Driver Ratings: Russian Grand Prix

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Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Nico Rosberg extended his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings to 43 points after a seventh straight win at Russia, but whose driving most stood out in Sochi?

44) Lewis Hamilton (8/10)*** – Relegated to tenth after power unit gremlins in qualifying, Hamilton took advantage of the first lap chaos to climb to fifth before passing Massa, Raikkonen and Bottas on track. Water pressure problems denied him a shot at the win.

6) Nico Rosberg (8/10) – Yet again left with all of the cards in his favour as his rivals fell by the wayside, Rosberg took full advantage to record a fully deserved seventh win of the season and further extend his lead at the top of the standings.

5) Sebastian Vettel (N/A) – He may have been criticised for lampooning Daniil Kvyat following the Chinese Grand Prix, but Vettel would have had every right for deploying a similar tactic against the Red Bull driver in Sochi after the Ferrari was an innocent victim of the Russian’s first lap shenanigans.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (7/10) – Raikkonen is looking like a much improved driver compared to the last two years and the Finn delivered another impressive drive in Russia to comfortably beat countryman Bottas into the final podium place.

77) Valtteri Bottas (7/10) – After three ordinary races, Bottas finally showed what he was capable of in Sochi. Drove well to keep Hamilton at bay throughout the opening stint but ultimately his Williams just lacked the speed to clinch a podium spot.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – A solid if unspectacular drive from the Brazilian, who lacked a couple of tenths compared to his teammate throughout the weekend en route to fifth place.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – Innocently knocked out of contention on lap one following his teammate’s collision with Vettel, Ricciardo fought back well with a damaged car and only missed out on a point as a result of a poor call by Red Bull to fit his car with medium tyres.

26) Daniil Kvyat (3/10) – A home Grand Prix to forget for Kvyat, who clumsily hit Vettel not once, but twice, in a dreadful first lap showing. The Russian limped home in a sorry 15th place after a day that will do little to convince Red Bull bosses that he is worth keeping ahead of Max Verstappen in 2017.

11) Sergio Perez (8/10) – After suffering a first lap puncture, Perez drove two extremely strong stints on soft tyres to claw his way back into contention and take his first points of the season. Only an equally impressive drive from Grosjean in the Haas stopped him finishing higher up.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (N/A) – Hulkenberg is yet to fully get going this season, a pattern that continued after he was an innocent victim of the first lap crash caused by Gutierrez.

20) Kevin Magnussen (9/10)* – An assured and consistent drive by Magnussen to take seventh place in a Renault lacking the grip or horsepower of many of this rivals. Undoubtedly the Dane’s best performance since his debut podium in Australia in 2014. Driver of the Day.

30) Jolyon Palmer (6/10) – After running in the points early on, Palmer slipped back as he struggled to match the speed of his rivals in superior machinery. A solid enough drive, but will have to up his game if he is to remain in Renault’s thinking beyond 2016.

33) Max Verstappen (8/10) – A strong start catapulted the Toro Rosso into a sixth place position that he would undoubtedly have held had his car not given up the ghost. A mature display that will only strengthen his case to be promoted to the Red Bull team next year.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (5/10) – A disappointing drive for the Spaniard as he struggled to match Verstappen’s speed throughout. Lost any chance of a points finish when he earned a time penalty for a clumsy chop on Palmer.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Nasr looks a shadow of the driver that impressed in his rookie season, and after finally getting the upper hand on Ericsson in qualifying after reporting feeling happier with a new chassis, he flattered to deceive once more on Sunday.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – Sauber has been reduced to fighting with the Manors as a result of the team’s struggles so far this season, but Ericsson is doing all he can on the track, and once again beat Nasr in Russia despite having to make a first lap pit stop.

14) Fernando Alonso (9/10)** – Alonso showed that he is still up there with the very best after a storming drive to sixth place. Never looked like being threatened after he benefitted from the first lap chaos and set the fifth fastest lap after deciding to “have some fun” late on. McLaren’s best race since its reunion with Honda.

22) Jenson Button (6/10) – Sochi will be a case of what might have been for Button, who could finish no higher than tenth after spending much of the race stuck behind Sainz’s Toro Rosso.

