- Mar 22, 2014
A new track made for a familiar story as Lewis Hamilton once again got the better of Nico Rosberg.
Besides Vladmir Putin, no one has more reason to smile than Lewis Hamilton after Sunday.
On a day when Mercedes wrapped up the 2014 constructor's championship, Hamilton comfortably took the chequered flag to record his ninth win of the season. Conversely, teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg struggled to match Hamilton throughout the weekend, and the German proved to be his own worst enemy after a mistake on lap 1 forced him to pit immediately and fight his way through the rest of the field for second. Being able to successfully mitigate the damage by driving a Pirelli-era record of 52 laps on the same set of tyres will be little comfort for Rosberg, as Hamilton leaves Sochi with a 17-point lead -- and in the eyes of many, one hand on the championship.
Unfortunately, the first Russian Grand Prix since 1914 provided little to give attendees of the Sochi circuit their Rouble's-worth, but there was still plenty to talk about, so let's get to it.
Same Instrument, Different Tune for Hamilton and Rosberg
With four wins on the trot for Lewis Hamilton, is Nico Rosberg simply losing out to his rival, or is the German actually starting to lose it?
On a weekend where Rosberg found himself bested by Hamilton in four out of the five sessions (the only exception being practice 1), it's become increasingly apparent which of the two Mercedes drivers is in championship-winning form right now. Believe it or not, the last time Rosberg found himself on the top step of the podium was six races ago in Germany, so what's changed since?
The obvious answer is that Hamilton has managed to avoid the reliability issues that plagued him in the first half of the season -- it's not a controversial opinion to state that Hamilton is the faster driver, so it follows he'd win more given the reliability he's had recently. The thing is, for as good a purple-patch as Hamilton finds himself in, it doesn't explain why Rosberg has seemed so intent on blowing his own chances.
Case-in-point was Sunday's first-lap lock-up heading into turn 2. Was Rosberg right to have a go heading into that corner? Absolutely. In fact he might have pulled the move off had he not out-braked himself, but not only did he out-brake himself, he did it in the most ham-fisted, Maldonado-ish way possible, skidding 60 metres off-line and completely destroying that set of Pirelli's. The move itself wasn't desperate, but it certainly looks like he panicked, and (not for the first time) it cost him the chance of an increasingly-valuable race victory.
As such, his charge back through the field gets lost in the noise, and therein lies the paradox of Nico Rosberg as the 2014 championship heads to its conclusion. After that mistake he proceeded to prove once again that he is an excellent racing driver, one capable of managing his car and making on-track moves as needed, not to mention he still had the outright pace at the end to hold off a hard-charging Valttieri Bottas. It all falls by the wayside to the picture of a driver who seems to have an issue of keeping his brain switched-on the moment Lewis Hamilton appears, and it leaves us all a bit unsatisfied as we hope for a thrilling conclusion to a fascinating year.
With each race now, you get a greater feeling of the inevitability of Hamilton taking the 2014 Driver's Championship. Rosberg still has the time to turn things around, but as of right now, he would be wholly reliant on the reliability of his teammate's car if he were to take the title in Abu Dhabi. If double points weren't a bitter-enough pill to swallow, it would be hard to argue should he pull it off, that Rosberg would deserve it.
Kvyat Impresses, Disappoints as the Pride of Russia Prepares for the Red Bull Spotlight
From GP3 to replacing a four-time world champion, it's been a pretty good two years for Daniil Kvyat. Saturday showed us why we should expect great things from the Russian, Sunday showed us why they may not happen right away.
After a blistering qualifying performance saw him outperform his big brothers at Red Bull for fifth on the grid, Kvyat seemed set to further show in the race why he was deserving of his seat at the team for 2015, but instead Sunday was nothing if not a disappointment for the Russian, and Toro Rosso as a whole.
Passed at the start by teammate Jean-Eric Vergne, Kvyat found himself back in eighth by lap 2, and spent the rest of the race struggling with a car that was struggling to get anything close to its qualifying performance. A mid-tier car slipping back down the pack after such a Saturday performance is nothing new, but it would have been nice to see something from Kvyat -- his only notable moments were an off on lap 9, and a massive lockup on lap 37.
Perhaps this race wasn't the best one to judge the two Toro Rosso drivers, but it did belie what has been the case for most of this season. Kvyat, with his outright pace, is a younger, sexier option for the senior team, but has struggled to deliver any notable race results. His teammate Jean-Eric Vergne leads on the championship table 21 points to 8, and has frankly looked the better driver come race day. Perhaps that's merely a symptom of youth vs experience, and we'll see Kvyat deliver more on Sundays come 2015, but don't be surprised if it's a while before he's ready to be anything other than second fiddle.
Mercedes the Villain as Teams Look to End Engine Freeze
Taking its show to the ex-USSR, F1 found itself dealing with another Iron Curtain in Sochi.
After a season which has seen an ever-present gulf in performance between those with a Mercedes engine and those without, prospects of a thawing to the engine freeze for 2015 took a hit with Mercedes AMG boss Toto Wolff announcing the intentions of his team, Williams and Lotus to vote against the proposal. F1 would need unanimous approval from the teams to allow such a move.
Wolff's reasoning for opposing the move is his belief it would involve increased cost to the teams, and denied it was not just to preserve his engine supplier's dominance. Ferrari boss Marco Mattiacci, who proposed the move, argues it would have no effect on costs, so the question is: who to believe?
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Development of new components is never free, but it's hard to argue the costs would be so exorbitant as to outweigh the advantages from having a more competitive package. As Hugo Boss' switch from McLaren to Mercedes showed, sponsors want to be with the fastest cars on track. That's a near-impossibility for the non-Mercedes teams. Not to mention, it's better for the sport (and therefore the fans) when two thirds of the teams aren't playing with a handicap.
If Wolff and the other Mercedes-powered teams do end up blocking this proposal, it's only going to be read as an attempt to protect their advantage. Cost cutting is a necessary measure for the survivability of the sport, but there has to be a sport worth saving in the first place. F1 is already struggling to retain global tv audiences, and race attendance is significantly down for most races, hindering the sport's competitiveness would be doing its marketers no favours.
After his recent run, can Rosberg even be a deserving champion this year? Is Kvyat the right man for Red Bull in 2015? Do cost concerns outweigh the need for a thawing of the engine freeze? Sound off below.