- Russian GP analysis: Bottas's win was a just reward, but far from an emphatic response to his naysayers
A fuming Lewis Hamilton accused Formula One bosses of being out to get him after a 10-second penalty denied him a record-equalling victory at the Russian Grand Prix.
Hamilton was penalised by the stewards for performing two illegal practice starts in Sochi ahead of a race in which he had hoped to claim his 91st victory to match Michael Schumacher’s all-time tally.
But the penalty dropped the Mercedes driver out of contention, with the six-time world champion slamming the decision as “b-------.”
With Hamilton out of the way, Valtteri Bottas marched to a regulation victory, crossing the line 7.7 seconds clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Hamilton finished a distant third.
“I’m pretty sure no one has ever got two five-second penalties for something so ridiculous before,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t put anyone in danger, I’ve done this at a million tracks over the years and never been questioned. But it is to be expected. They are trying to stop me.
“Whenever a team is at the front, you face scrutiny. Everything on our car is checked, double-checked, triple-checked.
“They are also changing rules such as the engine modes [believed to have favoured Mercedes in qualifying], so there are lots of things they are putting in the way to keep the racing exciting. It feels like we are fighting uphill.”
A look back at the time penalties incurred by polesitter Lewis Hamilton before lights out - which ended up changing the complexion of the Russian Grand Prix#RussianGP 🇷🇺 #F1 pic.twitter.com/3EZ43De2UB— Formula 1 (@F1) September 27, 2020
After roaring to pole position at the Sochi Autodrom, Hamilton headed into Sunday’s race as the favourite to rewrite the record books.
But his hopes went up in smoke just moments after he left his garage when he dialled the Mercedes pit wall to see where he could perform a practice start.
“Can I go out further [of the pits] or not,” Hamilton said. “Affirm,” replied Pete Bonnington, his race engineer.
“To the end of the pit wall?” asked the world champion. “Yes copy,” came the reply.
But Bonnington’s call was a breach of the rules, and Hamilton was under investigation before the race had even begun.
Despite holding off Bottas at the getaway and again at the restart – after the safety car was deployed following two separate crashes involving McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll on the opening lap – Hamilton was subsequently hit with two five-second penalties.
“That is bull----,” the British driver said when told of the punishment. “Where is that in the rulebook?”
Article 36.1 of the sporting regulations requires drivers “to use constant throttle and constant speed in the pit exit”, and the stewards deemed Hamilton broke the rule by “performing his practice start near the end, but directly in the pit exit”.
Hamilton served his penalty when he came in for new rubber on lap 16.
Sitting, shaking his head, he was on the radio again. “This is just ridiculous,” he said.
Hamilton dropped to 11th, 36 seconds behind Bottas, and his maiden shot at matching Schumacher’s record was over in a flash.
Reflecting on the infringement after the race, Hamilton added: “The rule says you have to be on the right side of the track after the pit-lane lights, but it doesn’t say how far.
“I don’t like to be on the same place where everybody has completed their practice starts because it is not representative of what it is like on the grid, so I try to get on a surface that doesn’t have any tyre rubber laid down.
“I asked the team and as far as we were aware it was OK. So, yes, an interesting decision to be penalised.”
Perhaps, tellingly, Hamilton’s boss, Toto Wolff, ruled out an appeal, but said: “I am not happy with the penalty – it is far-fetched.”
Later on Sunday evening, the stewards reversed their decision to give Hamilton two penalty points. Instead, Hamilton’s Mercedes team were fined £23,000 after explaining that they were at fault for the pre-race infringement, and that Hamilton was merely following Bonnington’s instructions. It means Hamilton will revert to eight points on his licence, four short of the 12 that would mean he is banned for one race.
Speaking before the stewards’ about-turn, Hamilton said: “It is ridiculous the points they have been giving this year.
“Penalty points are for putting someone else in danger or crashing into somebody, but I did not harm anyone. Going forward, I will make sure I don’t give them an excuse for anything.”
On an otherwise turgid afternoon in front of tens of thousands of fans in Russia – the largest sporting-spectator gathering of the Covid-19 era – Sergio Perez finished fourth for Racing Point ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc.
We never got to find out how the differential strategies between the top three would have played out
And perhaps Bottas would have won it anyway, but not quite so comfortably. Anyway, well done Valtteri, good to see you back on the top step. 44 points the gap now. Next up we're at the Nurburgring in what will almost certainly be cold and possibly quite damp. That'd be quite something.
