high, as it is throughout the McLaren team, and the goal is to carry forward this positive momentum:


"Monza was a special moment for the team, and they completely deserved it. Celebrating the result with the entire team at the headquarters last week showed how much this success means to everyone. We should be proud of this one-two finish, and I'm happy to be part of a journey that McLaren is progressing together as a team, seeing the continuous improvements it's making. We're not getting carried away because we know it won't be like this every weekend. We have to continue to qualify in the best possible positions to maximize the car, pit stops, strategies, and much more. Looking ahead to Russia, the battle for third place is still open, and we have to maintain this pace until the last race of the season. We hope to capitalize on the excellent momentum from Italy to secure more valuable points for the team".


On Friday, September 24th, the first two free practice sessions for the Russian Grand Prix take place. Before the start of the first session, Ferrari announces that Charles Leclerc's car will be equipped with the fourth unit related to the internal combustion engine, turbocharger, and MGU-H, and the third unit related to the energy recovery system and electronic control unit. The Monegasque driver is penalized on the starting grid and forced to start from the back of the pack. This is the full text of Ferrari's statement:


"The Russian Grand Prix will also see the introduction of a technical innovation for Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow: a power unit equipped with the hybrid system update, the introduction of which had been announced in recent weeks and is mainly aimed at gaining experience for the 2022 project. A great effort has been made, both technically and logistically, to shorten the times as much as possible, and the update will be carried out with staggered timings between the two drivers. The first to have the new hybrid system will be Charles, a choice dictated by precautionary reasons in light of the risks associated with the use of the battery pack damaged in the Hungary GP incident: in Sochi, the Monegasque will have an entirely new power unit and will therefore start from the back of the grid. The introduction of the new hybrid system on Carlos' car will be decided by evaluating the right compromise between competitiveness and the impact of the penalty".


The American Haas team, which uses Ferrari engines, announces that it will not use the upgraded engine provided by the Italian team, as significant changes are needed on the car to install it. The new power unit is being tested to obtain initial feedback on some updates that could also be useful for the engine of the next season.


At 11:00 a.m. local time, the first free practice session begins, the sky is clear, and temperatures are 18 °C in the air and 27 °C on the asphalt. Valtteri Bottas sets the fastest time of the session. The Finnish driver leads his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, by a 0.2-second advantage. Max Verstappen takes the third position, trailing the British World Champion by only 0.016 seconds. The Dutch driver is forced to abort the race simulation due to an issue with his power unit. Lando Norris hits the wall upon returning to the pits, breaking the front wing of his McLaren. Three times are canceled by the stewards for not correctly navigating Turn 2, using the outside runoff during the first Friday's free practice session, respectively for Antonio Giovinazzi, Kimi Räikkönen, and Pierre Gasly. Before the start of the second Friday's free practice session scheduled at 3:00 p.m., the fourth unit related to the internal combustion engine, turbocharger, MGU-H, and MGU-K is installed on Max Verstappen's car, while the third unit related to the energy recovery system and the electronic control unit. The Dutch driver is penalized on the starting grid and forced to start from the back of the pack. Valtteri Bottas is again the fastest in the Friday afternoon session. In this case, too, the Mercedes driver precedes his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, by 0.044 seconds. 


Pierre Gasly sets the third-best time but has to end his session prematurely due to damaging the front wing by riding over a curb. Lewis Hamilton is also involved in a minor incident: arriving too quickly in the pit lane, he causes a mechanic to fall. Antonio Giovinazzi, perhaps due to a gust of wind, crashes forcefully, damaging the rear of his Alfa Romeo Racing. This incident also causes the session to be red-flagged. Daniel Ricciardo loses the first few minutes as technicians need to replace the power unit. The team installs an old unit, avoiding the risk of a penalty. Sergio Perez has a time canceled during the second free practice session for not correctly navigating Turn 2, using the outside runoff. Haas and Alfa Romeo Racing are fined 1.000 and 800 euros, respectively, as Nikita Mazepin and Kimi Räikkönen exceeded the minimum speed set in the pit lane. At the end of the second Friday's free practice session, transmissions are replaced on the cars of Pierre Gasly, Lewis Hamilton, and Max Verstappen. None of the drivers are penalized on the starting grid, as Gasly used the previous transmission for six consecutive Grand Prix races, while Hamilton and Verstappen did not finish the previous race in Italy. The competitiveness of Mercedes and the grid penalty for Max Verstappen offer a great opportunity to Lewis Hamilton. The World Champion remains focused and determined to perform at his best:


"The penalty for Max changes nothing for us; we just have to do our job and stay focused. It's a tough year for everyone with reliability, so we need to capitalize on this situation and get the best result. A one-two finish would be spectacular for us as a team. This track is okay for me; it's not my favorite, but it's not my worst either. There are things I can find from the data, working on it tonight. Certainly, if you look at the calendar, there are some tracks that are exceptional for me and others for Valtteri. It seems we've started on the right foot. We always look to improve, but the first lap of the first session was the best, and since then, we've changed some settings, but we haven't found times as competitive. Overall, it was a good session in terms of pace. We have some work to do, probably on the long run. Tomorrow it will rain a lot, and it will be interesting to see what we do in terms of setup for these conditions, knowing that potentially Sunday will be dry".


Valtteri Bottas is also pleased with both the performance and the feeling with the car. The Finnish driver is particularly satisfied with the long-run tests:


"There's work to be done, but I think tomorrow will be rainy, so a completely different day. At least we did some good long-run tests, and the main thing is that the car performs well in terms of pace for Sunday, where we could have a dry race. There's always room for improvement, but looking at the times and the feelings, it was a good day. From the first lap, I had great confidence in the car, and the balance was really good; all we had to do were small adjustments throughout the day. I could really focus on driving and find small time gains here and there, both in short and long runs; I was quite comfortable".


