Who was simply sensational in Sochi? Who needs to improve in Japan? Check out our Russia Grand Prix driver ratings…
Lewis Hamilton: 50 points clear. Five races to go. Get the champagne on ice. This was far from a perfect weekend from the Brit and Mercedes; Hamilton threw away pole position with an uncharacteristic mistake at Turn 7 and he was left with some work to do when the pit-stop strategy allowed Sebastian Vettel to make the under-cut work momentarily.
He cleaned up the Mercedes mess and then was allowed to pass Bottas for the race win to extend his World Championship lead even further. Whether we agree with the team orders or not, Mercedes are doing exactly what is needed to bring home both titles come the end of the season. 7.5
Valtteri Bottas: Joy of a second pole position of the season turned to heartbreak on race day as Mercedes activated wingman mode in Sochi to allow Hamilton to maximise his result for the World Drivers’ Championship.
Bottas hardly put a foot wrong during the 53 laps; he got off to an excellent start and was seemingly in control, but he is paying the price for not being in the title hunt at all this season. He is showing how valuable he is to Mercedes, just not in the manner many of us want to see.
The sharp pang of sympathy we felt when he asked about the prospect of switching positions back towards the end of the race will be the lasting emotion from Russia. 8.5
Sebastian Vettel: Vettel has already showed in Canada and at Silverstone that he and Ferrari are capable of snatching wins from happy Mercedes hunting grounds. However, in Russia, that never looked like happening as the Scuderia’s pace vanished into thin air and tyre wear became a sudden, worrying issue.
Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel all made excellent starts and it appeared the German was at least going to split the two Mercedes, but the slipstream that Hamilton picked up but an end to those hopes.
The Ferrari strategy team made a rare correct call which allowed Vettel to under-cut his title rival, but a crucial mistake via a lock-up re-opened the door for Hamilton take back the position. Add in smaller errors that contributed somewhat to Vettel being half a second off pole position, and you are looking at a driver who knows another glorious opportunity to win the Championship has all but slipped away. 6.5
Kimi Raikkonen: There are just five races left in Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari career and on this evidence he is going to head toward the sunset very quietly indeed.
A very scruffy final Q3 lap, as is usually tradition with the Ice Man, was followed up with a largely anonymous race in P4 – a result never under threat once it became apparent that Max Verstappen could not get the ultrasofts in the right groove. 6
Max Verstappen:What a performance from the birthday boy! Whenever the Red Bulls are starting from the back of the grid because of engine penalties then we always expect them to climb all the way back up to P5 and P6 finishes in this two-tier system that exists in Formula 1.
Are they opening the voting for driver of the day today or just giving it straight to Verstappen?
— Pablo Elizalde (@EliGP) September 30, 2018
But the manner in which Verstappen got back up there was absolutely incredible. He chewed up and spat out six drivers on the first lap alone from P19 on the grid and by lap 8 he was up to P5 once again.
His pace on the soft tyres remained exceptional throughout and actually led the most laps in the race despite his lowly starting position. A P4 finish would have been more than deserved, but the quickly degrading ultrasofts in the second part of his race ensured he was unable to put Raikkonen under any pressure toward the end. 10
Daniel Ricciardo: This is the first time that Ricciardo has ever finished in the top six at Sochi, but he still won’t feel like the monkey is off his back in what he has labelled his “weirdest season yet”.
While team-mate Verstappen was able to slice his way through the field from the back, it was a much more arduous affair for the Aussie starting one place up the road.
It became clear during Ricciardo’s pit-stop that his inability to keep the Red Bull highlight reel rolling was because of a damaged nose sustained on the first lap.
It is now 10 races without a podium finish for Ricciardo, one more in Japan next weekend will equal his worst barren run in his Formula 1 career. At least his beloved West Coast Eagles won the AFL Grand Final. 6
Charles Leclerc: Leclerc is really getting back into groove as he moves closer and closer to his dream Ferrari move. Back in Q3 for the first time since Germany and just 0.006 seconds away from out-qualifying Esteban Ocon, the Monegasque secured his best-ever starting position in P7 and Sauber’s best in the turbo hybrid era.
Leclerc was far from finished there, in the race he got the jump on Ocon at the start and then boldly went around the outside of Kevin Magnussen at Turn 3 to ensure he finished best of the rest and on the lead lap as well. If Verstappen hadn’t been so brilliant then Leclerc would have surely been a shoe-in for Driver of the Day, but we think he was just as impressive. 10
Kevin Magnussen: With his Haas future resolved it was business as usual for Magnussen, who put in a typically robust drive around the Sochi Autodrom. He qualified best of the rest, and by some margin, but lost out to Leclerc in the opening stages before defending hard, too hard some will say, from the likes of Ocon and Sainz. How he escaped at least an investigation for either incident has left us scratching our heads a bit.