94) Pascal Wehrlein (6/10) – Wehrlein enjoyed an eventful first half of the race as he was left slugging it out with the Saubers, before a problem in the pits that left him stationary for nearly half a minute consigned him to last place.

88) Rio Haryanto (N/A) – Blameless in the first lap collision that also ended Hulkenberg’s race, an early retirement meant we will never know whether the Indonesian could have joined teammate Wehrlein in taking the race to the Sauber drivers.

8) Romain Grosjean (8/10) – After a low key race in China, Grosjean was back on form in Sochi to climb into the points as a result of the opening lap melee and calmly held off Sergio Perez on much fresher tyres in the closing stages of the race to take a deserved eighth place.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (4/10) – The sister Haas endured a wretched afternoon as he caused the collision that ended the races of Hulkenberg and Haryanto, earning him a drive-through penalty that left him unable to recover to higher than 17th place.

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These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Russian Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
=1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 36 points
=1) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 36 points
3) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 32 points
4) Kevin Magnussen (Renault) – 30 points
=5) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 22 points
=5) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 22 points
=5) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 22 points

Why Sochi flatters to deceive, and how it could be improved as a Grand Prix venue

New track. Same old story.

Sochi – with the majority of February’s Winter Olympic venues still standing in all their glory – may have provided an intriguing backdrop to Sunday’s inaugural Russian Grand Prix, but as with so many of the newer circuits to have graced the Formula One calendar over the years, in the end it flattered only in its deceptiveness.

The problem Sochi had, as with so many of the more modern breed of Hermann Tilke-designed racetracks, is that the venue just doesn’t feel like it should be playing host to a motor race. Aesthetically, the circuit is bland, and the layout, as has sadly become a Tilke trademark as time has gone on, feels too clinical.

When you think of a classic racetrack, a Silverstone, a Spa or a Suzuka, you think of long, sweeping bends, vast elevation and spectacular, flat-out blasts. But most importantly, the layouts feel right. They feel like places where Grand Prix racing should be held. They follow the natural contours of the land, and whilst certainly a romanticised exaggeration, you feel as though you’re watching a road wind a path where farmers used to walk their cows, before the motor industry arrived and took its hold.

The issue that this new, 21st century generation of circuits have is that they give off the very whiff of being built by setsquare. You get the sense that Tilke sits down with a blank piece of paper, ruler and pencil in hand, and sketches something that resembles a track without looking at the land that he has to play with. He sets out to design a challenge, whereas the classic circuits can catch drivers out with their natural landscapes, and as a result you end up with a finished product that looks disjointed and ungainly.

That’s not to say that Sochi doesn’t have anything going for it. The fast, right-hand sweep that starts the lap looked spectacular – helped in part by FOM’s brilliantly-placed camera on the inside kerb – whilst the never-ending left-hander at turn three was a proper old school corner that made for some thrilling action (Jean-Eric Vergne’s stunning move around the outside of Kevin Magnussen a case in point). But those flashes of brilliance, as is the case all too often with Tike’s portfolio, are lost in a river of mediocrity.

A series of frustrating, 90-degree right-angles that prove all too common a feature of modern tracks, the dreaded adverse camber section that is designed to catch out a driver, but in reality does nothing but infuriatingly force the field to play an elongated game of follow the leader and kill off any chance of an overtake into the following bend. These make an all too familiar and unwelcome appearance, as they do at other recent arrivals such as Abu Dhabi, Korea and India.

The two main overtaking points on the track – the run to turn two and the back straight into turn 13 – could both be improved significantly, the former by reconfiguring it into a tighter and more conventional chicane, similar to the final corner at Montreal, whilst the latter, which had the potential to be a haven for overtaking, was far too tight, which when added to the kink just before the braking zone (admittedly unavoidable due to lack of space) prevented much in the way of wheel-to-wheel action.

Similarly, if turns four and five had been opened up with the inside kerbs removed, there lies the potential for a proper flat-out, balls to the wall style run into turn six, which with the extended and quicker approach, would in itself become a third potential passing place. One of the major flaws with Valencia, which is repeated here, is the tendency for a huge section of run-off to be placed on the inside of some of the tighter corners, thereby leading to a filter system and preventing cars from running side-by-side. If these pointed, jagged sections were removed and the road opened up, it would result in a much more flowing, and spectacular, Grand Prix venue. Again, a faster and more sweeping S-bend could replace the painfully Mickey Mouse left-right at turns 15 and 16, and if the second of the two right-handed corners that end the lap were made faster, it would increase the chance of a driver getting a proper run on the car in front and being able to slipstream past him without needing the help of DRS.

