2014 Russian Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

Hamilton Hangs On

While Mercedes continue to be the class of the field in 2014, qualifying on the front-row is becoming far more of a challenge for the Brackley squad. Lewis Hamilton may have sealed his seventh pole position of the season today, with teammate Nico Rosberg in tow, but it was Valtteri Bottas who threatened Mercedes supremacy and but for a disastrous end to the lap, the Finn would surely have claimed his maiden P1. With one Williams in P3 and the other down in P18, it was certainly a day of mixed fortunes for Williams. 

Battling BOT

He may not be a rookie, but Valtteri Bottas has been somewhat of a revelation this season. The Finn has been billed as the best thing since sliced bread by many highly esteemed analysts and throughout 2013, glimmers of this potential shone through, yet it was largely an unconvincing season. However, with an excellent car to work with and all the confidence that comes with a string of impressive performances, Valtteri has emerged as one of Formula 1’s brightest talents.
The only surprise then is that Bottas was unable to clinch his first pole position today, after heading into the final sector with an albeit small advantage. His snap of oversteer at Turn 17 led to another slide at Turn 18 and in but a few seconds, the competitive nature of the lap had been reduced to disappointment. For a driver dubbed the new Iceman, his tyres certainly were not cool enough when he arrived to complete the lap. With the Sochi Autodrom quickly proving to be a rear-limited circuit, the rear tyres have been the suspect area for overheating during the course of the weekend and by taking a touch too much life out of the tyres during the first two sectors, Bottas was left short in the crucial final corners.
Regardless, it was a valiant effort at a pole position which ultimately fell to the likely candidate in the end. Hamilton has looked spectacular throughout the weekend and barring a spin at Turn 17 in FP3, the Brit has been near faultless – no mean feat at a brand new venue. While Nico Rosberg has unquestionably improved upon what was a difficult Friday, (in typical Nico fashion might I add), the German could not do enough to overhaul the margin to his title rival. Advantage Hamilton, in what could prove to be a pivotal race in terms of the title fight. Surely Rosberg cannot afford to allow Hamilton another win and yet another extension of what is a growing points advantage.

MarkedLy Improved

Despite being stooped in history, qualifying P4 and P6 is quite an achievement for McLaren in their current circumstances. After Jenson Button once again demonstrated his wet weather credentials in Japan, the team have continued this momentum into this weekend, with the circuit seemingly playing to the MP4-29’s strengths.
Both Button and Magnussen looked very strong throughout yesterday’s sessions, with both long and short run times making for promising reading. While they seemed to take a step backwards in FP3, they reacquainted themselves with their Friday speed in the afternoon, with Jenson Button rounding out the second row and Kevin Magnussen in P6, (yet a gearbox change will demote him to a P11 starting spot.) Considering the fact that the Dane is typically considered to be the better qualifier, this was either a stunning display of pace from Button, or a McLaren car with even more potential to unlock. Regardless, the team will have enjoyed today and such a result will give them a boost not just for tomorrow, but for the remainder of the season.

Hometown Hero

So it may only be Saturday, but Daniil Kvyat has certainly given the Russian fans something to cheer about already this weekend. Both Toro Rosso’s were threatening to make a statement throughout Friday and again this morning and when the pressure was on, the young Russian delivered a stunning lap to go P5 – just seven tenths shy of the pole time. Quite a statement, particularly when Sebastian Vettel had fallen out of the running during the Q2 stage. Kvyat certainly has big shoes to fill at Red Bull, but judging by how he coped with the pressure of today, I am starting to think that he will be a force to be reckoned with in 2015. If he can hold station tomorrow, or even move forward, the crowd will certainly enjoy their first experience of Formula 1.

Excellent Ericsson

It seems that getting out-qualified emphatically by debutante Andre Lotterer in Spa has been a wake-up call to Marcus Ericsson, as the Swede demonstrated impressive qualifying pace today, comfortably beating Kamui Kobayashi by six tenths, as well as Pastor Maldonado and a limping Williams of Felipe Massa along the way. While Pastor was lacking FP3 running and Felipe suffered a engine mapping issue, Marcus’ exploits could prove to be an invaluable asset to go on his CV after what has been a season full of trials and tribulations for the young rookie.

GP2 Crown For Jolyon

It may not be Formula 1, but Jolyon Palmer certainly deserves a special mention today, as the Englishman sealed the GP2 title with three races to spare. After a dreadful day for his closest challenger Felipe Nasr, which saw the Brazilian fail to register a single point, Palmer had to win the race in order to confirm his place on top of the championship. Easier said than done, as he was hounded throughout the second half of the race by Mitch Evans.
However, Jolyon soaked up the pressure demonstrating all the properties of a good sponge and managed to hold off Mitch. It remains to be seen whether a Formula 1 seat will be available for Palmer next season, with the newly-crowned GP2 champion unable to remain in the series for a following year. Taking the title has proved to be somewhat of a poison chalice for the two previous winners, Davide Valsecchi and Fabio Leimer, but with Rosberg, Hamilton, and Hulkenberg to name but a few drivers who have made a successful accession, there is certainly a chance that Palmer will be on the grid in Melbourne.

#ForzaJules

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