Martin Brundle: Sochi surprises as Lewis Hamilton nears 'legend' status
Sky F1's Martin Brundle on the pleasant surprise of Sochi as Lewis Hamilton closes in on a third title - and full 'legend' ranking...
Last Updated: 15/10/15 8:11am
Well that was a pleasant surprise with so much track action in Sochi.
A theoretical one-stop race around that circuit didn't promise much but in the end we had plenty of drama. I even heard a few drivers saying how much they liked driving the Sochi layout.
It was yet another demonstration of why we don't need so much Friday free practice time but actually with a curtailed Saturday practice too due to Carlos Sainz's accident, it was rather extreme in terms of lack of preparation. Although no different to a rainy weekend which only dries up on race day.
It helped that the F1 boys decided to drive like the GP2 drivers who desperately long to become one of them. The action was very aggressive, not least after the second Safety Car restart.
Romain Grosjean had an 'Indycar style' accident in the everlasting turn three left hander which resembles part of an oval track. Some snap oversteer in turbulent air at high speed followed by an over correction slammed him across the marbles and dusty run-off into the wall. At which point the Tecpro barriers grabbed the car and pulled it into a nasty deceleration. Lotus can ill-afford the considerable damage but there's not much Romain could have done in the circumstances.
The barriers had a starring role for all the wrong reasons, not least when Sainz went into and under them on Saturday. Luckily, whether they are tyres covered by a conveyor belt or the latest barriers they tend to fly up in the air high enough and long enough not to whack the drivers' heads. I remember back in 2001 when Luciano Burti went off at Blanchimont in Spa and under the tyres, where I immediately felt I was commentating on my first fatality. He was fine, as was Heikki Kovalainen in Barcelona in 2008.
Nonetheless it was alarming that the barriers, although ultimately doing their job well, seemed to behave strangely with various crashes. While they were being fixed Lewis Hamilton was frustrated that the Safety Car was going what he believed to be so slowly. I spoke with Bernd Maylander, its longtime driver and former racer, who confirmed as I expected that he was just about flat out. As I know from having driven the Mercedes in the pouring rain at Silverstone the previous week, it's simply that the F1 cars are so refined and powerful now that even in first or second gear they make a mockery of a well-driven track-prepared sportscar albeit on treaded tyres.
It's strange that it's tending to be Nico Rosberg's car which is having most problems, although of course Hamilton dropped out in Singapore. A throttle damper is required to stop the driver's foot bouncing in tandem with the pedal over kerbs and bumps, and gives him some feel of movement and resistance. These latest cars have a relatively huge throttle travel of 70/80 mm but if they stick, with the amount of power and torque now available, it's very difficult to drive if not a little scary.
The second Safety Car was timely for some late top-ten runners to switch strategy and fit tyres for the long run to the end. This worked a treat for Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo, who both did a stellar job on pace and tyre management. Ricciardo would be unlucky with suspension issues but Perez would make the podium, heavily assisted by a mini Finnish civil war.
Kimi Raikkonen had been impressively punchy all race, early on with his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel and then especially with Valtteri Bottas in the Williams. They had already rubbed wheels earlier, and at any point when Bottas was even slightly delayed in traffic Kimi launched an attack. It was all great driving until the final lap when he threw the Ferrari up the inside of the turn four approach from simply too far back.
It would ruin Bottas and Williams' day, cost him a 30-second penalty and ultimately four places, and thereby confirming Mercedes-Benz as the constructor champions.
In recent decades one team has tended to dominate phases in F1 and Mercedes deserve their moments of glory just as much as any of them. It was a hard slog to the top and now they have everything just right. Well done to all.
Hamilton was peerless out front once Rosberg retired, although it was Vettel who would achieve fastest lap. Lewis had no need to hurry; he now has one hand on his third F1 championship trophy with the other stretching towards it. And with that, full and indisputable 'Legend' status I reckon.
The McLarens both got into the points until Fernando Alonso was penalised for cutting the Turn 16 apex, something he had been warned about after qualifying too. Their cars are almost dangerously slow at the end of the straights when they have run out of hybrid battery power. I saw Fernando after the race as he was swapping crash helmets with Sergio Perez, a very common theme these days among F1 drivers, and he said it was actually scary when Felipe Massa in the Williams blew past.
It was a great drive to fourth for Massa, and would have been an exceptional drive from Sainz from the back of the grid to what could well have been fifth place if his car hadn't broken, eventually depositing him gently in the same barrier he slammed the day before.
Sochi turns up again relatively early in the calendar next season; I can't pretend it's a venue I relish going to but the GP and the support races at the weekend were all thoroughly enjoyable.
See if Lewis Hamilton clinches the 2015 world title in Austin with the United States GP LIVE ONLY on Sky Sports F1. Race-day coverage on Sunday October 25 begins at 5.30pm with lights out at 7pm.