Admittedly, the lack of any form of tyre degradation in a way not seen since the Bridgestone era didn’t help, nor did the miscalculation on the part of most of the teams in planning their fuel levels around a theoretical safety car that never materialised, leading to a significant number drivers having to nurse their machines home in the latter stages. However, things could have been improved if the circuit had been better designed.

It’s a shame, because given the right circumstances and location, Formula One in Russia could be a huge success. It’s an enormous global and commercial market, it appears – by the pictures in Sochi – to have a large and passionate set of fans, and it’s close enough to the racing heartlands of Western Europe to ensure good numbers of travelling supporters are well placed to make the journey east to come and spectate.

But for the country to fully maximise its vast potential as a part of the F1 calendar, one of two things would probably need to occur. The circuit at Sochi would have to undergo some minor surgery to allow it to be better configured, or the race could be switched to a purpose-built, permanent venue.

Until that happens, it appears that what we have here is, unfortunately, another venue that doesn’t live up to its billing.

Stephen D’Albiac

Glock the latest pay driver victim

The news that Timo Glock had left the Marussia team for money reasons came as a huge shock to most people. Despite three fruitless years racing towards the back of the grid, Glock is still widely regarded in the sport for his performances while at Toyota in 2008 and 2009, when he regularly troubled the frontrunners despite having an inferior car at his disposal.

It would appear that Glock’s fate was sealed by Marussia’s failure to secure tenth place in the constructors’ championship last season. By losing out to Caterham in the final race the team lost an estimated $10m in prize money, which for a small privateer outfit like Marussia is a significant amount of their operating budget, which meant they had to find the funds from somewhere else. With Glock being paid a salary by the team, and the team’s second driver Max Chilton bringing sponsorship, the German driver was the only candidate for the chop.

The timing of this does seem incredibly strange given that the season ended almost two months ago now. If Marussia had made the change straight after the final race of last year it would still have been harsh on Timo, but it would have been understandable given the money the team had just lost by losing that all important tenth place in Brazil. To do it with just two weeks until the launch of the new car not only gives Glock next to no opportunity to find a seat with another team, but also allows any replacement precious little time to fully integrate before the first race.

It would seem therefore that another driver has gone to Marussia and offered them significant funds in exchange for a race seat, the funds they lost out on by failing to finish tenth last year. It seems the only logical explanation for a change of driver at this stage of the game.

Given the team’s Russian connections it’s reasonable to assume the driver in question could be Vitaly Petrov. Petrov’s seat at Caterham is not secure and despite rumours towards the end of last season that he had lost his funding, more recent stories seem to suggest that he has now found backing. Furthermore, with Russia set to host a Grand Prix from 2014 it would make sense for this move to happen, not only to guarantee there’s a Russian driver on the grid for that race but the only Russian team in Formula One also becomes more financially secure with it.

It’s an ever increasing and depressing trend in modern Grand Prix racing that we are seeing hugely talented racing drivers losing their drives in favour of those whose main gifts are in the art of fundraising. Glock is just the latest driver to join the list of names on the sidelines for the pure reason that his pockets aren’t deep enough. Kamui Kobayashi and Heikki Kovalainen are just other names to fall victim to the same thing over the winter, with Nick Heidfeld another man who has been forced out for a driver with dosh.

Pay drivers aren’t as big a problem as they were 20 or so years ago. The dark days of Deletraz and the ineptitude of Inoue are long behind the sport, and this new breed of racers who are buying their way into F1 do at least have a modicum of talent, Messrs Perez and Maldonado being good examples, but Formula One is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport. It should be about the best drivers, in the best cars, built by the best designers in the world. It shouldn’t be about how much money Daddy’s got or whether you’re best mates with Mr. Telecommunications, it should be about talent. Nothing more, nothing less.

As for Glock, he looks set to spend the year racing in DTM. It may not be the summit of his sport, but it’s a highly competitive series that will allow him to show his talent. Something that Formula One failed him on.

Stephen D’Albiac