Thanks for joining me today. Stay tuned for more analysis and reaction on these pages tomorrow.
Bottas reacts to the ninth win of his career
VALTTERI: "Once I was in clean air I felt that the pace was pretty awesome and that I could control everything.— Formula 1 (@F1) September 27, 2020
"Never give up. It's a good day. It's nice to get another win as it's been a while and I now need to keep the momentum going"#RussianGP 🇷🇺 #F1 pic.twitter.com/QUFm6kjiQo
Hamilton will have to wait another couple of weeks to match Schumacher's record. It does mean, however, that he could do it at the Nurburgring which has a corner named after the seven-time world champion...
Updated constructor standings
Just seven points between McLaren (who did not score this weekend), Racing Point and Renault. Renault are definitely in amongst it now and there's very little to separate those teams. Will be a cracking battle until the end of the season.
Updated driver standings: Top 10
Daniel Ricciardo in sixth now, has been driving brilliantly all season. Not too far away from fourth place, either, with Norris not scoring points today.
Driver of the day?
Not sure who I'd give it to? Probably Leclerc. Plenty of candidates, actually. Bottas, Verstappen, Perez, Ricciardo, Kvyat should all be fairly chuffed.
Bottas rolls out his "To whom it may concern," riposte again
Good drive from him today. He had to let Hamilton take the win here two years ago and he has had enough bad luck in his time at Mercedes so that's fair enough.
Russian Grand Prix - Classification
OUT: STR, SAI
Can Kvyat get Ocon on the last lap?
No! Not quite...
Albon gets a five second time penalty but it will not drop him from 10th as Giovinazzi has been lapped and is 17s behind.
VALTTERI BOTTAS WINS THE 2020 RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX
That's better! He likes it around here. An important win for the Finn, he'll be delighted and rightly so. Not his best weekend overall but he was there to take advantage of his team-mate's misfortune.
Bottas crusing to victory here. Verstappen comfortably second. Hamilton comfortably third. Perez comfortably fourth. Yeah. Hamilton also gets two penalty points added to his licence which means he's two points away from having a race ban...
Raikkonen closing up onto the back of Vettel now. Albon has dropped off the back of Gasly so it will be a single point for him now. Leclerc has driven a brilliant race. Bottas has done little wrong here, though he has benefitted from Hamilton's misfortune.
Lap 51 of 53 - Kvyat within DRS range of Ocon now
Ocon has not had a great race after that first stop. He's 17s behind Ricciardo on the road. Bottas, in clean air, takes the fastest lap point back off Verstappen.
Lap 50 of 53 - Running order
OUT: SAI, STR
Verstappen takes a bunch of time out of Bottas, largely because Bottas had to lap a gaggle of backmarkers.
Lap 49 of 53 - This hasn't been a terrible race
For Sochi. Decent amount of action, drama and intrigue. Verstappen sets the fastest lap of the race and reduces Bottas's lead to 7.3s, though it's all by the by.
Lap 48 of 53 - Norris locks up...
And Albon is through. Norris now out of the points and I think he'll stop for a set of softs and perhaps go for the fastest lap, although he won't be eligible for the point unless he's in the top 10. Hamilton doesn't have that luxury. in fact, nobody else on track does.
Lap 47 of 53 - Ricciardo looks like he's going to keep hold of fifth here
He has a five second time penalty but Leclerc in sixth is 9.7s behind. Now Gasly's turn to have a go at Norris but again the Briton is fighting brilliantly. He gets him, quite easily, with DRS and into turn two and up into P9.
Lap 46 of 53 - Nice battle emerging between Norris/Albon/Gasly
Albon tries his luck but Norris resists brilliantly, putting his car where Albon cannot get past. Norris on very old tyres. He can't get through and now Gasly will be closing up at great speed... looks like Albon nearly put Gasly into the wall... though it may have been deceptive... now Gasly screams past Albon on the back straight with a much better run and into P10. Nice work, Pierre!
Lap 45 of 53 - What's happening at the front?
Not a great deal. The gaps are fairly stable. 11.4s from Bottas to Verstappen, 9.6 from Verstappen to Hamilton.
