Closing, closing on the race-leading Mercedes. So close now on the penultimate lap Vettel could almost reach out to it, the late afternoon Sochi sun low in the sky but still bright, tyre marbles littered either side of the groove in the track, clearly defined even through the smeared yellow-tinted visor. The Ferrari was in the Seb groove as well as the track’s, flowing and nimble, covered in rear downforce just the way he likes it, just the way that makes him look once more like the Red Bull era multiple world champion. Letting rip, fuelled by the adrenaline of the chase.
Valtteri Bottas had been ahead of him ever since slipstreaming past down to Turn 2 on the opening lap. Bottas had extended his lead in that first stint to take him out of Seb’s undercut range. But Ferrari left him out after Bottas pitted so as to give him another bite at the cherry. Rejoining on tyres seven laps newer, the chase was on. Seb loves this car, loves this track. For all that Bottas has his own very special rhythm between the Sochi walls, he’d given himself a big flat spot into the tricky Turn 13 with 15 laps still to go – and that’s when Vettel really began to scent blood. What had been a 4.6sec gap evaporated down to DRS range. Now, one lap to go, that Merc is squirming under braking, Seb is watching the carbon dust blowing from its front wheels, seeing it slip and slide out of the turns, its seven-lap older rubber beginning to surrender. Now Vettel’s got DRS on the final straight to begin the last lap, gaining, gaining….