Russian GP 2017

MAY 1, 2017

Race Report - Immune to Pressure: How Bottas won his first race


By Dan Knutson

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas beat Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel in Russia on his way to winning his first grand prix. Here's how he accomplished the victory.


Bottas lost the race in qualifying. His Mercedes was fast but he couldn't put all his quick lap sectors together at the same time and he started third. The winner in Russia in the past three years has started the race from the front row of the grid. Someone forgot to inform Bottas about this as he vaulted by the Ferraris of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen that were on that front row this year to take the lead at Turn 2 on lap 1.


Bottas used the slipstream from Vettel to close up on the run to Turn 2.

"I saw Valtteri coming," Vettel said, "and I thought 'okay, it will be close' but it felt like I had a tent dragged behind me and he was gaining a lot. He was able even before we hit the braking to come back and shut the door. So I did well but [there was] nothing I could have done. I had the outside line but nowhere to go so in reality that's part of where we lost the race."


The restart after the safety car, which came out because of the Romain Grosjean/Jolyon Palmer accident, might have presented a chance for Bottas to lose the lead. But he made a clean getaway.


Once in the lead, Bottas pulled away from Vettel.

"The first stint: we were just not quick enough to stay with him," Vettel said.


This was a one pit stop race, so there was no chance for the drivers to try alternative strategies to gain positions on track. Vettel did stop eight laps later than Bottas to switch from the ultra soft Pirellis to the super soft slicks. That gave the Ferrari driver fresher tires in the final laps when he was trying to reel in the Mercedes. But it didn't make a difference in the end.


Kimi Raikkonen finished third and was never able fight for first.

"The race was decided at the start," he said, "and I had a pretty bad one. I thought I was losing a lot, but I managed to get the position back and stay there. My car was good all the way through the race, but after that, not a lot happened."


Fourth-placed Lewis Hamilton just couldn't get his car to sing and was therefore never a challenger for the lead.

"In his debrief he felt that he couldn't make the car and the tires function," Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said. "We know it is very difficult to keep the tires in the right window. It's something we need to work on because the Ferrari seems to struggle less the window is probably larger. He [Lewis] was never in that window. Whether it was a tire specific issue or setup we need to find out. But if one thing is for sure, if there's someone who knows his way around Sochi it is Lewis."


Right at the end of the race Bottas and Vettel came upon Felipe Massa in the Williams. Bottas was able to squeeze by but Vettel got stuck. Initially, Vettel blamed Massa. But Massa said he was a non-factor because he pulled to one side of the track to give Vettel room to pass.

"Anyway, it didn't matter," Massa said, "because Valtteri was never going to lose this race."


Vettel piled on the pressure in the final laps, closing to within 0.6 of a second of Bottas. But Bottas was immune to the pressure other than asking for less radio chat from his engineer so he could concentrate and held on to the lead to win a grand prix for the first time.