After some incredible races with Ferrari winning at Belgium, Italy, and Singapore, the F1 circus arrived at Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix, the 16th of 21 races in 2019, and as they had in Singapore, pit-lane speed limit was 60 kph (40 mph). As a side note, Robert Kubica was the only driver to never have driven at Sochi.
Lando Norris' McLaren MCL43 was the first car to do an installation lap at Sochi, slowly followed by the rest of drivers. The first timed lap was a 1:43.328 by Lance Stroll in the Racing Point. The first VSC (Virtual Safety Car) was deployed to recover Daniil Kvyat's Toro Rosso which got stranded on track at turn 15 with fuel system issues. Ironically, the only car not to have set a timed lap during the first 30 minutes of the session was Lando Norris' McLaren. He did set one four minutes later.
At half session, it was Hamilton from Bottas, Leclerc, Vettel, and Hulkenberg the top five times.
During the last few seconds of the session, Valtteri Bottas had a rear wing failure with the DRS system, and was asked to drive carefully to the pits. Just an instance later, Daniel Ricciardo spun and hit the wall, damaging the rear wing of his Renault RS19.
At the end of practice one it was Charles Leclerc who had the fastest lap of the session, a 1:34.462. He was followed by Verstappen, Vettel, Bottas, and Hamilton.
Just as it had happened in FP1, drivers took some time to set installation and timed laps. And as the first session, it was Lando Norris the first one to come out. After the first 20 minutes, the VSC (Virtual Safety Car) was deployed to repair an arrow board at turn two.
After the first 30 minutes, most cars had medium tires (yellow), except for Bottas, Gasly, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, and Sainz on hards (whites), and Russell and Kubica on softs (reds). As for timed laps, Leclerc was fastest (1:34.148), followed by Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen and Hamilton.
At half time, all drivers were on softs (reds) and it was Max Verstappen who had the fastest lap (1:33.162), followed by Leclerc and Vettel.
With just over ten minutes to go and we had a very close call, as Lewis Hamilton was on a flying lap going flat at turn 3 when he encountered Alex Albon on an out lap. Hamilton swerved left (towards the inside of the turn) to avoid what would had been a huge crash.
In the last minute, Magnussen was asked to get back slowly to the pits as there was an issue with his VF19. And it was Verstappen's 1:33.162 the fastest lap of the day. He was followed by Leclerc, Bottas, Hamilton, and Vettel.
After some rain during the night and very early morning, the day appeared to be rather good with 21.5 ℃ air temperature.
Cars started coming out to the track and it was Alex Albon's RB15 the first to set a timed lap, a 1:37.881. After about 20 minutes, Daniil Kvyat stopped yet again with engine issues on track. VSC (Virtual Safety Car) was deployed to recover the ailing STR14.
Then the Ferrari teammates started to trade fastest laps, with Leclerc delivering a blistering 1:32.733. A time that will stand to the end of the session. He was followed by Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, and Verstappen the top 5.
George Russell was the first driver to get on track. Followed by both Ferrari cars on mediums (yellows) and everybody else behind on softs (reds). On his first flying lap, Vettel went wide, losing lots of time and having to abort the lap. Leclerc went fastest, setting an early benchmark, 1:33.613.
Session was red flagged as Alex Albon crashed at turn 13, destroying the rear of his Red Bull.
Green light came with 6:38 minutes left in the session, and since Vettel was 19th at the time, he came out on softs (reds), and did a 1:33.032, the new benchmark. And as happened at Monza, everybody came out at the same time with just 2 minutes on the clock creating a bit of a havoc. Raikkonen had a bit of a wobble at last corner and was first to be eliminated. Also out were Russell, Kubica, Albon, and Kvyat, who did not set a lap time.
The second part of qualifying started with all 15 cars leaving the pits at almost the same time. Both Mercedes were the only ones on mediums (Yellows).
Leclerc set an early benchmark time with a 1:32.434 lap. And with less than three minutes on the clock, everybody came out, and all on softs (reds). Vettel did improve his time to just 0.102 behind Leclerc. Out were Gasly, Perez, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, and Stroll.
The final part of qualifying saw all ten drivers coming out early on. Times started coming down until Charles Leclerc does the fastest ever lap at Sochi, 1:31.801! wow, only to make an even better one at the final shootout, a blistering fast 1:31.628!! and gets Pole Position, his fourth in a row! Hamilton did a very good lap at the end, pushing Vettel to third. Fourth came Max Verstappen, but with his penalty drops to 9th on the starting grid. Bottas will start alongside Vettel. Behind came Sainz, Hulkenberg, Norris, Grosjean, and Ricciardo.
Last driver to take four poles on a row was Michael Schumacher, so young Charles is with amazing company.
The Russian Grand Prix saw both Red Bull's, both Toro Rosso's, and Kubica's Williams getting penalties for changing several power unit parts, besides, Kvyat had additional on-track issues with the new parts on his STR14, and did not set a qualifying time, and Alex Albon started from the pit lane after his crash on Saturday. Also, Kimi Raikkonen started his 307th race in F1!
What a start! Sebastian Vettel passed Leclerc from third on the grid, but Romain Grosjean's Haas was hit by Antonio Giovinazzi's Alfa, who got squished and also hitting Daniel Ricciardo's Renault. The Haas ended up on the wall and the Safety Car was deployed, meanwhile Ricciardo limped to the pits with a puncture tire.
Race was restarted on lap 4 of 53. Vettel set fastest lap, ahead of Leclerc with Hamilton almost 3 seconds behind. On lap 6th Leclerc was informed Vettel would let him by, on lap 7th Vettel as asked to let Leclerc pass, but was too far behind and could not close up enough without compromising their 1-2 at the time.
On lap 8th, Raikkonen was given a drive-through penalty for his jump start. Meanwhile, Vettel kept posting fastest lap after fastest lap. By lap 15th, Verstappen was already 6th, just a second behind Sainz. On lap 17th, Hulkenberg went into the pits to change tires, but lost lots of time with a stuck front right, staying still for 7.2 seconds, losing several places and coming out P17. somewhere else on track, Verstappen passed Sainz for fifth.
On lap 23, Leclerc came in for mediums (yellows), coming out in fourth, behind Bottas. Two laps later, Leclerc sets fastest lap. Next lap, Ricciardo had to retire from the race, after having sustained too much damage on his Renault after the accident with Giovinazzi on lap one. At the end of that same lap, Vettel came into the pits for mediums (yellows), coming out in fourth, behind teammate Leclerc. On lap 28, Vettel retired from the race with a failed MGU-K unit, his first DNF in 2019. VSC (Virtual Safety Car) was deployed, and most drivers pitted under it, including Hamilton and Bottas. Hamilton kept the lead and came out P1. Meanwhile, George Russell's Williams crashed, Safety Car was deployed. Leclerc came back into the pits and changed tires back, softs (reds), he came out in third, just losing a place to Bottas.
Safety car ended on lap 33 and it was Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, on the same tires (reds), with Verstappen on fourth but on mediums (yellows), all of them pretty bunched up. Everything was set up for a great battle between Bottas defending from Leclerc, and it did not disappointed, Leclerc tried and tried lap after lap but could not get past the Mercedes.
On lap 43, Alex Albon, who started from the pit-lane, passed Magnussen for sixth place. A lap later, Magnussen went wide at turn 2 and lost 7th place to Sergio Perez. A few laps later, Albon passed Sainz for fifth place. To us, he was Driver of the Race.
Mercedes has never lost at Sochi, and 2019 was no different, Lewis Hamilton wins the Russian Grand Prix in a Mercedes 1-2, with Charles Leclerc in third.