2020 F1 Russian Grand Prix report: 'They are trying to stop me,' says Hamilton, as penalty hands Bottas win

F1

Valtteri Bottas cruises to 2020 F1 Russian Grand Prix win as Lewis Hamilton criticises the double penalty that left him unable to challenge for a record-equalling victory in Sochi.

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton on the podium after the 2020 F1 Russian Grand prix at Sochi

Bottas and Hamilton on the podium at Sochi

Francois Flamand/DPPI

With all the talk of Lewis Hamilton trying to match Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 victories in Formula 1, it was almost tempting fate that the championship leader would falter. And he did so – in partnership with his team – even before he had reached the grid.

Hamilton was already on the back foot heading into this one, starting from pole but on the soft compound tyre that both Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen were so pleased to avoid. The one upside was meant to be off the line, where Hamilton would have softer rubber and ideally a better launch.

So it was somewhat ironic that Hamilton’s practice starts cost him dearly. The Briton thought the usual area for practising his getaways was too dirty, and asked if he could go further out of the pit lane before stopping. His team told him he could, as long as he let other drivers pass safely, but that information was incorrect.

After two launches at the pit exit, Hamilton was hit with a five-second time penalty for each infringement, getting confirmation during a first stint where he had held onto the lead from his team-mate as Verstappen dropped to third.

Valtteri Bottas attempts to overtake Lewis Hamilton in the 2020 F1 Russian Grand Prix in Sochi

Bottas got ahead of Hamilton at the start, but couldn’t stay there

Bryn Lennon/AFP via Getty Images

Verstappen was actually fourth after running wide at Turn Two at the start but regained third with an excellent move down the inside of Daniel Ricciardo at Turn 5, one that he completed just before the Safety Car was deployed. That was required because Carlos Sainz had not negotiated the Turn 2 run-off area as safely as Verstappen, carrying too much speed through the bollards that are in place and smacking the concrete wall at high speed.

Two corners later and Lance Stroll was also in the wall, helped by contact with Charles Leclerc as they raced out of Turn 4. Two stricken cars saw a Safety Car period for five laps, while Alex Albon – starting 15th after a gearbox penalty – George Russell and Lando Norris all pit from the back of the field for hard tyres.

That trio would provide some entertaining racing on the restart while the top three played a waiting game. Hamilton had to nurse his soft tyres as long as possible but both Bottas and Verstappen knew the time penalties took the championship leader out of contention, so once Hamilton pit on lap 16, they stretched their legs and Bottas opened up a comfortable lead he would not relinquish.

Lewis Hamilton in the pits at Sochi durin g the 2020 f1 Russian Grand Prix

Hamilton had to serve his ten second penalty before mechanics could start changing his tyres

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

“The start was good but I think Lewis had a good start as well,” Bottas said. “Obviously, I had the tow, went on the outside and braked perhaps slightly too late, got in too deep into Turn 2 and Lewis maintained the lead. But then I was just trying to be there, because I knew that with the medium tyre I would have the advantage once Lewis would have to stop.

“Once I was in clean air, it really felt pretty good, it felt the pace was strong. The same with the hard tyre I could really control the race. I was actually pretty happy there were no red flags or Safety Cars this time around, towards the end of the race.”

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Verstappen didn’t have an answer to the Finn, losing 0.6sec a lap on the straights and dropping over ten seconds behind at one stage before keeping the pressure up in the closing laps. He might not have been a real threat for victory, but second place marks Red Bull’s first podium at Sochi.

“The first lap I had a little bit of a battle with Daniel to get back into third and I had a nice off road experience through the bollards so that’s nice,” Verstappen said. “Then from there onwards… on the medium tyre I wasn’t having a great balance like in Q1 and Q2 yesterday where I couldn’t push the entries of the corners and I couldn’t keep up with them so I just tried to not lose too much time.

“Then once we pitted I put the hard tyres on, everything was a bit more stable and a bit better balance. I was pleased with that. The second stint was pretty OK so I am very happy with second.”

