Motor Sport News - - Front Page - BY JAMES ROBERTS

Nico Ros­berg was spot­ted sprint­ing through the pad­dock a few hours af­ter the Rus­sian Grand Prix in Sochi. In his right hand was a bot­tle of un­opened cham­pagne. Dur­ing his spir­ited run, re­porters tried to grab him for a word, but for the sec­ond time that af­ter­noon no one was able to keep up with him.

This was Ros­berg’s sev­enth con­sec­u­tive grand prix vic­tory, putting him on a par with greats Al­berto As­cari and Michael Schu­macher – and two short of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel’s all-time record. It was a per­fect week­end. Pole, fastest lap and vic­tory – and in the world cham­pi­onship he’s reached 100 points, with a gap open­ing up over a trou­bled Lewis Hamil­ton, who fin­ished sec­ond from a lowly 10th on the grid.

His team-mate’s woes started in qual­i­fy­ing af­ter a re­peat of the power unit prob­lem he’d suf­fered at the pre­vi­ous race in China. In the days fol­low­ing Shang­hai, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the en­gine back at Brix­worth’s base dis­cov­ered a prob­lem with the MGU-H’S in­su­la­tion and both the tur­bocharger and oil pumps were re­placed af­ter de­bris was found in the oil sys­tem.

Ac­cord­ing to the team, a sim­i­lar prob­lem oc­curred at the com­mence­ment of Q3 on Satur­day and Hamil­ton was de­nied the chance to set a lap­time. Very quickly, the team set into mo­tion a mid­night run to get re­place­ment parts trans­ported from Northamp­ton­shire to the Black Sea re­sort of Sochi. Niki Lauda was able to source a plane, Paddy Lowe’s Rus­sian PA co-or­di­nated lo­gis­tics and a cer­tain Bernie Ec­cle­stone in­ter­rupted Toto Wolff on the phone dur­ing the team boss’s me­dia brief­ing on Satur­day af­ter­noon, to play his part.

“Yes, we fi­nally sorted the plane, got the re­place­ment part on it and Bernie sorted the cus­toms,” con­firmed Wolff af­ter the race. “The plane landed [at 0200hrs] with a box on it and within 90 sec­onds the box was in a car on the way to the track. I don’t want to know how Bernie sorted that out…”

But the en­gine in Hamil­ton’s car was to en­dure more prob­lems dur­ing the race. Fol­low­ing a spir­ited drive in the early stages, he’d man­aged to haul his car up to sec­ond and was less than eight sec­onds be­hind Ros­berg.

On lap 36, Ros­berg put in the fastest lap of the race up to that point, a 1m40.450s and Hamil­ton – just 7.6s be­hind him – went frac­tion­ally quicker, record­ing a 1m40.266s. Then Hamil­ton’s en­gi­neer Pete Bon­ning­ton was forced to re­veal the news that ended the fight for this race on the team ra­dio: “We have a water pres­sure is­sue.”

Hamil­ton’s charge was thwarted and he slowed his pace, fin­ish­ing 25 sec­onds be­hind his team-mate at the flag, but a com­fort­able seven sec­onds ahead of third-placed Kimi Raikko­nen. His was the sole Fer­rari left in the race fol­low­ing a dra­matic open­ing lap in which Vet­tel was shunted into re­tire­ment by Rus­sia’s Daniil Kvyat.


The fight for hon­ours started in earnest on Satur­day af­ter­noon. Ros­berg was the first of the fron­trun­ners to set a time in Q1, but was quickly eclipsed by his team-mate. Again the Ger­man set a quicker lap, only to be re­pelled once more. The scene was de­vel­op­ing for an in­trigu­ing duel be­tween the Mercedes pair. Then a mes­sage flashed up from race con­trol.