Lap 44 of 53 - VSC deployed
That's because Grosjean destroyed the bollards at turn two and they are having to replace them. That makes sense and the new bollards are placed. And the VSC ends after about 10 seconds. Not long enough for anyone to get an advantage with a pit stop, though Kvyat has come in... I think that's a mistake. They must have thought the VSC would have been longer than it was... that's an error.
Lap 43 of 53 - Running order
Albon now in 11th, just a couple of seconds behind Norris. Norris on very, very old tyres.
Lap 42 of 53 - Vettel does get Grosjean for 14th, though
Grosjean drove clean through the polysytrene bollards at turn two, failing to negotiate them. They touched in that move, too...
Lap 41 of 53 - Leclerc in sixth...
...Vettel in 15th. That's woeful. He's only 6.5s ahead of Raikkonen, who is now on fresher and quicker tyres. Losing that place to his former team-mate would be quite some ignominy.
Lap 40 of 53 - Ricciardo holding fifth
Leclerc 6.7s behind him. The Aussie has a 5s penalty so that will be the target for Leclerc. Perez in a race of his own today in P4. Giovinazzi shows his intention with a lovely move around the outside of Grosjean at turn two.
Lap 39 of 53 - Hamilton still 10s behind Verstappen
Albon slicing his way through the field now, currently in P12. 25s away from Kvyat in eighth though so perhaps a point or two is the best he's going to get.
Lap 38 of 53 - Verstappen closing the gap now
It's 11.1s. Not sure if this is any real pace or if Bottas has backed off or is in traffic - I think the latter, as he has just lapped both Williams cars.
Lap 37 of 53 - This is the problem with one-stop races
There's little variation in what drivers do - or can do - to try something a little different. You know that Hamilton would have done that were it possible today, what with his penalties. But it's not...
Lap 36 of 53 - Around two-thirds race distance now
Bottas just building up enough a big enough lead before backing up slightly.
Here's the top 10. Raikkonen has now stopped and is out in 16th. It was a slow stop, unfortunately.
Lap 35 of 53 - Bottas leads Verstappen by 13s
Hamilton is a further 10s behind the Red Bull. He's told to keep his pace up and that is what he's doing, setting the first sector. Will be good for him to win here, he took his first win here in 2017 and should have won in 2018 but for being told to give the victory to Hamilton.
Lap 34 of 53 - Norris/Albon/Russell watch
Not going terribly well for any of them. Norris in P11 but on 32 lap hard tyres so will have to stop again almost certainly. Albon in P15 on fresh mediums so will have to do some overtaking. Russell last on the road after two stops...
Lap 33 of 53 - Raikkonen still has not stopped
And is holding up Pierre Gasly for ninth.
Lap 32 of 53 - Ricciardo told of his five second penalty
"I'll drive faster. That was my bad, I'll make up for it," he says. Hamilton dropping back from Verstappen now. Nearly nine seconds between them now. Might just be too much to make up given the tyre disadvantage he has. Could Kvyat be in line for some decent points here? He's now on the mediums and is only nine seconds behind Ricciardo in fifth and he has a five second penalty...
Lap 31 of 53 - Kvyat pits from third
Which means we have the top three as Bottas, ahed of Verstappen by 13s, ahead of Hamilton by 7.9s. All on the hard tyres but Hamilton's roughly 10 laps older than the top two. Kvyat comes out eighth in the end.
Lap 30 of 53 - Bottas leads Verstappen by 12.2s
Hamilton approaching the non-stopper Kvyat in his home race. Should be an easy pass? Could be an interesting battle between Hamilton and Verstappen towards the end of the race.
Lap 29 of 53 - Running order
Leclerc exits the pits but will not be ahead of Ricciardo, will he do Ocon? Yes, just about. Which means he's also ahead of Vettel, who has not stopped. Great driving from Leclerc here so far.
*yet to pit
OUT: STR, SAI
Lap 28 of 53 - That is a five second penalty for Ricciardo
So the switcheroo has backfired for Renault - but how much will it cost them? Bottas leads Leclerc, who has not stopped, by 9.8s. Hamilton 2s behnd Kvyat and about five behind Verstappen. Leclerc finally does pit after a long first stint. Anyway, he gets past Vettel...