Max Verstappen's Red Bull during the 2020 f1 Russian Grand prix at sochi

Verstappen saw out a steady – but lonely – race in second

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

The top two were content, but Hamilton clearly wasn’t. After complaining at his team over team radio he also had a swipe at the stewards after receiving a penalty point for each of his infringements, giving him 10 for the past 12 months and leaving him with four races where he can’t afford to pick up two more or he will receive a race ban.

“Generally if you look at probably every race that I’ve done this year at least, I always start further down, never ever had a problem, done it for years,” Hamilton said. “Here I haven’t done that before, I would say, but it says you have to be on the right after the lights, it doesn’t say how far. And so often I don’t like to be on the rubber, where everyone has done their rubber, so it’s not representative of what it’s like on the grid so I like to be on the surface that doesn’t have any rubber.

“I did (ask the team), and as far as we were aware it’s OK. It’s no different to Brazil. You drive to the end of the pit lane and do your start. It’s actually probably safer compared to Brazil as there was more space. So… Interesting decision.

Asked if the penalties are too harsh, he added “Of course it is, and it is to be expected. They are trying to stop me.”

Sergio Perez in the Racing Point during the 2020 f1 Russian Grand Prix in Sochi

Perez: comfortable in fourth

Yuri Kochetkov/AFP via Getty Images

If Hamilton feels hard done by, he could spare a thought for Sergio Perez who is without a drive in 2021 as it stands but excellent in Sochi to finish a comfortable fourth, recovering from a bad start to jump the Renault pair. The Mexican didn’t have the updated car either, but the key was a long first stint on softs – the longest of the race – and then a beautiful move to pass Daniel Ricciardo on the inside of Turn 3 after his pit stop.

“That made our race really, that first stint on the soft,” Perez said. “I think otherwise, we were very close to Ricciardo, one-tenth faster, slower, we were never going to overtake him. But that first stint the management was pretty key to our race.

“I think we did a good step. The team is working hard to try to get [upgrades] on my car for the Nurburgring so hopefully. When you see this is the maximum we could do, we finished 30 seconds from Bottas, if we are able to find half a second then we can be in the mix for the podium.”

Charles Leclerc's Ferrari in Sochi during the 2020 f1 Russian Grand Prix

Leclerc’s hauled the Ferrari to sixth place

Kirill Kudryavtsev - Pool/Getty Images

Ricciardo’s wait for the podium goes on as he finished fifth, negating a five-second time penalty for not rejoining properly at Turn Two by pulling well clear of Charles Leclerc in sixth. The Ferrari didn’t really deserve to be that high but Leclerc’s first stint on mediums put him right in the mix, and he had the pace to drop Esteban Ocon, who in turn held of Daniil Kvyat.

Pierre Gasly ended up ninth after a late pit stop under Virtual Safety Car – caused by Romain Grosjean wiping out the bollards at Turn 2 – dropped him out of the points, but he recovered to clear Alex Albon and Lando Norris. Albon at least salvaged the final point after what was largely a weekend to forget, with Norris failing to make it to the end on the same set of hard tyres he fitted on lap one.

Valtteri-Bottas-during-the-2020-F1-Russian-Grand-prix-weekend

2020 F1 Russian Grand Prix race results

Position Driver Team Time Points
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 53 laps 26*
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull +7.729sec 18
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +22.729sec 15
4 Sergio Perez Racing Point +30.558sec 12
5 Daniel Ricciardo Renault +52.065sec 10
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1min 02.186sec 8
7 Esteban Ocon Renault +1min 08.006sec 6
8 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri +1min 08.740sec 4
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +1min 29.766sec 2
10 Alex Albon Red Bull +1min 37.860sec 1
11 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 lap
12 Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 lap
13 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +1 lap
14 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo +1 lap
15 Lando Norris McLaren +1 lap
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams +1 lap
17 Romain Grosjean Haas +1 lap
18 George Russell Williams +1 lap
Lance Stroll Racing Point DNF
Carlos Sainz McLaren DNF

*Includes point for fastest lap