Final practice for the Russian Grand Prix topped by Nico Rosberg, but the session ended under red flags after a severe crash for Carlos Sainz at turn 13.
A busy final free practice session at the Russian Grand Prix saw Nico Rosberg top the time sheet heading into qualifying. After split-strategies and split-runs were used amongst the paddock, the flying runs were brought to an end when Carlos Sainz crashed heavily under braking at the high speed turn 13. With protocol to follow to extract the driver, the session ended early as everyone waited for confirmation that Sainz was ok.
For the first time this weekend, the Formula One teams and drivers were treated to a full dry session after yesterday’s rain, that hampered FP2, did not return to Sochi. When the teams arrived today at the Sochi Autodrom, there was also not a large diesel spillage across the track such as the one that caused a thirty minute delay to the start of FP1.
With yesterday’s running incomparable to the expected dry race and qualifying, today’s FP3 was vital for data gathering and preparation for both qualifying and the race. With that in mind, the field flocked in their masses to the track before the green light flicked on in order to spend as much time as possible out on the circuit.
However, the queue to be out on track as soon as the green light came on was slightly in vain as the field remained sat in the pit lane for the next few minutes as they slowly filtered out after a practice start each.
Kvyat, as the first man on track, set the first time of the day before Ricciardo and Bottas lowered the initial benchmark. But it was the other Williams where the situation was darker with Massa reporting his engine not working before the team ask for him to return to the garage without using first gear.
Felipe was soon back out and improving his best time soon after pitting following a system restart to fix his DRS issue. However he was only on track for a moment before pitting again, reporting a gear selection issue. But once again he was soon heading straight back out, this time after a steering wheel change.
Down at Lotus, Grosjean was starting the tyre feedback by reporting the rears were begging to drop off after six laps. Romain managed to last another four laps on his soft tyres before pitting.
Other drivers were also feeding data back to their teams with Hulkenberg suffering from understeer in his Force India while Carlos Sainz began to feel the track was rapidly improving. Unfortunately for his Toro Rosso team-mate, Verstappen found their to be less than optimal grip on the final corner, causing him to spin.
When Williams and Mercedes made the switch onto the supersoft tyres, Bottas was unable to instantly switch the option tyres on for a flying lap and instead had to build up his speed. Whereas Rosberg came straight out of the garage and into a flying lap enough to spring him into the top spot. But despite going fastest, Rosberg time was only better than Bottas due to the final sector where the Finn lost seven tenths of a second after posting purple times in the first two.
While Rosberg improved on his personal best time to pull slightly further away from Bottas, Hamilton was pushing hard and overcooked it at turn two causing him to lock up. On his next lap, Lewis once again lost time in the first sector as he dropped 4 tenths early on before going purple in the middle sector. The final sector however saw Lewis lose more time as he found himself caught in traffic and only manage to go third, eight hundredths down on Bottas.
Before either could push again, the red flags were out as Carlos Sainz found himself buried under the tecpro barrier at turn 13. Without being caught on the broadcast coverage and without initial replays, the cause of his crash remained unclear as Carlos was extracted from the car but images showed just how deep into the barrier Sainz found himself.
The team were also unable to communicate with their driver to check he was conscious and ok after loosing power in the car. Images from the scene also showed a number of impact points on the wall left of the turn 13 braking zone as well as multiple debris patches spread across the track on the run down to the crash barrier.
A while after the red flags came out, shots were shown of Carlos being stretchered into an awaiting ambulance and giving a thumbs up indicated he was ok. The FIA soon confirmed that he was ok and able to answer questions.
After the FIA’s confirmation of Carlos being ok, replays were shown of the crash with the rear snapping under braking sending the car widely into the barrier to his left and loosing the ability to stop the car. The crash was at high speed and caused him to lose the front wheel from the suspension system but with replays shown, signs are that Sainz is alright.