LAP 28/53— Formula 1 (@F1) September 27, 2020
Ricciardo passes Vettel to move up to P9
But seconds later the Australian receives confirmation of a five-second time penalty for an earlier infringement#RussianGP 🇷🇺 #F1 pic.twitter.com/oL1Y9YyDgM
Lap 27 of 53 - Ricciardo under investigation now
For going wide at turn two and not going the right way around the bollards. That swap could backfire for Renault if he gets a five second penalty. Not ideal. He's battling with Vettel on the track now but can't quite get past. Vettel driving well today, neither Ferrari has stopped yet and his SF1000 is looking especially wide today.
Lap 26 of 53 - Verstappen stops from second...
And he comes out just six seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton but behind Kvyat in the sister team. He will want to dispatch him quite rapidly. Bottas told to box on this lap... but he will keep his lead. 2.7s stationary, not bad.
Lap 25 of 53 - Bottas extends his lead to 9.9s
Ricciardo gets past Ocon at the start of the lap... was that ordered from the team? Yeah, he was. Fair enough. Will Ricciardo get a five second penalty for that, though? He ran wide and went to the left of the kerb at turn two and did not go through the directional bollards...
Lap 24 of 53 - Ocon now being hustled by Ricciardo
He's not making great inroads into Vettel ahead.
Lap 23 of 53 - Bottas leads Verstappen by 7.5s
Going quite well now, as I said, the victory is his to lose as it stands. It's quite tight in the midfield, with just 15s separarting 6th and 15th. Ocon closing up on Vettel. Hamilton not happy with being stopped early, saying he's going to struggle to make it to the end. He won't but he's rightly annoyed at how the race has slipped away from him.
Lap 22 of 53 - With McLaren struggling
And Stroll out, it's a good opportunity for Renault to make inroads into their lead in the constructor championship. Ferrari actually doing okay here.
Lap 21 of 53 - Bottas sets another fastest lap for good measure
His lead is nearly six seconds. It is, quite frankly, his to lose. Unless something odd happens. Another SC is not out of the question. Kvyat is who Mercedes want Bottas to clear. The gap is currently 28s between Bottas and the Russian, so they will want another few seconds before he's clear of Kvyat, who is running long on the hard tyres.
Lap 20 of 53 - Top 10
Lap 19 of 53 - Ocon pits and comes out behind Hamilton
Hamilton dispatches Vettel quite easily at the start of the lap. Hamilton now in P7. Next man up the road is Magnussen on the mediums.
Lap 18 of 53 - Bottas leads Verstappen by 4.5s
Verstappen not quite in undercut range, though, at the moment. Bottas sets another fastest lap and puts seven tenths or so into Verstappen. The gap is nearly five seconds now. Hamilton closing in on the back of Vettel and is within DRS range.
Lap 17 of 53 - Where does Hamilton come out?
Can he get ahead of Daniel Ricciardo? I think he will... but it will be close. Actually not that close in the end but he's behind Sebastian Vettel. "This is just ridiculous, man" he says on the radio. He's onto the hard tyres and will run to the very end. Thing is, they will be a lot more worn than Bottas's, whenever he pits and puts on fresh hard tyres. Probably another 10 laps or so?
Bottas, in clean air, sets the fastest lap.
Lap 16 of 53 - Running order
OUT: STR, SAI
Hamilton pits... he'll take his penalty now. Where will he come out?
Lap 15 of 53 - I guess Hamilton is hoping to extend this stint...
...and then go hell for leather towards the end of the race, hoping to claw back all that lost time. Daniel Ricciardo comes in from fifth, not great being stuck behind Ocon.
Lap 14 of 53 - Hamilton told to get on with it
He really needs to clear cars from his pit window. If he were to pit now - and it's a long time loss here - he'd come out way, way, way down around 15th or 16th... in among cars that will be running quite far into the race. Hamilton is going to need a safety car - or a miracle - to win this race now.
Hamilton stays out... possibly against the wishes of the team. "Do not stop me now," he says. And he just sets the fastest lap of the race. He extends his lead to 2.4s...
Lap 13 of 53 - Bottas getting on with it here...
He's lapping around Hamilton's pace if not a little quicker on the better tyre and will be able to go deeper into the race. It's all coming up Bottas, for once.
Lap 12 of 53 - Top six and time gaps
- BOT +1.4
- VER +2.9
- OCO +4.9
- RIC +5.5
- PER +6.6
All quite close, really. Ricciardo within DRS range of Ocon ahead.