The team principal of Mercedes, Toto Wolff, speaks again about the previous incidents involving the two contenders for the World Championship, especially addressing Lewis Hamilton's approach in these situations:


"I believe that Lewis' change of approach lies in the fact that he will no longer widen in the corner if he believes it's his. It takes two to tango, and both must understand when to avoid a collision. They are in the car and have no influence. They know much better than us how to drive, and for us, it's only interesting to see them in action. I believe they know very well what they are doing; if they wanted to avoid a collision, we would have fewer incidents. If they didn't want to avoid it because they feel entitled to squeeze or not give space to the other, then we would have more. In any case, one recognizes the qualities of the other, and I am sure there will be respect between them, as there is respect for other drivers. Their personalities and lives are different, but this does not interfere with mutual considerations and respect".


The team principal of Red Bull, Christian Horner, defends Max Verstappen's character and approach:


"It's not true that he is incapable of letting go and lifting his foot. He has already demonstrated this during this season that he has a sense of measure. However, his nature is to be a determined, aggressive attacker. Also because he is up against a very strong driver like Hamilton. That's why I don't think Verstappen's inclination to always go on the attack will change. Verstappen has nothing to lose. It has been a long time since both he and the whole team were in a position to fight for the world title. It's a situation that galvanizes us".


Horner does not believe that pressure can be a negative factor for the Dutch driver:


"The weekend he had in the Netherlands in front of his home crowd was truly impressive. I can't imagine greater pressure than having to give the fans a victory they have been waiting for for over a year. He is the challenger, he has nothing to defend, that's why he goes on the attack".


Fernando Alonso highlights the difficulties that will be faced in case of a qualifying session with rain, without having any data available for such conditions:


"We don't know how useful the collected data will be, especially considering the heavy rain that could fall tomorrow. In any case, it was a reasonable day, and the car seems to behave well here. We tried different setups during FP2, and we noticed some advantages, so I am satisfied. We could have done an even faster lap if there hadn't been the red flag for Giovinazzi's incident, but it's only Friday. We'll see what happens tomorrow".


Carlos Sainz Jr. is also satisfied with the work done during the day and the better feeling compared to Monza. However, the Spanish Ferrari driver expresses some concern about graining, which could complicate his race:


"It's been a good day for the team; we completed the work without problems, and it looks encouraging. We found a good balance from the beginning of the day, and overall, the car performs better on this type of track. I had a good day personally too; step by step, I got used to this car on this track. I have a good feeling; the only thing that worries me is the graining on the front tires, and we don't know if it will happen or not: we'll try to work on it for Sunday, but this shows that we still have work to do. I hope we will find a way to solve these problems tomorrow, although with rain, everything could change. We saw that others chose to go with the soft at the end of the afternoon session to try a qualifying time due to the risk of rain: we didn't do the same. Normally, we also have FP3 to make the last changes, but now it seems that whatever we did today, we will carry it over to qualifying. I am confident that it will happen; we believe that the times from FP2 will not count for the starting grid, there are very slim chances".


Charles Leclerc, on the other hand, focused solely on long runs, as he is already certain to start from the back of the grid. Unlike his teammate, the Monegasque driver seems not to have encountered the same issues:


"We followed different programs on our two cars today; I focused on the race simulation at the expense of qualifying pace since I will start from the back of the grid on Sunday. The evolution of the track was quite significant throughout the day. The track was very slippery this morning, but it improved lap by lap. Graining was not a problem, which was positive. In terms of driving, the part where I enjoyed myself the most was the last sector".


Red Bull Racing announced the replacement of the power unit for Max Verstappen, who will start from the back of the grid. The Dutch driver explains the reasons for this decision:


"Considering everything, it was better to take the penalty for the engine change here in Sochi. It will be a challenging race, but so far, I am happy with what we did today and our work on race setup. In 2018, the gap with the midfield was greater; this year, I think it will be a bit more challenging to overtake, but we would have had to take a penalty anyway. If we hadn't taken it here, we would have taken it somewhere else. Now we're just trying to set up the best possible car for this weekend. We considered not only the results of FP1 but also the weather conditions expected for tomorrow. So we thought it would be better to take it here".


Sebastian Vettel looks optimistically toward the upcoming sessions, having found an optimal balance in the first day of practice and aware of the opportunities that rain and grid penalties could offer:


"It was a very productive day; we covered a good number of laps that allowed us to find the right balance of the car. It's a very positive aspect because it's not easy to find the correct setup for Sochi, so we start with an advantage. Tomorrow, rain is expected that could shake things up and create an interesting qualifying session; this could offer good opportunities for us, given the penalties that some drivers will have to serve. The weather forecast for Sunday indicates clear skies, and that's why today's work was important. We will continue to prepare tonight, waiting to see what will happen tomorrow".


George Russell has found a good feeling with his car, although the pace is not exceptional. However, rain could give him a great opportunity, as it did in the Belgian Grand Prix:


"It was an interesting day today. The car felt good, although the pace was not so good: we will analyze the reason overnight. That positive feeling helped us with the race pace with high fuel levels: we hope it benefits us if it's dry on Sunday. Tomorrow, there seems to be a lot of rain, but we hope for some action at some point. Our performance at Spa certainly gives us confidence even in wet qualifying, but it's a very different track, so we'll need to work hard to achieve a good result. If it's dry on Sunday, it will be interesting because the circuit will be very green after the rain, making it challenging".