Hamil­ton had run wide at Turn 2 and had failed to re­join the track at the cor­rect point. Be­tween prac­tice on Fri­day and Satur­day morn­ing a poly­styrene marker with an arrow had been placed at the far end of the Turn 2 run-off area. The race di­rec­tor had made it clear to all the driv­ers that any­one who went wide at Turn 2, must re­turn to the track the other side of the marker. Hamil­ton had run wide late in the cor­ner and felt he was in the point of no re­turn, thereby miss­ing the bol­lard. He im­me­di­ately backed off on that lap – so no ad­van­tage was gained – but fol­low­ing qual­i­fy­ing he was sum­moned to see the stew­ards and was is­sued a rep­ri­mand.

It’s his sec­ond of the year fol­low­ing his re­vers­ing in­ci­dent in the Bahrain pit­lane: one more and it will be an au­to­matic 10-place grid penalty.

“It’s quite funny, when I was in kart­ing there was one stew­ard who was there to make ev­ery­one’s week­end a bad week­end,” he said on Sun­day night. “He was a com­plete a***hole, and I’ve heard he’s still there. He was there to ruin peo­ple’s week­ends and I’m start­ing to see signs of him again now.”

That was the only sig­nif­i­cant drama of Q1 as the first driv­ers to be elim­i­nated were Mar­cus Eric­s­son (Sauber), the Manors of Rio Haryanto and Pas­cal Wehrlein, Felipe Nasr – run­ning a new Sauber chas­sis this week­end – Jolyon Palmer (with a new floor on his Re­nault) and his team-mate Kevin Mag­nussen.

In the sec­ond part of qual­i­fy­ing, it was Ros­berg who once again set the bench­mark and on his first run Hamil­ton was 0.483s in ar­rears. Be­hind them the Fer­raris and Wil­liams were com­fort­ably into the fi­nal seg­ment of qual­i­fy­ing as the bat­tle heated up be­hind.

Lo­cal hero Kvyat had just scraped through into Q2 with his last run and again on his last lap in this ses­sion, the Red Bull driver just made the top 10. Af­ter qual­i­fy­ing there were rare smiles down at Mclaren as they had clearly made progress at a track that shouldn’t or­di­nar­ily suit the Honda power unit. But Kvyat’s gain was Jen­son’s loss. The Bri­ton was ru­ing miss­ing out on Q3 by a mere 0.095s. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing But­ton in the Q2 drop zone was 11th-placed Car­los Sainz (who lost out by 0.046s in his Toro Rosso), Nico Hulken­berg (Force In­dia), Fer­nando Alonso in the sec­ond Mclaren-honda, and the two Haas ma­chines of Ro­main Gros­jean and Este­ban Gu­tier­rez.

It was at the start of Q3 when we re­ceived news that Hamil­ton had suf­fered his power unit prob­lem and wasn’t able to set a time. That left Ros­berg ef­fec­tively un­chal­lenged for pole po­si­tion. His first run was quicker than Vet­tel by 0.842s and on his fi­nal run he was quicker again be­fore run­ning wide at Turn 13. He aborted the lap and was com­fort­ably on pole.

An im­pres­sive Valt­teri Bot­tas man­aged to squeeze his Wil­liams into third place, which elicited an “ex­cel­lent” over the ra­dio from his race en­gi­neer Jonathan Ed­dolls. That be­came sec­ond too, as Vet­tel had a gear­box change and was pe­nalised with a five-place grid penalty. Be­hind the Fer­rari on the start­ing grid was the man who caused him grief at Turn 1 in China a fort­night ago… Kvyat.


As the pack headed for the Turn 2 brak­ing zone, Ros­berg led but be­hind him chaos was about to erupt. Raikko­nen had nabbed sec­ond from Bot­tas, but Kvyat mis­judged his brak­ing and rammed the back of Vet­tel’s Fer­rari. That pitched the red ma­chine into the sec­ond Red Bull of Daniel Ric­cia­rdo and caused him to slide into the back of Ser­gio Perez’s Force In­dia.