Lap 11 of 53 - Hamilton leads Bottas by 1.5s, Bottas just biding his time I think
This 10s is going to be a problem for Hamilton. He's on softs so will probably stop quite early and that will drop him back into traffic. Norris/Russell/Albon having an almighty duel at the start of the lap. This is brilliant, good mates all of them. Not often you see them together on track.
Lap 10 of 53 - Perez under investigation now
For not following race directors' notes. So that could be a five second time penalty for him. I think it'll be missing the bollards at turn two. Alex Albon currently running in last behind Norris. Another problematic weekend for him.
Hamilton is told of his 10 second time penalty for the start infringements. "What happened?" he says. He seems a bit baffled but it was his team who told him it was okay...
Lap 9 of 53 - Verstappen complains about rear grip
Wonder when Mercedes will tell Hamilton of his 10 seconds-worth of penalties... maybe not quite yet but they will surely take five (or 10) seconds of it at his pit stop so they'll have to tell him before then.
Lap 8 of 53 - Hamilton leads Bottas by 1.2s
Verstappen a further 1.8s behind him. Kvyat mugs Grosjean for 10th and gets himself into the points. Two Haas cars were running into the points before then.
Lap 7 of 53 - Hamilton puts the hammer down
He's on the soft tyres so will need to stop a fair bit earlier than Bottas and Verstappen.
And now he's been given a five second time penalty for that practice start violation...
That makes it a bit more interesting! Things are starting to go against him...
Hang on... this is interesting. He's been given TWO five second time penalties for TWO violations. So that's a total of 10 seconds. This really will have to be some race...
Lap 6 of 53 - Running order
Hamilton backs the pack up early. Verstappen very eager to get going...
Hamilton nails the restart and Bottas will not got much of a tow at all. Hamilton keeps his lead ahead of Bottas and Verstappen. Now the tactical race starts...
Lap 5 of 53 - It was Leclerc who was tagged by Stroll
Anyway, SC period ending soon so we get to do it all again... can Verstappen get a tow? Can Bottas? It's not quite the same as it was in Mugello last time. So let's see...
Lap 4 of 53 - Replay of Norris's first lap
It was truly dreadful. He got squeezed out, lost traction at turn two, slipped towards the back and then had to swerve to avoid his crashed team-mate, running over a ton of debris. He, Albon and Russell all jumped into the pits under the safety car to change their tyres. Norris complaining about his car which he says does not seem right.
Lap 3 of 53 - Hamilton leads Bottas under the SC
What does this mean for Hamilton's strategy? Not sure yet. It'll help the wear on his softs, allowing him to extend the stint so I suppose it's a net gain. Still not ideal as everyone else will be able to extend their stint as well.
Sainz's accident was... a rookie error
He ran wide at turn two, had to go around those directional bollards and crashed it into the wall where the exit tightened. A completely unforced error and that looks particularly bad on replay. His own fault, really, flooring it through the tight bit off track.
What happened to Stroll? He said he got hit from behind. Yep, massive hit from behind, not sure who it was but that's irritating. He slid into the wall.
Lap 2 of 53 - Hamilton leads Bottas under the safety car
Looked like another weak surrender from Bottas, there. He took the lead but then didn't seem to want to get his elbows out...
Actually, he ran too deep at turn two and then didn't get the best exit as he was on the kerbs and that's where Hamilton took the lead. Verstappen went wide, lost third place to Ocon and then got it back again.
Lap 1 of 53 - Running order under the safety car
OUT: STR, SAI
THE 2020 RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX IS GO!
Bottas is straight up into second and he gets a big, bit tow and goes around the outside of Hamilton! Can he hold onto the lead?!
Verstappen runs wide! Bottas surrenders the lead at the long turn three, not sure what happened there...
There's a crash at the back and then there's another one with Stroll into the wall. Sainz went through the bollards and into the wall. Lando Norris down there as well.. is he still going? Awful first lap for McLaren.
Safety car out...
They line up, Hamilton in first, targeting a record 91 race wins
Can he do it? The start is absolutely crucial here.
Formation lap starts...
And not everyone is away? Kevin Magnussen only just gets going, albeit a lot later than everyone else. He'll have to make it through the pack to take up his 18th place before the race begins. The frontrunners will be waiting on the grid an absolute age.
What we really don't want...
...is for Hamilton to win and then having to wait until a post-race investigation for it to be confirmed...
Starting tyre types
Hamilton on softs, Verstappen and Bottas on mediums. The rest of the top 10 on softs. Then it's everyone else on mediums apart from Kvyat and Raikkonen on hards and Alex Albon on softs.