The British driver of Williams reflects on his personal growth and the difficulties encountered during the years spent with the Grove team:


"The struggles at the back gave me great mental strength. Managing victories is easier; you celebrate them. The tough moments and mistakes are the real challenge. They toughened me; I am more mature as a person and as a driver. With the signature, I realized that those who believed in me were really giving me a chance. They reassured me, I knew I had to work and have confidence in the steps to get there. And we got there".


Due to adverse weather conditions, the third free practice session on Saturday is canceled. The qualifying session is also at risk of being postponed if the weather conditions do not improve. However, Ferrari's sporting director, Laurent Mekies, confirms that the intention is to hold the qualifying session when conditions permit.


"Currently, there are no discussions, but it's good that the decision was made in advance. Now it's as if the FP3 [Free Practice 3] has ended, and we hope for an improvement in the weather at 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m., with the aim of conducting qualifying by 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. If not, we'll postpone everything to tomorrow. That's the plan. As a team, we look forward to having a qualifying, today or tomorrow, but the same goes for others. We have one car starting from the back, and the other will have a normal qualifying. We are ready for both scenarios. The changes made last night will be tested directly in the race if the qualifying is wet. We have all gotten used to the Parc Fermé; drivers have become adept at driving imperfect cars in both qualifying and the race. Sochi is a track where you run slightly less than maximum load, not a circuit where the race changes completely in case of rain".


Before the start of the qualifying session, the fourth unit related to the internal combustion engine, turbocharger, and MGU-H is installed on Nicholas Latifi's car. The Canadian driver is penalized on the starting grid and forced to start from the back. At 3:00 p.m., the track is damp, with an air temperature of 14 °C and track temperature of 17 °C. However, it's not raining, so the qualifying session proceeds as usual. In the beginning of Q1, Pierre Gasly sets a time of 1'51"519, leading Carlos Sainz Jr. Charles Leclerc then takes the lead in the time standings. Improved track conditions allow Pierre Gasly to again improve his time and take the lead. Antonio Giovinazzi spins in the last sector before Lewis Hamilton sets a time of 1'46"937, placing him in first position, ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll. Max Verstappen, penalized due to changes in some technical components of the power unit, is sure to start from the back row. Therefore, the Dutch driver completes only one lap before returning to the pits and deciding not to continue in the session. In the last minutes of Q1, light rain begins to fall, but the drivers continue and improve their performances. Valtteri Bottas, as well as Antonio Giovinazzi, makes a small mistake at Turn 2, but without consequences. Sergio Pérez takes the lead with a time of 1'46"455, while Fernando Alonso moves up to fourth place. After completing his lap, Valtteri Bottas takes the top spot in the time standings, with a 0.059-second advantage over Sergio Pérez. At the end of the session, Lewis Hamilton sets the best time in Q1. Räikkönen, Schumacher, Giovinazzi, Mazepin, and Verstappen do not advance to the next phase. In Q2, Pierre Gasly is the first to set a valid time, clocking in at 1'46"671. Lando Norris lowers the limit to 1'46"254 before Lewis Hamilton once again records the best performance in 1'46"096. 


Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez improve their times and place just behind Pierre Gasly and ahead of Esteban Ocon. Due to an error, Bottas ruins his first fast lap again at Turn 2. Sebastian Vettel moves up to fourth place, while Carlos Sainz Jr. is eighth, behind Esteban Ocon but ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso. Valtteri Bottas improves on his second attempt and takes first place with 1'45"506. Shortly after, Lewis Hamilton regains the lead with a time that is 0.1 seconds faster than the Finnish driver. The track is still improving, and Lewis Hamilton sets a time of 1'45"129, and the two Alpine drivers also improve their times, although they are ranked lower than Lance Stroll. Carlos Sainz Jr. also improves his time, as do Valtteri Bottas and once again Fernando Alonso, who moves up to third place. Eliminated from the session are Sebastian Vettel, Pierre Gasly (who complains about being blocked by other cars in his attempt), Yuki Tsunoda, Nicholas Latifi, and Charles Leclerc. These two drivers, also sure to start from the last positions due to some power unit component replacements, did not set a fast lap in Q2. In Q3, the drivers opt for intermediate tires, although George Russell asks his team over the radio to prepare slick tires. Lewis Hamilton takes the lead in the standings with a time of 1'44"050. The World Champion is 0.660 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Later, Lando Norris beats the time of the Finnish driver by just 0.004 seconds. Canadian driver Lance Stroll secures fourth place, surpassing Esteban Ocon, Daniel Ricciardo, and Carlos Sainz Jr. Sergio Pérez, with only one lap on intermediate tires, sets a time 0.8 seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton before moving up to fifth place. 


The two Mercedes drivers also make a second attempt with intermediate tires but do not complete it. Lewis Hamilton, returning to the pits, hits the wall, damaging the front wing. All drivers switch to slick tires for the final minutes, although Lewis Hamilton complains of not being able to get the tires up to temperature. Carlos Sainz Jr., however, manages to warm up his tires and sets the fastest time. Lance Stroll records the fourth fastest time. Lando Norris produces an even better lap and takes the lead in the time standings. Daniel Ricciardo moves up to third place but is then overtaken by George Russell. Lewis Hamilton also completes a faster lap than the Australian driver, moving up to fourth place. The stewards cancel eight times for not correctly taking Turn 2, using the external escape route. The penalized drivers are Valtteri Bottas and Lando Norris, each twice, Lewis Hamilton, Nikita Mazepin, Sergio Pérez, and Esteban Ocon. At the end of qualifying, Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll are summoned by the stewards as the Australian driver obstructed the Canadian at Turn 2 during Q1. Daniel Ricciardo receives a reprimand, the first of the season, while McLaren receives a warning. Lando Norris secures his first career pole position. For McLaren, it is the first pole position since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, and for the first time since the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix, the top three positions are occupied by a McLaren, a Ferrari, and a Williams. The British McLaren driver is ecstatic at the end of qualifying, having just secured his first career pole position. Lando Norris made the most of the opportunity presented in these mixed conditions, making the right tire choice in the end.


