Russian GP 2019
SEPTEMBER 29, 2019
Race Analysis - Double whammy
By Dan Knutson
Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc ran first and second during the opening stages of the Russian Grand Prix, but the team then ran into a double whammy that handed the victory to Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton. This is how his win unfolded.
Leclerc earned pole position for the sixth time this season.
Next up on the grid were Hamilton and Vettel. Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas, who would be the only other player for a podium finish, started fourth.
"Before the race, as always, we spoke with the drivers," Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said, "and we asked Charles to give Seb a tow, because that would be the best way for him to get ahead of Hamilton and for the two of them to be first and second come the end of the opening lap. In fact, Seb got a fantastic start, which allowed him to pass Hamilton even before the entry to the corner."
The plan worked at Vettel took the lead in front of Leclerc and Hamilton.
Romain Grosjean, Antonio Giovinazzi and Daniel Ricciardo tangled on the first lap. That brought out the safety car for three laps.
During the safety car period the word "swap" was heard over the Ferrari radio.
After the restart, the team did indeed tell Vettel to swap places with Leclerc. He declined. And he was pulling away from Leclerc.
"I respected everything; we will speak later. But now it is difficult to close the gap obviously," Leclerc radioed.
SOFTS AND MEDIUMS
The Ferrari drivers started the race on Pirelli's soft compound slicks. So they would have to pit before the Mercedes drivers who were on the medium tires.
Leclerc pitted for the medium compound Pirellis after 22 laps. Vettel pitted four laps later and came back out behind Leclerc.
It looked like Ferrari had engineered the pit stops to swap Leclerc back into the lead. But this was a misconception.
"The undercut was not for the reason for giving back the position to Charles," Binotto explained. "The undercut was as well because Charles stopped because he had worn tires, his left-rear was starting to be worn, so it was the right moment for him to pit. We knew as well that if we had stopped both our cars there, we would have been vulnerable on safety cars by giving the lead to Hamilton.
"So we tried to stay out as much as we could with Seb, simply to protect in case of safety cars later in the race. Again, Seb, his tyres were worn, it was the right moment to pit. As a matter of fact, Charles was ahead, Seb was behind, but the race was still not over and there would have been plenty of opportunity to decide with them what would have been the best option later on."
After he left the pits Vettel had to stop out on the track.
"The team asked me to stop the car because there was a problem with a hybrid component on my power unit," he said. "I hope the engine will be okay for the coming races. It has definitely been not our day today."
Vettel's parked car triggered the Virtual Safety Car. With the pace on the track slowed, Hamilton, now in the lead, and Bottas, third behind Leclerc, could make their pit stops without losing their positions.
George Russell now crunched his Williams into the barriers. That brought out the real safety car.
Ferrari brought Leclerc back on after 30 laps to give him a set of the soft compound slicks so that he could maybe attack Hamilton and Bottas who was now second.
The track went to green at the end of lap 32, and now it was chase to the finish on lap 53. But Leclerc couldn't pass Bottas, so had no chance of passing Hamilton.
"We definitely had the pace to finish in front of Valtteri but it was quite tricky to follow," Leclerc said after finishing third. "As soon as I was getting around 1.5 seconds behind him everything would overheat and it would be quite a difficult time for us. Third today was the best we could have done unfortunately with the safety car."
SIX PACK TWO
Mercedes has now won all six editions of the Russian Grand Prix. Hamilton now has won the race four times.
"Ferrari had a quick car all weekend long," Bottas said after finishing second. "I think they were quicker as well today, so to walk away with a 1-2 means that we did a great job as a team in all other areas."
A LONG TIME COMING
Hamilton's last victory this season was in Hungary on August 4.
"This win feels like it has been a long time coming," he said, "and it was just an incredible job from the whole team: never giving up, pushing forward, always trying to be innovative. It's incredibly inspiring to be part of that and amazing to have this result today considering how quick the Ferraris were in that opening stint. It was a really hard task to keep up with them, especially on the offset tyre, but we kept pushing and the car felt really good today."