It's getting a bit tight if they're going to give Hamilton a grid drop now...
With just six minutes until the formation lap. Johnny Herbert, a driver steward and presenter on Sky Sports F1, reckons it'll be okay because his team told him it was. Then again he said that Hamilton would lose his lap time after his investigation in qualifying yesterday, not realising he had already lost it...
Good chance of a safety car here
So that throws up some unknowns, too. Last year's race was almost decided on it, though Ferrari - in usual fashion - imploded in a variety of ways.
Strategy chat from Pirelli
So here's the grid - assuming Hamilton does not get a grid drop
Guess it could be a drive-through?
Hamilton under investigation...
...for doing a practice start from an illegal position. Interesting...
Not sure what the penalty would be for that, I'd at least assume a grid drop?
30 minutes to go
Here's the weather. Looks good.
Albon and Latifi have taken grid penalties
Which means a P15 start for the Red bull man and P20 for Latifi.
Vettel stuffed it in the wall in Q2 yesterday
...and team-mate Charles Leclerc had a narrow escape, though he still could not make it through to Q3.
... before Vettel cleared up after himself.
Here's the strength of the tow at this track
Third place might not be such a bad place for Bottas.
Current driver standings - top 10
Might Mick Schumacher, son of Michael, replace Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo?
It would be a nice parallel, as Raikkonen replaced Michael at Ferrari for the 2007 season. Mick is currently leading, fairly comfortably, the F2 championship with just a few rounds left. I think, at the moment, it is more likely than not. He's the leading Ferrari academy driver in the championship and Alfa have a strong relationship with the team.
Callum Ilott, the Briton, is another Ferrari academy driver and is second in the championship. Could he end up at Haas or in F1 in another seat?
This makes me feel old
Or at least experienced. I remember seeing Raikkonen in the Formula Renault Winter Series at Silverstone as support for the BTCC at the turn of the century. He absolutely bossed it there. Not sure he'll be around next season but I think he's still managing to perform pretty well.
Final times after qualifying
- Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1min 31.304secs
- Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:31.867
- Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:31.956
- Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:32.317
- Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault 1:32.364
- Carlos Sainz (Spa) McLaren 1:32.550
- Esteban Ocon (Fra) Renault 1:32.624
- Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:32.847
- Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:33.000
- Alexander Albon (Tha) Red Bull 1:33.008
- Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:33.239
- Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:33.249
- Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point 1:33.364
- George Russell (Gbr) Williams 1:33.583
- Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:33.609
- Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:34.592
- Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:34.594
- Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:34.681
- Nicholas Latifi (Can) Williams 1:35.066
- Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:35.267
Good morning F1 fans
And welcome to our coverage for the 2020 Russian Grand Prix from the Sochi Autodrom, famously on the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Lewis Hamilton did what Lewis Hamilton does and claimed his 96th career pole position yesterday, though it was far from straightforward for the champion, making a mess of laps in both Q1 and Q2 and only just getting across the line to complete a lap good enough to get him into Q3, after Sebastian Vettel crashed and brought out the red flag.
In Q3 nobody could get close, though, as he beat Max Verstappen by over half a second and team-mate Valtteri Bottas by nearly 0.7s. That said, Hamilton is not all that optimistic of his chances in the race today. He had to use a set of soft tyres to get through to Q3 in the end, which means he starts on them, whereas his two biggest rivals behind him are on the more favourable medium compound tyres.
It’s not a good place to start at all and I think this year you’re seeing our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years.
I generally expect one of these two [Bottas or Verstappen] to come flying by at some point.I think I’m just going to focus on my race and just try to run the fastest race I can. Obviously I’m on the worst tyre to start on the race but generally it’s a good tyre to do an actual start but it doesn’t have… it has the biggest degradation, ten times more than any other tyre, I think it is. So that’s going to be a struggle.
I don’t know if that puts me onto a two-stop, I don’t know, unlikely because the pit lane is too slow, so I’m just going to have to nurse those tyres as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away so going to sit down tonight to try to figure out if there’s a different kind of race I can do tomorrow to keep my position.
It should, then, at least be an interesting race strategically. It's not the best track for overtaking — or indeed the best track in any way, shape or form — but we have had a few decent grands prix in here in the past few years so here's hoping. As ever, I'll be here for all the build-up, live updates and reaction.