The sixth running of the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi focused on the resurgance of Ferrari in 2019 following three consecutive victories.
Mercedes have won on every occasion in Russia prior to 2019, so this was the perfect opportunity for the German team to bounce back from a lacklustre second half of the season.
There was also attention on Valtteri Bottas, who has had a lot of memories at Sochi. It was the track that gave the Fin his first victory in 2017 and also where he was ordered to give up the race victory to his teammate in 2018. Having not won a race in 2019 since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Bottas was determined to end the season on a high note as well as keeping himself in the title fight against Hamilton.
So did Ferrari keep up their momentum? Did Mercedes conquer in Russia again? Did the others fair in the battle of the midfield? Here’s our top 10 for the Russian Grand Prix
10. Nico Hulkenberg
With his plans for 2020 still unknown, Hulkenberg continued to end his time at Renault on a high as they looked to chase down McLaren.
Qualifying was solid for the German as he would start the race from 7th after Max Verstappen’s penalty. He also outqualified his teammate Daniel Ricciardo for the first time since the Hungarian Grand Prix.
9. Lando Norris
Following on from 7th place in Singapore, Norris was keen for a good result in Russia and a third consecutive points scoring position.
Despite McLaren not looking competitive on Friday’s practice sessions, the team improved overnight and Norris qualified in the top 10, though he was outqualified by teammate Carlos Sainz.
Norris had a good start from 9th as he passed Sergio Perez on the opening lap to take 8th, but found himself falling back behind the Mexican later in the race.
Although Norris gained another place thanks to Vettel’s DNF, he lost it shortly afterwards when he passed by Albon.
Spending the final stages of the race holding off Kevin Magnussen and Hulkenberg, Norris took home 8th to finish where he qualified.
A solid performance from the teenager as he and McLaren continue the fight against Renault for fourth in the Constructor’s Championship.
8. Kevin Magnussen
Haas have struggled massively in 2019 following from their spectacular performance in 2018, so a good result as well as scoring points was something they needed.
Magnussen admitted he had a poor qualifying after he made a mistake in Q2 and would start the race in 13th place once those around him took their penalties.
The Dane made up three places on the opening lap following the collision between Romain Grosjean, Antonio Giovinazzi and Ricciardo and made it into the top 10 as the safety car was brought up.
His race was made even better as when Haas chose to keep Magnussen out longer than those around him, who had made their stops, a VSC was brought out that allowed the Haas driver to jump to 6th place.
Magnussen eventually lost out to Albon and Perez before he was handed a 5-second time penalty for leaving the track at turn 2 as he defended from the Racing Point.
With the penalty in place, Magnussen had to push hard to make up the five seconds he gained from that penalty. At the chequered flag, he had done enough to keep ahead of Hulkenberg and finish in 9th.
This would be Magnussen’s and Haas’ first points they scored since the German Grand Prix.
7. Max Verstappen
Coming into the race with a 5-place penalty for a new Spec-4 Engine in preparation for Japan, Verstappen certainly had some overtaking to do to get in amongst Ferrari and Mercedes.
The Dutchman would qualify 4th on Saturday, which would drop him down to 9th for the race on Sunday.
He gained places at the start on Hulkenberg and Grosjean, but found himself stuck behind the Racing Point of Sergio Perez for a number of laps.
Once he cleared Perez along with the McLarens of Norris and Sainz, Verstappen was a long way behind the top 4.
Vettel’s retirement brought Verstappen up to 4th place and a pitstop to change to the medium tyres thanks to the VSC that was deployed.
A Safety Car was then deployed following Russell’s crash which then helped to close the gap to the top 4, who had all pitted for soft tyres.
At the restart, the Red Bull could only watch as the cars ahead of him sped into the distance leaving Verstappen to bring the car home and take 4th place.
Verstappen drove a solid race, but just didn’t have the pace to challenge the top teams.
6. Alexander Albon
If Verstappen had a tough race with his penalty, his teammate had an even tougher race ahead of him.
Albon also had a 5-place penalty, but would soon find himself at the back of the grid as he crashed in qualifying and was knocked out of Q1. He then was forced to start from the pitlane after changing his floor.
On a track that was difficult to overtake on, Albon drove a brilliant recovery race. He made some very good moves, including a brave pass on Pierre Gasly down the inside of Turn 3 on his way back to the points.
Pitting under the VSC for soft tyres, Albon charged through to finish in 5th place at the chequered flag.
Though he finished behind his teammate both in qualifying and the race, Albon’s recovery was incredible in just his fourth race in Red Bull and in his rookie season. There is still a lot to learn for the London-born Thai driver, but his progress and confidence is building up very nicely.
