Leclerc left steaming as Vettel puts it to the metal

THERE was no love lost between Ferrari team mates Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel in the Russian Grand Prix overnight.

The Russian Grand Prix is the longest Formula 1 race of the year, with 53 laps of the virtually flat 5.8km Sochi circuit equating to 309.9km.

But, despite having the ingredients for an exciting race, spiced with some serious rivalry and tension in the Ferrari camp, the 2019 grand prix turned out to be almost as flat as the circuit.

It started off badly for Daniel Ricciardo, whose Renault made contact with the Haas of Romain Grosjean and Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo on the opening lap.

Grosjean, probably the unluckiest driver in Formula 1, ended up with his car in the barriers, while Ricciardo’s Renault sustained a puncture.

Giovinazzi soldiered on to finish 15th, but Ricciardo’s car sustained too much damage and he later parked it in the pits.

That was just the start of it.

Charles Leclerc, who put his Ferrari on pole for the fourth consecutive time, was favoured to win, but teammate, or, more accurately team arch rival, Sebastian Vettel, pushed past in the second corner to grab the lead.

He then ignored team requests to let Leclerc through, opened the taps on his Ferrari, tore away from the field — and retired at half distance with a doomed engine component.

The Ferraris and McLarens pitted early, but that proved to be costly due to the Virtual Safety Car period during which the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas popped into the pits for fresh rubber — and emerged in the lead.

Hamilton then extended his advantage while Bottas played his part in team defence, effectively blocking Leclerc’s efforts to get by on a circuit with limited overtaking possibilities.  

Many fans saw it as a cheap shot, but it gave the Merc team the victory they wanted and kept their record of wins at every grand prix at Sochi intact.

And that’s how they ended: Hamilton and Bottas first and second, Leclerc third.

Fourth was Max Verstappen, finishing ahead of Red Bull team-mate Alex Albon, who started last after he crashed out of qualifying.

In sixth came Carlos Sainz in the McLaren, some two seconds in front of Sergio Perez who had a good run in the Racing Point, followed by the McLaren of Lando Norris, Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Nico Hulkenberg in the Renault.

The Red Bulls and Toro Rossos all had to drop grid places because Honda replaced elements of their power units in preparation for a good showing in their home Grand Prix of Japan in a fortnight.

Some of the best action was between Alex Albon (Red Bull) and Pierre Gasly in the Toro Rosso, the two going wheel-to-wheel in an extended tussle before Albon surged ahead.

In the Ferrari debacle, Vettel was remarkably vague about his action.

“I don’t know exactly what happened,” he said. 

“We had an agreement. I spoke with Charles [Leclerc] before the race, I thought it was quite clear, but maybe I missed something.” 

The Williams team had yet another dismal outing, with neither car finishing and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen should have finished seventh instead of ninth, but collected a five-second penalty for running off track late in the race.

Renault, too, had another torrid time.

A poor start for Hulkenberg, who started from sixth, lost him three places, before a slow first pit-stop dropped him out of the top 10. 

Further misfortune followed when the ill-timed Virtual Safety Car allowed others to pit and gain positions. But he fought his way back up the order to finish tenth.

Ricciardo fared worse.

It became obvious the damage was much more widespread, with huge aerodynamic and balance loss. 

“Our race was pretty much over from the start. I had too much damage on the car to carry on, which is a shame,” he said. 

“In terms of the accident, I was just a passenger.”

Team principal Cyril Abiteboul said it was a frustrating day.

“Since the summer break, we’ve been strong in qualifying with both cars in the top 10. But, in three races out of four, things haven’t gone our way.

 “The car has the pace and we need to focus on achieving that.” 

The question of what might — and should — have been at Sochi race lies behind closed doors of Scuderia Ferrari

We’ll never know the outcome, but the discussion of their botched race would probably not have been exactly cordial.

Next round is the Japanese Grand Prix on October 13.

Results

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 53 1:33:38.992 26
2 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 53 +3.829s 18
3 16 Charles Leclerc FERRARI 53 +5.212s 15
4 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING HONDA 53 +14.210s 12
5 23 Alexander Albon RED BULL RACING HONDA 53 +38.348s 10
6 55 Carlos Sainz MCLAREN RENAULT 53 +45.889s 8
7 11 Sergio Perez RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES 53 +48.728s 6
8 4 Lando Norris MCLAREN RENAULT 53 +57.749s 4
9 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 53 +58.779s 2
10 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 53 +59.841s 1
11 18 Lance Stroll RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES 53 +60.821s 0
12 26 Daniil Kvyat SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 53 +62.496s 0
13 7 Kimi Räikkönen ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI 53 +68.910s 0
14 10 Pierre Gasly SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 53 +70.076s 0
15 99 Antonio Giovinazzi ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI 53 +73.346s 0
NC 88 Robert Kubica WILLIAMS MERCEDES 28 DNF 0
NC 63 George Russell WILLIAMS MERCEDES 27 DNF 0
NC 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 26 DNF 0
NC 3 Daniel Ricciardo RENAULT 24 DNF 0
NC 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 0 DNF 0

Note – Magnussen received a 5-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage.

CHECKOUT: Vettel saves face under lights

CHECKOUT: Vettel skating on thin ice

Buys

Bill Buys, probably Australia’s longest-serving motoring writer, has been at his craft for more than five decades. Athough motoring has always been in his DNA, he was also night crime reporter, foreign page editor and later chief reporter of the famed Rand Daily Mail. He’s twice been shot at, attacked by a rhinoceros and had several chilling experiences in aircraft. His experience includes stints in traffic law enforcement, motor racing and rallying and writing for a variety of local and international publications. He has covered countless events, ranging from world motor shows and Formula 1 Grands Prix to Targa tarmac and round-the-houses meetings. A motoring tragic, he has owned more than 90 cars. Somewhat of a nostalgic, he has a special interest in classic cars. He is the father of Targa star Robert Buys, who often adds his expertise to Bill’s reviews.