Valtteri Bottas was fastest leading his teammate Lewis Hamilton in both FP1 and FP2 for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix. In FP1, Bottas led his teammate by two-tenths of a second from Hamilton with Max Verstappen third a further hundredth behind. While in FP2, Hamilton narrowed the gap to his teammate to four hundredths, with the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly
Mercedes strikes back at Red Bull
Mercedes have dominated in Sochi as we have been saying all weekend since 2014, and this weekend I feel they need a win to start to gain momentum after four races without a win, the longest in the hybrid era. We know they are very strong in Sochi and Hamilton had a second advantage on Verstappen in FP2.
The seven-time champion saying that the team needs to capitalise on the fact that Verstappen will be taking a engine penalty. He and Mercedes know they have a chance to score some valuable points against their rival in the title battle. But as we have seen and Hamilton said himself, Mercedes does not change
Asked about the impact of Verstappen’s penalty, Hamilton said: “It doesn’t really change anything for us. We have just got to do our thing and focus on performance. It’s a tough year I think for everyone with reliability, so it’s definitely a shame for him. But we’ve got to try and capitalise on that naturally, and try to get the maximum result. A 1-2 would be spectacular for us.”
Hamilton was out-paced by his teammate Bottas in both sessions, but following FP2 the seven-time champion revealed that they were both running different setups to try and figure out which is best. But he believes that they are starting on the right foot.
Bottas said he felt fully on top of his car from the first run in practice and believed only minors tweaks were now needed to improve things ahead of qualifying and the race.
Adding, “You could always go better, but if I look at the timings and based on the feeling, it was a good day from the first run. I had a good confidence with the car and the balance was actually very good, so all we had to do were minor adjustments during the day.”
Verstappen prepares for a difficult weekend
Max Verstappen says he is braced for a “more difficult” fight from the back of the grid in Sochi this weekend compared to 2018 thanks to a more competitive midfield. Red Bull announced they had decided to fit a new power unit, triggering a back of the grid penalty.
Verstappen was always set to take a grid drop at one of the remaining races this year, having lost one of his older engines in the crash with Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone. Sochi is a track that typically allows for plenty of overtaking even if it can be difficult, and as a result has previously been somewhere teams have targeted to take an engine penalty.
In 2018, Verstappen fought his way back from nineteenth to finish fifth following a penalty. However he didn’t appear confident that he would be able to get the field as easily this time, citing the improved performance of the midfield teams.
Saying “Of course in 2018 the gaps to the midfield were a bit bigger, so naturally I think it will be a bit more difficult to come through. We have to take the penalty anyway, and if we wouldn’t have taken it here, we would have taken it somewhere else.”
The Russian Grand Prix weekend looks set to face rain disruption on Saturday as the FIA brought forward the opening Formula Three race. Heavy rain has been forecast prompting the race to be brought forward to create a more flexible Saturday to allow qualifying to take place, if possible.
F1 has not faced a Saturday washout since the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix, when an incoming typhoon prompted the FIA to call off all running on the Friday and reschedule qualifying for Sunday morning ahead of the race.
Midfield wrap up
Ferrari should be on course possibly for their strongest weekend since the summer break, after Carlos Sainz was eighth in FP2. While that is down the lower end of the top ten, we know that we are this season talking about hundredths of a second. In that session half a second covered Ferrari-McLaren-Alpine and that’s what we have come to expect.
But we know that the Ferrari has been stronger at these cooler circuits and in the slow speed stop-start nature of the last sector, like in Monaco is where they have been strong this season. There were only three tenths between Sainz and Charles Leclerc, but you think that will close a bit in qualifying.
Alpha Tauri and McLaren are quite close on pace with Pierre Gasly two tenths ahead of Lando Norris in FP2. Both drivers have been very competitive this year and we know at each race we haven’t really known who will be leading that group. I think McLaren will not be as strong as in Monza.
Ricciardo also lost track running in FP2 because of a power unit change, then he couldn’t re-find the pace from FP1. He said, “We made some changes with swapping the PU for FP2, but then we had a delay getting out, and then we had yellows, red flags and then people around us on high fuel. It was a bit of a lost session really, so we have some homework tonight.”
Norris added, “Today was a bit up and down, we struggled quite a bit in P1, but we made quite a few changes on the car for the second session which improved things. That progress has made me feel a bit more confident in the car this afternoon and given us a more positive feeling going into tomorrow.”
The Englishman says that some if the strengths they had in Monza aren’t as strong, but they can still believe they can be competitive compared to the teams we’re really racing against.
Alpine had a steady day but it was in FP2 that they really started to show pace with a good lap from Esteban Ocon to go P5, over two tenths ahead of Sainz in seventh. While Fernando Alonso was eighth, two-hundredths behind.
Ocon “It’s good to be back in Sochi as it’s a track that I’ve always enjoyed racing at. It’s high grip, especially in comparison to Monza last time out. We have the Softest tyres on the range here, so that gives us some things to try and understand.”
“Things could be interesting tomorrow, so optimising today was important. We completed quite a few runs – low fuel and high fuel – and we have a good idea on what we can do on car set-up. Let’s see what the rest of the weekend brings but so far, I’m pleased with our progress.”
Fernando Alonso added “The car seems to behave okay here. We set up a few different things in FP2 and we found a few benefits, so I am happy with that. We could have achieved a better lap time without the red flag for Antonio (Giovinazzi), but it’s only Friday, so let’s see what tomorrow brings.”
Giovinazzi crashes in FP2
Antonio Giovinazzi caused the only red flag of the day when he crashed his Alfa Romeo. Coming out of Turn Eight, he had understeer and locked up as spun he then got onto the AstroTurf which sent him off into the wall.
He explained, “The wind was quite inconsistent during the run and I got a little bit of understeer, more understeer than on the lap before, and I touched the grass on the exit and I lost the rear,” he said.
Despite that, Giovinazzi was still encouraged by Alfa Romeo’s pace, having finished 13th quickest in first practice, though he, like the rest of the paddock, was expecting wet weather on Saturday.
Adding “Unfortunately it [the crash] happened but otherwise I think we were not too bad in terms of pace, so we’ll see tomorrow. I think FP1 was not too bad and like I say, FP2 was okay so of course tomorrow is another day, but I think it was a good start.”