5. Valtteri Bottas
On a track that he is always strong on, Bottas was looking to take the fight to his teammate to show the fight for the title isn’t over yet.
It didn’t start strong for the Fin as he had two scruffy qualifying runs where he finished in 5th place. With Hamilton in 2nd, it was the first time Bottas has been outqualified by a teammate at the Russian Grand Prix.
Bottas had an even poorer race start as he found himself behind Sainz on the opening lap before passing him later on in the race. Once he did pass the McLaren, however, he found himself further adrift from Hamilton and even further behind from the Ferraris.
Bottas’ race worked out better later on as Vettel retired to bring the VSC out. Having started on the medium tyre and had yet to make a stop, the VSC was the perfect opportunity to pit. He originally came out in third place, but Leclerc made a second stop which promoted Bottas to 2nd.
Bottas did a good job to fend off Leclerc during the remainder of the race despite the Ferrari looking quicker on pace. He made no mistakes and kept Leclerc to a point where he could get close but not close enough to launch an overtake.
Bottas was rewarded for his solid drive by finishing 2nd for the second year in a row in Russia.
4. Sebastian Vettel
After taking his first victory of the season at Singapore, Vettel looked to build on the momentum with a strong result in Russia.
Vettel looked strong in qualifying, but not as strong as his teammate Leclerc who took pole position whilst the German finished 3rd behind Hamilton.
The four-time World Champion made an incredible start from the second row of the grid, taking advantage from Leclerc to take the lead of the race.
The initial phases of the race saw Vettel, Leclerc and Ferrari squabbling over which car should be at the front before they decided to let their drivers go as they are and they would make the switch later on.
The swap happened at the pitstops where Leclerc had pitted first and undercut Vettel as a result. But the German had a much bigger issue…
Moments after he made his stop, Vettel came to a complete halt with what appeared to be an electrical issue. This would be the German’s first retirement of the season and the first time he has retired from a race since the 2018 German Grand Prix.
3. Charles Leclerc
Like Vettel, Leclerc had also come to Russia with a lot of momentum following his three consecutive pole positions he has taken at the previous race weekends.
His triplets of pole positions became quadruplets as he stormed to pole position, four-tenths clear of second-place man Lewis Hamilton.
Without a slipstream ahead of him, Leclerc could only watch as his teammate stormed ahead of him to take the lead of the race.
Leclerc struggled to keep up with Vettel and so it was down to his pitstop to get ahead of his teammate. The Monegasque pitted first whilst Vettel was left out, allowing Leclerc to come out ahead of the German for the net lead.
When Vettel stopped, the VSC was deployed and it allowed Hamilton to pit and come out ahead of Leclerc for the lead of the race.
Interestingly, Leclerc made a second stop for another set of soft tyres but found himself now behind the second Mercedes of Bottas.
Though he got close, Leclerc could do nothing to pass the Fin in the closing stages of the race and had to settle for 3rd place behind the silver arrows.
2. Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton had a comfortable lead in the championship, but that didn’t stop him noticing that Ferrari were very strong and Mercedes had work to do to catch them up.
Hamilton qualified on the front row alongside Leclerc, which he was pleased with since he was able to split the Ferrari. This was especially given how strong Ferrari had been in all of the practice sessions.
Hamilton lost out to Vettel at the start and was watching the Ferraris streaking away from the five-time Champion.
When both Ferraris made their stop, both Mercedes stayed out since they were on the medium tyres and could run longer in the race.
They didn’t stay out for much longer as Vettel’s retirement brought out the VSC, allowing Hamilton to pit and retain the lead of the race from Leclerc.
With Leclerc struggling to pass Bottas, Hamilton kept his head down and took the race win for a third time in Sochi.
The win meant Mercedes retained a 100% record of winning every Russian Grand Prix as well as Hamilton extending his championship lead further, especially when he took the fastest lap of the race.
1. Carlos Sainz
Following three poor races that has seen no points being scored, Sainz was keen to make up for lost ground with a strong result in Sochi.
Qualfying saw him qualify 6th, which became 5th after Verstappen’s penalty.
He passed Bottas on the opening lap and was able to hold off the Fin for a short period of time before the Mercedes blasted past the McLaren as they went into Turn 2.
With the exception of the two Red Bulls passing him later on in the race, Sainz drove a very lonely race. He did not apply any pressure on the top teams but had a massive buffer of time to the cars behind and drove comfortably to end up finishing in 6th place.
Sainz takes the top spot of the rankings for a great drive after three disappointing races, having the pace that made him comfortably ahead of the midfield and showing another example of his speed and consistency across a race weekend.