He would go on to frustrate the Force Indias for the rest of the afternoon, with neither Ocon or Perez able to find a way past even with team orders in effect. His P8 finish puts him back as the leader of the ‘B’ World Championship. 6.5
Esteban Ocon: After being taken out by his team-mate in Singapore on the first lap, Ocon was able to start on a clean slate in Sochi with team orders back in place at Force India. With Red Bull out of the equation in Q3, he was able to match his joint-second best qualifying of the season with a P6 start.
Losing out to Leclerc in such emphatic fashion at the start would have hurt, as would the failed over-cut attempt on cream-crackered hypersofts when trying to find a way past an always difficult customer in Kevin Magnussen.
But, nevertheless, it’s still a double points finish for the team, their third in four races as newly-named Racing Point Force India, so it was not all doom and gloom for the Frenchman. On the track, at least… 7.5
Sergio Perez: The Mexican needed to redeem himself somewhat after his dreadful performance in Singapore and he did so with a solid enough drive in Sochi. He continues to get walloped by Ocon in qualifying, but the two played nicely on race day as they both tried and failed to find a way beyond Magnussen in the Haas. He still marked his 150th race start with a points finish. 7
Always a bit painful to finish P11. But we pushed hard all weekend, had a great race and some good pace. So all in all it’s a positive sunday. @KevinMagnussen did great to score some points 👏🏼. Now we go to my favourite circuit : Suzuka 👍👍👍#r8g
— Romain Grosjean (@RGrosjean) September 30, 2018
We didn’t see the ugly side of Grosjean in Sochi, but we did not see the really good side either as both Red Bulls swept their way through from the back and knocked the Frenchman out of the points. Having to start on those pesky hypersofts did not help matters either. 6
Nico Hulkenberg: Renault’s qualifying tactic of sitting out Q2 for free choice of tyres for race day did not turn out as hoped as both Renault cars remained firmly outside of the points places. Something was amiss for Hulkenberg, who had to fuel save when he had the fastest tyres strapped on for the second part of his race. 5.5
But he was once again vastly overshadowed by his far superior rookie team-mate Leclerc and a coming together at the start made sure once and for all that the Swede would fall away from the points positions after starting the race in P10. 5.5
Fernando Alonso: Ahead of the race in Sochi, Alonso said it was a “weekend to prove McLaren’s true performance” and he did indeed show us just how uncompetitive the MCL33 really is as he remained bogged down in a grimy battle with Williams for P14.
Not long now, Fernando, before this nightmare is over once and for all. 5.5
Lance Stroll: Stroll was dead last in qualifying but he was not helped at all by the yellow flags caused by team-mate Sirotkin. Penalties to others, though, meant the Canadian was boosted up to P14 on the starting grid, but even that is a position where you start to look back rather than forward where the FW41 is concerned.
Stroll was comfortably ahead of his team-mate come race day, and an early stop allowed him to be in something resembling attack mode, finishing within a second behind Fernando Alonso’s McLaren for a P14 battle. It tells you all you need to know about both of Formula 1’s fallen giants. 6
Tough weekend in Russia, time for sushi in Japan 😋🎌 pic.twitter.com/3BpJr3RKV7
— Stoffel Vandoorne (@svandoorne) September 30, 2018
Stoffel Vandoorne: It is now a year since Vandoorne out-qualified Alonso and, even with a tow in Sochi, he still finished four tenths behind his team-mate. Sentences like that make it very easy to see why he won’t be on the grid for the 2019 season.
A lonely afternoon for the Belgian followed on race day, but there was a rare glimmer of, erm, joy, when he sneaked past Sainz’s broken car for P17. 5
Carlos Sainz: This was a weekend to forget for Sainz and Renault. He was driving with an eye infection throughout the weekend and, if that was not annoying enough, any hopes of throwing himself in the thick of the midfield battle for points quickly evaporated after picking up bargeboard and floor damage when jostling for track space at the start. 5
Sergey Sirotkin: Sirotkin was in the thick of the action in the previous race in Singapore, but his home race saw a return to his usual uneventful display in that rotten FW41. An embarrassing spin ensured a 12th Q1 elimination and, even though he was promoted to P13 because of all the engine penalties flying around, he soon fell back to his familiar spot at the back of the pack – not helped by a coming together at the start of the race. 5
Did not finish
Pierre Gasly: The Frenchman felt that something was amiss with his brake pedal at the start of the race and those fears were realised by lap 6 when his brakes suddenly failed. Armed with a Spec-3 engine for next weekend, hopefully there are better times to come for Gasly and Toro Rosso in Honda’s home grand prix in Japan. N/A
Brendon Hartley: These are very nervy times for Brendon Hartley, who has been explicitly told by Dr Helmut Marko he has “five or six races left” to beat team-mate Pierre Gasly and keep his seat at Toro Rosso. He wasn’t given a real opportunity to do so in Sochi after his brakes also failed at pretty much the exact same moment as Gasly. N/A