"Wow, it's fantastic. I don't know what to say. Incredible session, it was already going well, and then we decided to switch to slicks. However, we absolutely didn't expect to take pole position. We did it, and I'm extremely happy. I have to give great credit to the team. Nailing the perfect lap was tough. I don't want to praise myself too much, but it was complicated because we were right in the crossover situation. Initially, I was two seconds behind. I didn't think I could improve the previous lap so much. But I kept the tires warm, tried the final lap, and took quite a risk. But the risk paid off, and I'm happy. Tomorrow? I don't look too far ahead. I don't want to think about what will happen in turn 1. I hope to be in the lead after the first corner and hope to be in the best possible position at the end. I hope it's the first pole of many. We didn't expect this after Monza, but these are the opportunities we can seize, and we did it. We hope to continue like this tomorrow".


McLaren's driver is hopeful but not overly optimistic about the race and is aware of the challenges that will arise from the start:


"Probably, though, this is the only circuit where I wouldn't want to be on pole, given the ample space to the first corner. Still, I'm very happy, of course. Another win for us would be really nice, but I don't expect it. I think Mercedes is much ahead of us, and Red Bull is probably right up there with them. I think we have good pace; we saw yesterday that the car is in an excellent position. But it's a long way to turn 2, so we have to look ahead and prepare well. In both wet and dry conditions, we can still make our mark and get a good number of points tomorrow, as we are in the best possible position".


There is also a lot of satisfaction in the words expressed by Carlos Sainz Jr., who, like his former teammate, made the most of the opportunity, securing the front row:


"I am very happy. Qualifying was challenging from the start. After Q2, I realized there was a chance to use slicks. We had a great strategy, doing two laps at the end to bring the tires up to temperature, and then we found a pretty strong lap. Unfortunately, I was one of the first to cross the finish line, and I didn't take advantage of the track improvement. Tomorrow? We seem a bit stronger. The worst conditions for us were with intermediates. Before Q3, I had some issues to solve, but then on dry, we were more competitive. There are Mercedes and Red Bulls behind us, and they will be fast tomorrow. We expect them to overtake many cars. But we will fight and try to have fun. The start will be fun; I hope to overtake Lando at the start. But in the race, I'll use his slipstream. Starting on the dirty side here is penalizing, so I'll have to prepare well not to lose too much at the start".


Ferrari's Sporting Director, Laurent Mekies, congratulates Carlos Sainz Jr. on his performance, also expressing satisfaction with the SF21's competitiveness in various conditions:


"A very tight qualifying, held on a very treacherous track, sees us place a driver on the front row of the grid. Well done to Carlos on his last lap with dry tires: it wasn't easy to find the right feeling in those conditions. The team worked well, making the right choices at the right time together with the driver. Charles' qualifying was obviously influenced by the circumstances, namely the penalty that will force him to start from the back of the grid. The choice we made today weighs heavily on him, but it will bear fruit in the upcoming races. We chose to at least do Q1 to allow him to check the car's behavior in the wet, and Charles showed that he can be very competitive. Tomorrow we will play the race starting from the two extremes of the starting grid: from the front row with Carlos, from the last row with Charles. As always, the goal will be to achieve the best possible result, trying to seize all the opportunities that may arise".


George Russell is ecstatic after repeating the Spa-Francorchamps feat in another rain-affected qualifying. The British Williams driver secures the third position and expresses optimism for the race:


"Crazy. It's the second time I'm in the top three in three or four races. We did a great job. We chose the right tires at the right times. It was tricky. Just going slightly wider, and you ended up off track. Congratulations to Lando and Carlos; I'm excited for tomorrow. I can't wait; yesterday with a lot of fuel, we had a good pace, one of the best of the year. I think the Mercedes behind us will be stronger. But we'll try to use the straight-line speed and aim for the podium; we have nothing to lose. I know historically the third position is the most favorable in Sochi, but I won't do anything crazy or reckless at the start. Of course, if there's an opportunity to attack, I won't back down. The higher the bet or risk taken, the greater the reward; the third position is an incredible result, I brought the tires into the ideal operating window and then put together a great lap".


Lewis Hamilton is instead disappointed and apologizes to the team for the mistake made during Q3. The World Champion, however, still has many chances to fight for victory:


"I made mistakes, it's true, I'm very disappointed in myself, I can't even explain it. But it went as it went, now it's in the past. I'm sorry for my team. I hope the car is intact tomorrow so that we can fight again. We weren't in a position where we necessarily had to take risks. Obviously, if you drive for Williams, you can take all the risks you want. If it goes well, it's fantastic; if it doesn't, it's the same. For us, clearly, a risk can cost a lot. I will try to climb back tomorrow. I expected to be on the front row, of course. Tomorrow, I'll have a tough job to do; this year, I make life difficult for myself at times. Victory within reach? Absolutely. We have two very strong cars ahead that performed well in the last race, like McLaren and Ferrari. We will try to beat them, but it won't be easy".


Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff emphasizes that Lewis Hamilton's mistake did not influence the result, which was more affected by suboptimal timing in switching to slick tires:


"We had a lot of bad luck with the timing in this Q3. We were the first to go out on track in the session and, consequently, the last to switch to slicks. These tires needed more than one lap to warm up, given the cold asphalt still scattered with wet patches. We were simply unlucky with this; there was no mistake on the part of the team. Looking back, I would say that we should have waited a few moments longer to understand the track situation. All this cost us the front row: it's a shame, but we have to turn the situation around tomorrow. The pit lane entry incident makes no difference; we wouldn't have had a chance to have a second warm-up lap. We had all the cards to be on the front row, but we didn't have time to warm up the tires properly. We can still win with him, and that's the goal if everything goes as it should. With Bottas in seventh, we aim for the podium: we need that from him".


The Austrian manager gives credit to George Russell's performance:


"I wouldn't be surprised to see George in the lead after turn 2, and it would also be fun to watch. If Lewis could also gain positions, we would have the present and the future of the team in the top two positions. Jokes aside, today he was the protagonist of a great performance, taking the risk of being the first to switch to slick tires. Otherwise, he would still have achieved eighth or ninth place, but he and Williams didn't settle for that and pushed to the maximum to get and seek the best result, and that's what he did".


Valtteri Bottas also confirms Wolff's thesis; the inability to warm up the tires properly at the crucial moment also compromised his qualifying:


"In Q1 and Q2, we were doing well; we seemed to be strong in intermediate conditions, but in the end, when the track started to dry, we came in, and of course, we hoped to be able to do two timed laps. In the end, however, we could only do one, and we couldn't get the tires to work in that single lap. It was too difficult to get them up to temperature. All the cars ahead of us did at least two laps, and that was the problem. It's not great, but it's not over yet; we have a strong car, and I had a good pace throughout the weekend. At least I'm not starting from the back like in Monza, so we hope to do better and push from the seventh position".


Max Verstappen, already certain to start from the back of the grid, does not participate in qualifying and comments on the result, congratulating the top three finishers:


"Since I'll start from the back, we basically decided not to take risks and skip qualifying. The qualifying had a decidedly interesting result. Maximum concentration for the race, where I hope to have fun and make my way through the pack. Lando did a really good job, as did Carlos and obviously George. He has shown to be a really great driver, but when you can do things like that, it means the car is not as bad as people think. He got several points and had a good qualifying at Spa; it's not a Red Bull or a Mercedes, but it can count on a significant wing and aerodynamic load, allowing it to close the gap to opponents. In any case, George did a great job".


Charles Leclerc, who will start from the last row alongside the Dutch driver from Red Bull Racing, has focused on the race throughout the weekend:


"I wanted to turn a bit; it was nice. I wanted to turn a bit also to get a few laps in these conditions. I have to say it went very well. Obviously, it doesn't change anything because we will start last tomorrow. It won't be an easy race, honestly. It will be tough starting from the 19th position on a track where, in the end, it's not very easy to overtake. But we'll give it our all as always. We hope to make a good comeback. The setup is for dry conditions, not for rain, also because it shouldn't rain tomorrow. We've prepared everything for the race. The goal for tomorrow? I don't know. I would like to get into the top five, but that's definitely not realistic. Let's say the goal will be to have the best race possible. The pace has been good so far, which gives me hope. It's a pity that overtaking isn't so easy here. I'll do everything, and we'll see".


Sebastian Vettel is very disappointed not to have been able to take advantage of a potentially favorable situation. The German champion, with a race expected to be dry, does not harbor great hopes:


"I think the opportunity was today; it's a bitter feeling. I think we were fast today, and we could have surprised here for sure. We could easily have made it to the next round, but I had traffic in the final attempt that didn't help. I'm also angry with myself because I could have done a faster lap earlier. Tomorrow will be dry, so it will be difficult for us to get ahead. As always".


Fernando Alonso is happy with his qualifying as he will start from the third row. The Spanish driver expects a tough race, especially against the two teams currently competing for the World Championship:


"The pole position was not possible in these conditions. We hoped for a good result, and I think I achieved it: I am very happy with the sixth position, and let's see if we can maintain it in the race. It will be difficult because Verstappen will climb fairly quickly: we saw at Monza how Bottas managed to get on the podium despite starting behind everyone. In any case, Mercedes and Red Bull will have their own race".


Kimi Raikkonen will start from the sixteenth position, and the Finnish driver says that the main problem he encountered was a lack of grip towards the end of the session:


"The conditions were not bad, but we lacked a bit of grip. The balance of the car was good, but we were always on the limit throughout the session. With each lap, we were getting better, but towards the end, we couldn't express ourselves as we wanted. We'll try to do our best tomorrow, and we'll see where we end up".


