AS HE arrived in Sochi for the 2016 Russian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel managed a deft piece of diplomacy, suggesting the first-corner clash in China was not so much an arch piece of dodgy driving from Daniil Kvyat but a mere result of solid racing.
- Nico nails the Grand Slam in Russian GP – pole, race win and fastest lap
- And Daniil Kvyat delivers his own grand slam of sorts, taking out Sebastian Vettel and ruining Daniel Ricciardo’s race. And his own. And Sergio Perez’s…
The timely comment prevented the possibility of 145 million of Kvyat’s Russian countrymen embarking on a negative crusade against the Ferrari star during his time in Sochi.
There is also a strong possibility that Vettel merely looked at the video of the incident and concluded – as so many others did – that Kvyat was simply reacting the way any opportunistic race driver would, and that was plant his Red Bull’s nose into a rather inviting hole.
Anyway, that was the end of it….
No, not quite.
While Nico Rosberg romped away with a crushing seventh straight victory to consolidate his lead in the world championship, there was plenty going on in his wake, with local hero Kvyat the villain of the piece.
Heading into the first real braking and overtaking zone, turn two, the Russian driver locked his rear wheels and slammed hard into the rear of Vettel’s Ferrari which then cannoned into Ricciardo’s car, inflicting plenty of damage. The Aussie in turn hit the Force India of Sergio Perez, puncturing a tyre.
In the run to the next corner, Kvyat revisited the rear of the Ferrari, this time firing the hapless four-times world champ into the wall and out of the grand prix.
A string of expletives over the radio reflected Vettel’s reaction to being target practice not once, but twice.
Ricciardo followed Kvyat into the pits for repairs, both drivers dropping to the back of the field. Declared Ricciardo diplomatically: “It’s frustrating and a shame to be out of the race more or less from the first lap onwards but I think these things happen with racing.
“After the start I felt a big hit. I saw Seb come into me but it looked like he got hit as well. We had a lot of damage and had to pit. We thought we’d try the mediums but that wasn’t really working.
“Unfortunately the damage was so much that we didn’t really learn anything from today’s race and we don’t know what our pace was.”
Struggling with a damaged sidepod and floor (and a poor tyre choice), Ricciardo finished 11th.
Kvyat, who was ultimately 15th, delivered a mild apology for his epic Maldonado-like performance (video top): “There was a lot going on at the start and I didn’t expect to slow down as much, I locked the rear wheels and the car was a bit out of control which caused the contact with Sebastian.
“On Turn Three, I couldn’t see what was happening ahead, Sebastian seemed to slow down and unfortunately I didn’t have time to react and this caused the second contact. I’m sorry for Sebastian and also to the team as we gave away a lot of points today from both my side and Daniel’s.
“It doesn’t feel great; this is probably the messiest first lap of my career.”
Rosberg enjoyed a cruisy weekend, claiming pole position comfortably, as another power unit issue again sidelined Lewis Hamilton from the Q3 qualifying battle.
Hamilton suffered a recurrence of the failure that ruined his quali efforts at Shanghai last time out, the team using a private jet to flying in key parts from Britain.
Hamilton was to start 10th, while Rosberg easily took pole, outrunning beating Vettel's Ferrari by more than seven tenths of a second.
But Vettel was relegated to seventh on the grid due to a penalty for changing his gearbox after Friday practice.
The reshuffled grid meant Williams driver Valtteri Bottas, relishing Mercedes power, was on the front row after outpacing the second Ferrari of fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen by 0.127s.
Felipe Massa in the second Williams was fifth fastest, while Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull rounded out the top six, both men moving up one place for the race.
Sochi is simply not a track that rewards handling over power. Sixty one percent of the lap distance is spent at full throttle, with 66 gear changes thrown in along the way. It was always going to be tough for the Red Bulls.
Rosberg joins Albert Ascari, Michael Schumacher and Vettel as the only drivers in F1 history to win seven GPs consecutively – three at the end of last season and the first four of this year.
Hamilton drove brilliantly to scythe through from 10th to help post yet another Mercedes one-two.
The Silver Arrows were not without their problems, though. Hamilton had to deal with a water leak, while there was an issue with the MGU in Rosberg’s car. Even the Mercs are having reliability problems as they push to stay ahead of the pack.
But Rosberg looks and sounds like the man who holds a 43-point lead in the Drivers' Championship: “This weekend really went really perfectly for me. Already in qualifying I had found a perfect balance and that continued throughout the race, which was fantastic. I had a great start and from there was able to control the pace at the front.
“Thank you so much to everybody at the factories for building such an amazing car. If you have a car like this, you are really able to push to the limits and that's an awesome feeling. Lewis drove really well to come back up to second so quickly, so well done to him too.
“The only down side to the weekend was to see that reliability is becoming a bit of a concern, as Lewis obviously has a problem yesterday and both cars had issues during the race today. But we have a great team behind us and I'm fully confident that we will sort this out.
“It´s unbelievable to go into the European races with four wins and I really look forward to Barcelona now.”
With Vettel seething back in the garage, Raikkonen was left to carry Ferrari’s hopes, outpacing the Williams of fellow Finn Bottas to take the final spot on the podium.
Bottas and Felipe Massa took fourth and fifth. Encouragingly, both McLaren Honda’s finished in the points, though one lap down.
Fernando Alonso was sixth; Jenson Button 10th and so missed out on a cringeworthy meeting with Vladimir Putin afterwards.
Making stilted small talk through an interpreter, Putin was heard to say to Rosberg, “You and your colleagues, sincere thanks to you. Different segments, different sections of this sport have started to develop in Russia and people take pleasure in watching you do your job, if you can call it a job.”
Some in Russia might say a proper job is making people disappear.
It’s an art that Vettel would love to apply to Kvyat.