Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas will take his second grid penalty for power unit changes in as many races, with the Finn set to start the Russian Grand Prix from P17.
Bottas qualified P7 at the Sochi Autodrom – a track where he’d never previously qualified outside of the top four – on Saturday afternoon as Lewis Hamilton took P4 on the grid, behind shock pole-sitter Lando Norris, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, and Williams’ George Russell.
But Mercedes then took the decision to change Bottas’ power unit, with the Finn now set to start the Russian Grand Prix from 17th on the grid.
A spokesperson from Mercedes confirmed that the decision to switch up Bottas’ power unit – which was also changed for the Italian Grand Prix two weeks ago, forcing Bottas to start from the back of the grid in Monza – was a tactical one, with Hamilton’s title rival Max Verstappen also starting at the back after taking on a fourth Honda power unit.
Along with Bottas and Verstappen, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi will also be bringing up the rear of the grid after taking on their own new power units.
Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi will also receive a penalty, after changing his gearbox. However, with the engine penalties for other drivers around him, Giovinazzi’s five-place drop means he’ll slip from P15 to P16 – having originally qualified P18 on Saturday.
It will be interesting to see the battle for the top spot as Norris has previously held Lewis on many occasions.
F1 Sochi, Weather forecast.
Much of Saturday was spent watching the weather radar, with torrential rain leading to the cancellation of FP3 even before the session was due to start. But the weather cleared up sufficiently for a thrilling qualifying session to take place on time.
There’s only a 20% chance of rain for the race at this stage, but there was a lot that could be learned from qualifying. Most notably, the intermediate was a strong tyre to use right up to the crossover point around 1m 45s per lap. With no rain falling and the majority of cars circulating for the entirety of Q1, the track still didn’t dry out enough for slicks to be risked until the closing stages of Q3.
Should we see a wet track at any point in the race, that will be something the teams will have to think about, but the forecast is for a dry race.
Track temperatures are going to be the main focus pre-race, with teams potentially making a call on the grid about which tyre to take at the start. The warmer the conditions, the better for starting on the soft or even risking the hard, but the cooler it is, the more the medium will be robust against any graining for the opening stint.
Strategy for Russian GP.
As stated above, everyone has a free choice of starting tyre, so we could well see a lot of similar choices at the front, especially given the mixed up grid. The quick Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton starts fourth, and if he wants to he can back his pace to get through on that same strategy.
We’ve also often seen Mercedes run longer when trying to gain track position, sticking close behind the car ahead and then overcutting them when they pit – which Valtteri Bottas may choose to employ, now he’s set to start from near the back of the field after taking a new power unit overnight.
But the next most likely strategy would see the soft tyre used in the first stint, which would need to be around 12 laps long before a switch to the hards is safe. The softs would give an advantage off the line – which is particularly important given the long run to Turn 2 that will only emphasise that benefit – but the concern will be graining on the low-grip surface.
The front tyres will be the area of concern – and while the mediums are likely to see some graining too at some stage, it’s even more of an issue on the softs if the temperature remains low. Should it warm up slightly to around the 20C mark, then the softs could become an even more popular choice up and down the grid, as that should reduce the severity of any graining.