On Sunday, September 26th, 2021, the Russian Grand Prix is scheduled, with the race set to start at 3:00 p.m. local time. Before the race, the fifth unit related to the internal combustion engine, turbocharger, and MGU-H is installed on Valtteri Bottas's car. The Finnish driver is penalized fifteen positions on the starting grid. Antonio Giovinazzi's car undergoes a gearbox replacement, and the Italian driver is penalized with the loss of five positions on the starting grid. The penalty has no practical effect, and he gains one position due to penalties to other drivers. At the start, the sky is cloudy with a 70% chance of rain, and there are gusts of wind up to 30 km/h. The air temperature is 19.1 °C, while the track temperature is 22.6 °C. Carlos Sainz Jr. takes advantage of Lando Norris's slipstream at the start, managing to overtake him and take the lead. George Russell, Lance Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso (who uses the run-off area outside the second turn), and Lewis Hamilton follow. The Spanish Alpine driver loses two positions to his opponents in the next two laps. Max Verstappen, starting from the back, gains several positions, reaching twelfth place after ten laps. Sainz Jr. stays ahead of Lando Norris, but the Ferrari immediately shows a tire performance drop. The British McLaren driver tries to overtake the Spanish driver but fails to make the pass. After slowing down for a few laps, Lando Norris overtakes Carlos Sainz Jr., taking the lead on lap 13. Meanwhile, both Lance Stroll and George Russell have already made their pit stops, switching to hard compound tires. Carlos Sainz Jr. pits on lap 14. On lap 20, Norris is leading the race with over 11 seconds ahead of Ricciardo, 12.5s ahead of Hamilton, and over 13s ahead of Pérez. After two laps, Daniel Ricciardo also pits but is slowed down by a small problem with the tire change, dropping him to fourteenth place.


Lewis Hamilton changes tires on lap 26, switching to hard tires. Shortly after, Max Verstappen also pits and opts for medium compound tires. The race leader, Lando Norris, pits on lap 27. Sergio Pérez takes the lead, followed by Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc. Norris returns to the track in fourth place and, on lap 33, overtakes the Monegasque driver. After being overtaken by Lewis Hamilton as well, Leclerc pits. In this case, too, the tire change is not perfect, and Leclerc re-enters the race in thirteenth place, behind Sebastian Vettel. After the pit stops of Sergio Pérez, whose tire change is particularly slow, and Fernando Alonso, the standings stabilize. Lando Norris is in the lead, followed by Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz Jr., Daniel Ricciardo, and Sergio Pérez. Behind the Mexican driver is Fernando Alonso, who is approached by Max Verstappen but does not have enough speed to overtake the Alpine driver. Lando Norris seems to be able to compete with Lewis Hamilton's lap times. Meanwhile, Sergio Pérez manages to overtake Daniel Ricciardo on the 44th lap, securing the fourth position. Three laps later, with the arrival of rain, the Mexican driver also overtakes Carlos Sainz Jr., reaching third place. The rain seems, at least initially, very light, and the drivers are undecided whether to switch to intermediate tires or opt for soft slick tires. However, the rain intensity increases, leading to a real upheaval in the standings in the final laps, favoring the drivers who first opted for wet tires. 


Four laps from the end, Norris decides to continue with dry tires, unlike Hamilton. The McLaren driver fails to keep his car on the track and decides too late to switch to intermediate tires. Hamilton thus finds himself leading the race, followed by Verstappen, Sainz Jr., and Ricciardo. In the final laps, there is also contact between the two Aston Martins, but they still manage to finish the Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton wins the race, achieving his 100th career victory. The British driver wins with a margin of over 53 seconds over Max Verstappen. Such a large gap between the top two has not occurred since the 2008 British Grand Prix when Lewis Hamilton won with over a minute's lead over Nick Heidfeld. Lando Norris, who finishes the race only in seventh place, still sets the fastest lap. The stewards cancel three times for drivers who did not correctly navigate turn 2, using the external escape route during the race, for Mick Schumacher, George Russell, and Valtteri Bottas, respectively. At the end of the race, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, and Lando Norris are summoned by the stewards: the first two due to contact at turn 9, and the third for not following the procedures set by the race direction during the pit entry. Lance Stroll is penalized ten seconds on the race time and two points on the super license. The Canadian driver's finishing position remains unchanged. Lando Norris receives a reprimand, his first of the season. Lewis Hamilton is proud to have reached the milestone of 100 career victories, being the first driver in history to achieve this feat. The world champion thanks the team and congratulates Lando Norris and McLaren, who were protagonists until a few laps from the end of the race:


"Thanks to all the fans. We have an extraordinary audience; thank you for hosting us. It took a long time to reach victory number 100. I wasn't sure if I would ever get there or not. Lando did a fantastic job. He had an incredible pace and is doing a great job with McLaren. Winning this Grand Prix in front of my old team, McLaren, which was ahead, was bittersweet. They are doing a fantastic job. But now I work for Mercedes, and it's nice that they now have the Mercedes engine again. I didn't know what would happen in the end. The weather was a real unknown. I am really grateful to my team, to all the men and women in the factory. They helped me reach the number 100. Relief? Last night, I wasn't particularly happy with the work I did. I made mistakes in the details, but it certainly wasn't an ideal job. But this morning, I was tremendously determined. I woke up with a bit of neck pain. But my physiotherapist worked in the best way; I couldn't be here without her. I lost a lot at the start, and it was tough. I tried to stay out of trouble. Max did a great job coming in second from the last position. It will be tough from here on out. It would have been tough to overtake Lando. He had a good pace. If he hadn't made mistakes, it would have been tough. A big thanks to the team. Max in second? I can't do anything about that. Certainly, a dream result for him, but I am grateful for the points I earned".