As the field scram­bled around Turn 2 and into T3, the Mex­i­can be­gan to slow with a right-rear punc­ture and as Vet­tel cau­tiously ap­proached him, he was once again hit by Kvyat. As he spun into the T3 tyre wall there fol­lowed a se­ries of foul-mouthed ex­ple­tives from in­side the Fer­rari cock­pit.

He’d calmed down by the time he spoke to me­dia: “In the end these things hap­pen, but ob­vi­ously it’s harsh,” he said. “I don’t dis­like him [Kvyat] but I think he made a mis­take two weeks ago and a mis­take to­day.”

Not only was this a disas­ter for Vet­tel, but it de­stroyed Red Bull’s race. Both Ric­cia­rdo and Kvyat pit­ted to the slower medium tyre but were un­able to drive back into con­tention (not helped when the Rus­sian was given a 10-sec­ond stop/ go penalty).

“When peo­ple brake in front of you un­for­tu­nately some­times there is no time to re­act,” said Kvyat. “That’s what hap­pened, I had no time to re­act to Seb’s brak­ing.

“When you are one me­tre be­hind a car at 150km/h [90mph] and sud­denly some­one brakes, it’s un­avoid­able. It’s not great but some­times these things hap­pen. It’s prob­a­bly not the nicest first lap in my ca­reer but I will learn from it.”

Vet­tel went to speak with his for­mer team boss Chris­tian Horner on the Red Bull pit­wall dur­ing the race and Horner ad­mit­ted later that all he could do was apol­o­gise to the Ger­man.

The safety car was de­ployed to clear up the Vet­tel in­ci­dent and a fur­ther Turn 2 drama in­volv­ing Hulken­berg and Haryanto. When the safety car peeled in, Bot­tas re­claimed sec­ond off his com­pa­triot Raikko­nen with a sweet move into Turn 2, while right be­hind him Hamil­ton – who’d avoided the open­ing lap may­hem – swept past Felipe Massa for fourth place.

From this po­si­tion, it looked as though Hamil­ton could at least chal­lenge his team-mate – if he could quickly dis­pose of the Fer­rari and sec­ond Wil­liams ahead of him.

The crit­i­cal part of the race came dur­ing the one and only pit­stop for the fron­trun­ners. Bot­tas was the first to stop on lap 16 and was sta­tion­ary for an ul­tra speedy 2.7 sec­onds. When Hamil­ton stopped for his soft rub­ber a lap later, he was ser­viced in 3.2s and emerged from the pit­lane still be­hind the Wil­liams. Two laps later, he found a way past at Turn 5.

At this stage Raikko­nen was still cir­cu­lat­ing and when he stopped on lap 20 he was able to re­join ahead of Bot­tas and guar­an­tee his podium po­si­tion – the 700th for the Scud­e­ria. Be­hind Bot­tas was his team-mate Massa and Alonso – who took his first points of the year. Mag­nussen was an im­pres­sive sev­enth for Re­nault, ahead of a du­elling Gros­jean (Haas) and Perez (Force In­dia). But­ton rounded out the top 10.

Up front, once Hamil­ton was told to back off, it was a com­fort­able run for Ros­berg, who col­lected his fourth win of the sea­son and in­creased his lead to 43 points. “Yeah, but it’s only four races from 21 and Lewis is go­ing to come back, of course,” said a philo­soph­i­cal Ros­berg. “He’s on it and as mo­ti­vated as ever. So, it’s early days – we’re just tak­ing it race-by-race.”

But the re­main­ing 17 races look pretty good for Nico, with Lewis likely to be the first to suc­cumb to a grid penalty for re­place­ment en­gine parts and there’s the threat of an­other rep­ri­mand from one of those pesky stew­ards loom­ing. Will he, or any­one, be able to catch Ros­berg this year? ■

Ros­berg held the lead at the start and stayed ahead

Fin­nish fight: Raikko­nen (right) beat Bot­tas to fi­nal podium place

Hamil­ton re­cov­ered from 10th to sec­ond, but now trails Ros­berg by 43 points in the cham­pi­onship ta­ble

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