F1 2020: Starting grid and race preview for Russian Grand Prix

By John Skilbeck 27 September 2020 132
F1 2020: Starting grid and race preview for Russian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton stands on the precipice of matching another of Michael Schumacher's great records in Formula One after snatching pole position for the Russian Grand Prix.

Should the British driver convert his performance in qualifying to another victory, it would mean Hamilton matching Schumacher's 91 race wins.

That is the narrative that could play out in Sochi after Hamilton dramatically took pole, having been in danger at one stage of missing out on the third stage of qualifying.

The prospect of a locked-out Mercedes front row was disrupted by Max Verstappen, with the Red Bull driver outpacing Valtteri Bottas.

WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING

There was almost the shock to end all shocks: Hamilton being absent from Q3.

Sebastian Vettel's spin in the Ferrari triggered a red flag in the closing minutes of Q2 and that gave Hamilton a problem.

Looking to cross the start-finish line in time to allow himself another lap, Hamilton managed that and found a big lap to avert the prospect of him starting the race in midfield.

He avoided a stewards' punishment over a minor infraction when leaving the track briefly, and later described the session as "horrible".

An eighth pole of the season was a reminder of Hamilton's supremacy in this sport, and nobody would be surprised were he to win this race for a fifth time in seven seasons on Sunday.

The 1-2-3 in qualifying was no great surprise and reflected the drivers' season standings prior to Verstappen failing to finish twice at Mugello. The gap between the fastest laps of Hamilton and Verstappen was substantial - in F1 terms - at 0.563 seconds.

Neither Ferrari made it to Q3, Vettel licking his wounds after his crash and finishing 15th in the session, with Charles Leclerc 11th.

THE STARTING GRID

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 4. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) 6. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
7. Esteban Ocon (Renault) 8. Lando Norris (McLaren)
9. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) 10. Alex Albon (Red Bull) 
11. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 12. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri)
13. Lance Stroll (Racing Point) 14. George Russell (Williams)
15. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 16. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
17. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) 18. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
19. Nicholas Latifi (Williams). 20. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)

RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX TALKING POINTS

Hamilton is at that satisfying stage of his career where records keep falling to him, yet to match Schumacher's haul of 91 race wins would have seemed pie-in-the-sky talk to the young man who made his F1 entrance in the 2007 season.

That is the figure he can sensationally draw up alongside, with what would be a seventh race win of this strangest of seasons, Hamilton having already surpassed Schumacher's record haul of podium finishes this year.

A record-equalling seventh world title is also surely Hamilton's for the taking in the coming months, and there was a touch of Schumacher's resilience about him taking this latest pole after being backed up into a position of adversity.

Aside from the likelihood of a close battle in the opening few corners, one potential strategy issue for Hamilton is that he will start on the less durable soft tyres after his narrow Q2 escape, while closest rivals Verstappen and Bottas are on mediums.

As for Ferrari, well god bless the Prancing Horse but this season goes from bad to worse. After the short-lived succour of Vettel and Leclerc both finishing in the points at the team's 1,000th F1 race, last time out in the Tuscan Grand Prix, this was the latest in a long line of qualifying sob stories.

Twelve months ago, Leclerc stormed the qualifying session in Sochi, earning a fourth successive pole. They are wretchedly slow this year, which is a problem Leclerc and Vettel have to tolerate and get on with the job. Sunday's grand prix is again unlikely to bring great joy for the Italian marque.

Meanwhile, if Sergio Perez wanted to make a point on Saturday, he very much succeeded. Set to be cut free at the end of the season by Racing Point, to allow for Vettel's arrival, Perez accused some Racing Point team members of attempting to hide things from him ahead of this weekend.

Clear-the-air talks followed, and Perez qualified on the second row on Saturday, nine places ahead of team-mate Lance Stroll.

WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID:

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes, pole): "It’s nice to take pole position, but this track is probably the worst place to be on pole, due to the long run to the first braking zone. So, I’m expecting a tough fight down to Turn 2 and a challenging race, especially as I’m starting on the soft tyre, which is a good compound for the race start but is the worst tyre for the opening stint." 

Max Verstappen (Red Bull, 2nd): "P2 was very unexpected and I don’t say this often but I think this was one of my best ever qualifying laps and it felt really good. Of course we want to fight for pole and wins but this year it is not possible all the time, so then to be able to split the two Mercedes cars is very satisfying and I’m happy to be on the front row here. I think the Mercedes does still have more overall pace so they will be hard to beat but I’m happy with [qualifying] and I think we really extracted more than we thought was possible and we can be very happy with that."

Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes, 3rd): "There are some question marks there, which we’ll need to look into in the debrief and figure out why there was such a gap. But P3 is actually a pretty good place to start here and I think I’m on the right tyre as well. I’ve started third here before and look what happened, so I’ll try and do the same. It’s still all to play for."

Sergio Perez (Racing Point, 4th): "I’m very happy with our performance today: I think P4 was the maximum I could achieve because Max and the two Mercedes were very strong out there. We were able to qualify ahead of our nearest rivals, which is the main thing. It was a really tough session because the wind kept changing and we had the disruption of the red flag too. It’s a credit to the team that we were able to manage the sessions so well and extract the maximum from the car."

Charles Leclerc (Ferrari, 11th): "We definitely had the pace to do something good, much better than expected. Unfortunately, we missed our chance, so I’m pretty disappointed, but that’s life.
It is frustrating that we didn’t make it to Q3 because I really believe that we had the potential to go through today."

Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari, 15th): "When I crashed I was trying to improve my time. I hadn’t had a good first sector so I was pushing. It seems that I was going too quickly and so I lost the car. It had already happened in turn 2 and then it happened again in turn 4. I tried to avoid the impact, but I couldn’t catch it. I’m sorry to have made extra work for the team, but at least I think the car can be fixed."

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers 

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 190
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) - 135
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 110
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 57
5. Alexander Albon (Red Bull) - 63

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 325
2. Red Bull – 173
3. McLaren – 106
4. Racing Point – 92 (after 15-point deduction)
5. Renault – 82

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John Skilbeck

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