Mercedes Team Principal, Toto Wolff, is also proud of this result, emphasizing the excellent work of the team in choosing the right time to make the pit stop for intermediate tires, crucial for achieving this victory:


"Those final laps were very intense, but we committed to making the pit stop at the right time to secure the victory. Many congratulations to Lewis for his 100th win; what we are witnessing is incredible. It will be talked about for the next few days, but we will only realize in a few years that we were part of this adventure, where no other driver has been able to achieve such a result in the history of the sport. It goes beyond races and world titles because there is so much humanity in this aspect. As for the race, I think it would have been difficult to overtake Norris in dry conditions, as Lewis had trouble overtaking Ricciardo even with the DRS open. Norris managed the race very well, but no one expected the rain to come so suddenly, and it did. These circumstances are extremely complicated because only part of the circuit was wet. Fortunately, we managed to make the pit stop at the ideal moment, and it showed. We could have called Bottas in a bit earlier because, in that case, he could have joined the fight after a very fought race, but he still did an excellent job that allowed him to climb up to the fifth final position. Many congratulations to the team for the commitment and effort; we hadn't won in a while, but I know that results like these give the strength to keep pushing until the end".


Max Verstappen is also very happy at the end of the race. The perfect timing of the pit stop helped him climb to the second position:


"It was really difficult to understand when to come back in. The track was really slippery. We got the timing right. If we had done it a lap earlier, we would have destroyed the intermediates. Starting last and finishing second was positive. The race was not easy. It wasn't easy to overtake, and when you got stuck, it was also easy to damage the tires. Fortunately, the rain came, and it helped us make the final jump forward. Second with the penalty, losing only one position, is not too bad. This morning, I would have signed for this result. A clean race? Many things happened in the first lap and the first stint in general. We had to stay out of trouble and have a clean race. We did it very well, I believe".


However, there were two critical moments in the race for the Dutch driver. The first was during the formation lap when he experienced a battery issue:


"I don't know what happened. I guess it happened only because we were driving very slowly, reaching the starting grid. Once we accelerated again, everything went well".


The second critical moment occurred during a close battle with Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel:


"Charles was fighting with Seb, and they were practically side by side from Turn 2 to Turn 7. I was a bit behind, and Charles tried the move on Seb a bit late, and the German passed him again. I then think that Leclerc didn't realize I was very close, and he threw himself to the right, and I had to avoid him, risking breaking my front wing".


Finally, the Red Bull Racing driver concludes with a brief comment on the challenge that sees him in contention for the World Championship victory, in his opinion, in perfect parity:


"50% for us and 50% for Hamilton".


Red Bull Racing's team principal, Christian Horner, also expresses satisfaction with the result achieved with Max Verstappen in difficult conditions, although the balance is not equally positive regarding the Constructors' World Championship standings:


"You could see it as a hero or a zero at the end of this race; his was a tough call, but he was right. On the contrary, Perez decided to stay out, thinking he could handle the rain, but that wasn't the case. In any case, this Grand Prix could have ended in any way. Max has limited the damage significantly in the Drivers' World Championship standings, which is extraordinary. However, we have conceded something in the Constructors' World Championship. The big news is seeing only two points behind in the standings at the end of a race where we changed the engine. Max was able to climb from twentieth to second place with the right choices, on a circuit historically favorable to Mercedes. In this regard, congratulations are due to Lewis for his 100th victory, which is a tremendous milestone. For us, it's almost a victory, considering the grid penalty for the power unit change. We are all enjoying this result. We must stay focused on the next seven races until the end of the championship; it will be important not to incur penalties and not to make strategic errors, as these could play a decisive role. It will be fascinating to see how it will end from here to Abu Dhabi, but in the meantime, we must keep our attention high on the next race in Turkey".


Horner then explains the problem that occurred during Sergio Perez's pit stop, compromising his chances of achieving a better result:


"We had a slight delay in removing the tire, and then the rear wheel turned, which took more time to secure completely. It was frustrating because without these inaccuracies, we would have re-entered in third place, even though it was regained before the rain. In any case, it was not a problem inherent to the new technical directive. As I mentioned before, everything happened due to delays in removing and securing the tires, and that's what cost Sergio valuable time".


Carlos Sainz Jr. also smiles at the end of the race. After a good start but a complicated race in tire management, the right choice in the pit stop for intermediate tires allowed him to climb onto the podium:


"I had a good start, that was the priority. I didn't want to lose positions, and I succeeded and even passed, taking a great slipstream from Lando. Then unfortunately, I had graining, and from there, the race went bad. I started to struggle. We pitted early, putting on the hard tires. The rain came at the worst time because I was finishing the hard tires. However, we pitted at the right moment and managed to recover third place. Overall, a very positive race for us".


Sainz Jr. particularly recounts the last laps, made hectic by the arrival of rain:


"We were relatively calm. We were third, and I saw that we could stay ahead of Perez until the end of the race. We had the hard tire, but it had a good balance and a good pace. Just five laps from the end, it started raining heavily in the first and second sectors, and all those with the hards, like Lando, Lewis, and I, lost a lot of grip. Instead, everyone on the mediums managed to maintain more temperature and grip and started to pass. From there, we made the perfect call and finished third again. I'm happy, but the next time I'm in first, I wouldn't like them to pass me so easily".


Finally, the Ferrari driver admits to taking a risk at the start:


"It was very tight. I had a good start, but everyone on the outside had a slightly better launch, having a bit more grip. I managed to just keep my nose alongside Russell's to get the slipstream of Norris. We fought wheel to wheel with George until I managed to keep the slipstream. I got level with him, and I made the move thinking: now or never. I don't know when I'll have this opportunity again. Today, I wanted to be aggressive and take a risk at the start. It worked out well".


