The 2016 Russian Grand Prix saw Nico Rosberg take a comfortable victory to extend his advantage at the top of the standings, with teammate Lewis Hamilton slotting in second place, having started 10th. Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium.
While Daniil Kvyat was heavily bashed for causing the opening lap melee that put Sebastian Vettel into retirement and ruined the races of Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo and Force India of Sergio Perez, several others drivers deserved praise for top-notch performance at Sochi. Many took advantage of the early mayhem, but showed strong pace later on to confirm their credentials. Rach F1’s Rachit Thukral lists five such drivers.
Nico Rosberg’s winning streak continued in Russia as he notched his seventh consecutive win, with the first dating back to last year’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Unlike China, Rosberg held his lead at the start of the race, navigating his way through the turn one kink before carefully braking into two. He also made a perfect getaway at the restart, pulling clear of then second-placed driver Kimi Raikkonen.
From there on, it was just about managing his pace and tyres as he cruised to another win to exceed his points advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton.
The German set the fastest lap time on the second lap of the race, completing a grand prix grand slam. Quite intriguingly, that particular lap time was three quarters of a second quicker than Felipe Massa’s benchmark, despite being set on much older rubber.
Kevin Magnussen’s return to Formula 1 hasn’t gone to plan so far, with the Dane’s campaign blighted by a range of issues including a lap-one puncture. However, Magnussen’s fortunes turned around in Russia as he scored his and Renault’s first points of the season.
Starting from a lowly 17th on the grid after failing to make into Q2, Magnussen rocketed to 10th place, before gaining another position at the end of second lap. Magnussen then undercut Romain Grosjean’s to Haas to move up to eighth place - a position he held until the end of the race.
At the last race in China, Magnussen was adamant that he had the pace to finish in the top-10; all he needed was a perfect weekend. Although this race weekend was far from perfect for the 23-year-old who had to sit out of FP1 to pave for Renault reserve Sergey Sirotkin, he did capitalise on the situation to deliver the desired result.
Having struggled for pace all weekend long, Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean was elated to pull a top-10 result in Russia.
The Frenchman was one of the many drivers who took advantage of the first lap melee, moving up to ninth in the opening sequence of corners. After Daniel Ricciardo pitted at the end of the first lap, Grosjean was up into eighth place.
Although he did lost a place to Magnussen in the pits, he was back into eighth after Max Verstappen pulled his Toro Rosso to the edge of the track with engine issues.
Grosjean spent the latter part of the race fending off Force India’s Sergio Perez, who was equipped with much fresher rubber. But having already shown strong defensive skills in Australia, the 30-year-old gave no opportunity for the Mexican to make a move.
Although McLaren-Honda have stepped up their game this year, they managed to score only a solitary point in the first three races of the season, courtesy of Stoffel Vandoorne’s 10th place finish in Russia.
Hence, a double-points finish in Russia - one that exceeded team boss Eric Boullier’s expectations - served as a major morale boost for the team.
Alonso jumped from 14th to seventh on the opening lap and later moved to sixth following the retirement of aforementioned Verstappen. Although the Spaniard was no match to the Williams drivers who finished over 50 seconds ahead, he never looked threatened by the chasing pack.
Boullier later pointed that the team lost considerable time due to fuel saving, with the Honda engine on the back of the MP4-31 having high appetite for petrol.
Lewis Hamilton was eluded from challenging Nico Rosberg for pole position when he encountered another engine problem in qualifying, leaving him 10th on the starting grid.
Hamilton, however, was able to make a good start and avoid any contact on the opening lap, jumping up to fifth. He then made some bold manoeuvres over the Williams pairing and a relatively easy pass over Raikkonen to take second place.
Soon after he set about a charge on Rosberg, reducing the gap by half to seven seconds until a technical issue with water pressure system on his Mercedes forced him to settle for second.
During the last few races, his recovery drives have been cut short by damage sustained on his car. But with the car in one piece in Russia - at least during the first three quarters of the race, the Brit was able to show his true potential.
by Rachit Thukral