Charles Leclerc's mood is the opposite of his teammate's. The choice to stay out longer did not turn out to be the best and compromised his final result. The Monegasque driver still applauds the team's work and result:


"There was a discussion with the team about switching to intermediates. The lap where I had the biggest doubt was Carlos' pit stop. At that moment, I was passing him, so I didn't want to create chaos by entering the pit on the same lap and having the cars in the wrong order. But then it was already too late because the rain had arrived. I tried to continue, hoping it would dry up, but by that point, the race was already lost. I can't see any silver lining. Yes, the new power unit was definitely a positive thing for the team. But today, I can't be happy, and personally, it's really disappointing. After a race like this, finishing where I finished is not good. Congratulations to Carlos and the team; I'm happy for them. Plus, he finished ahead of McLaren, so that was a good result. But from my side, I don't see anything positive".


At the end of this race, Lando Norris is aware that he missed the best opportunity of his career to win his first Formula 1 Grand Prix. In his case as well, the decision to stay on track did not work out due to the increasing intensity of the rain, and the McLaren British driver missed the chance for his first career victory, having been in the lead for much of the race:


"I don't know where to start, but I'm still unhappy, not to say devastated. We had decided to stay out until a change in conditions, and once they happened, the team called me to the pits. I decided to stay out anyway, thinking it was the best move. I didn't think the rain would change much in intensity, and indeed, I could still keep the car on track, except for a few scary moments. I think I did everything I could, and despite some mistakes, I had still managed to stay ahead of Lewis. I was told that the rain wouldn't get worse, but actually, it was the opposite of what the team expected. The proof was two laps from the end when we weren't decisive with the decisions. We thought we made the right choice, but we were wrong. We'll reassess this situation so that it doesn't happen again in the future".


Ross Brawn tries to console Lando Norris after this episode, recalling how similar situations are always very difficult to manage, and even more so for those leading the race:


"Lando will feel down now; we all felt his disappointment as the car slid; it was really a shame. I've experienced a similar situation, especially when you have to make a big strategic decision: we've won some, but we've also lost some. An example was when Rubens Barrichello won the 2000 German Grand Prix with Ferrari: he said it wasn't necessary to pit after the rain. We insisted, but he didn't want to come in, and he won the race. These scenarios are very complex, and in Sochi, it was even more so because only half of the track was wet. Even with radar, no one can be sure of how much it will actually rain. Also, if you're leading the race, you don't want to give up. When you're ahead of everyone, the driver behind you can make decisions more calmly because he has nothing to lose. Either you do what the competitor in front of you does, or you pit immediately, and it's unlikely you'll be worse off than you were at the beginning".


He adds:


"Lando will have the opportunity to become an even stronger driver after this episode; among the positive aspects is what he managed to do in qualifying, where he performed better than anyone else. That's why I think he was so insistent with his team. If you ask me why McLaren didn't assert its call even if the driver didn't want to, I would say that the driver himself is in a bubble at that moment. He doesn't see what's happening. In this case, I would say I'm 60% in favor of listening to the team's opinion, but it's very difficult because you don't want to relinquish leadership. The feeling of dismay a driver or team experiences when they realize the decision was wrong, and victory slipped away before their eyes, is terrible; they have all my support, but these mistakes also make F1 so fantastic".


Even George Russell understands the mood of his compatriot:


"It's every driver's worst nightmare to see rain when you're winning. I really feel for him because I've been through it myself, and I know how it feels. I'm sure he'll have other chances to win in the future".


Thanks to the final sixth-place finish, Fernando Alonso manages to gain an additional 8 points in the standings. However, the Spaniard says he missed the chance for a better result:


"I think the third place would have been more indicative of today's final placement. We were unlucky with the rain that arrived late. It was like flipping a coin: some drivers stopped early, and I was in third place when it really started raining. It was impossible to predict. However, sixth place is still a good result, and we deserved it. We looked competitive throughout the race, so there are many positive aspects to consider".


Sebastian Vettel also failed to take full advantage of the opportunities that arose during the Russian Grand Prix. However, the four-time World Champion prefers to congratulate Hamilton on reaching the milestone of 100 victories:


"In the first part of the race, it wasn't easy to make progress in the midst of the pack, but when the rain came at the end, it was a real lottery. It was like a 50/50 chance to return to the pits at the right time for intermediates. At first, it seemed that the rain was lighter, allowing you to stay with slicks. Then, it became heavier just when we were out, and at that point, it was mandatory to come in. When the rain comes towards the end of the race, it can give you a great opportunity, but today it wasn't the case. I still think it was fun for the fans, and I'm happy for Lewis, who got his 100th victory: a huge achievement he deserved".


Kimi Raikkonen, after a challenging race, manages to climb back and secure two points by changing tires at the right time. The Finn is satisfied with the work done:


"It was a great result that we fought hard for. We managed to hold off our opponents in dry conditions, but it still wasn't easy to overtake them, especially in the midst of the train of cars with the DRS open. In the end, we chose the right time to change tires: I feared that the conditions would worsen, so I decided to come in. It was a decision that helped us; until the end, we did the best we could, and in some moments, we even showed it".


Thanks to this victory, Lewis Hamilton returns to the top of the World Championship standings, surpassing Max Verstappen by just two points. Following, Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris, and Sergio Perez, who maintain their positions, and Carlos Sainz Jr., who, due to the podium gained in Sochi, overtakes his teammate, Charles Leclerc. In the Constructors' Championship standings, Mercedes increase their lead over Red Bull to 33 points. McLaren remain in third place, with a 17.5-point advantage over Ferrari. On Sunday, October 10th, 2021, at the Intercity Istanbul Park, the Turkish Grand Prix, the fifteenth race of the World Championship, will take place. The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen continues on with great interest and numerous twists. It will be crucial for both teams to avoid component replacements of the power unit, in order to prevent new penalties that could compromise their drivers' path to the championship title.


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