Four races into the year and Rosberg continues to lead the way. But what else can we take from Russia? Here are eight talking points from Kyle Archer.
Sochi had been the home of two victories for Lewis Hamilton going into Russia this year. However just leaving with second was a victory for Lewis this time as Mercedes hit reliability issues again. But they were not alone in struggling in Sochi as frustrations boiled at Ferrari when Vettel and Kvyat clashed.
- Rosberg wins again, but is he fortunate?
Once Lewis wrapped up the 2015 drivers’ title in America, Rosberg found the form that eluded him for most of the year and claimed victory in each of the final three races. This change and potential psychological gain led many to believe the German would stand a good chance of taking the fight to Lewis this year and giving us another season-long battle between the pair like we had in 2014.
From the first four races of 2016, Rosberg has won each of them and now sits comfortable atop the drivers’ standings on the back of a seven win-streak. Not only the best of his career, but better than any streak set by Hamilton and the same as the great Michael Schumacher. The only man to better Rosberg, Schumacher and Ascari on seven successive wins in Sebastian Vettel, who claimed nine in a row during his dominant 2013 season.
Yet while Rosberg has taken victory in those seven races, he remains in the best car on the grid. Ferrari was supposed to be a greater threat this year, but that has yet to be shown. Not to mention, Rosberg has been without the challenge of his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton.
The three-time World Champion, sitting across the garage from Rosberg, has been plagued by reliability issues for the last two races. Along with struggling off the line in Australia and being hit on the opening lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
But is Nico lucky to have a seven win streak?
Well in Australia when Ferrari mugged the Mercedes’ off the line, Vettel and his team threw away their chances of the win. They had clearly been able to match Mercedes for race pace, but after the safety car they fitted the wrong compound of tyres to Sebastian’s car, which allowed Nico to walk away with the win.
Then Hamilton was hit in the opening lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix. And come China, Hamilton suffered an engine failure in qualifying which saw him start from the back of the grid. Where was Nico this time? On pole position. Even if once the race began, Daniel Ricciardo took the lead – only to get a puncture and leave Rosberg walking away to the chequered flag.
Then to make it four from four, Rosberg started the Russian Grand Prix from pole position. Where was Hamilton? Tenth. Once again a component in his engine failed during qualifying, but he was at least able to make it into Q3 before it broke. And come the race, Rosberg stormed off into the distance as Vettel came to blows with Kvyat.
Now these instances can make it seem as if Rosberg was fortunate to win the races. But he still had to keep his car on track and not make any mistakes that could end his race. He still needs to be a top driver, even in the best car, to get the best out of the car.
- Where has Mercedes reliability gone?
A bigger issue is the Mercedes appears to have lost the unbreakable nature of the car that was shown in pre-season testing.
As said above, Hamilton was hit with problems to his engine in both, the Chinese and the Russian Grand Prix. That being despite changing the engine.
Then, after a mammoth effort by Mercedes to ensure he could start the Russian Grand Prix from tenth place rather than last, Lewis was hit with a water pressure problem that meant he could not push on for the win.
Rosberg himself was hit with an issue too. An MGU-K problem made the Mercedes pit wall worrying he would be forced to retire from the lead. A result that could have promoted third-place Kimi Raikkonen onto the top step as Lewis’ water pressure stabilized, on zero.
“We were telling him the situation,” said Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical) of Mercedes, to Motorsport.com. “And backing off obviously gives you a little bit more temperature margin, which would be a moderate help. Backing off is helpful, but it shouldn’t have been an answer, it should never have finished.”
- Hamilton defends Mercedes over sabotage allegations
While Mercedes moved heaven and Earth to get Lewis’ car repaired, including flying a new fuel system on a chartered jet into Sochi, some social media users were accusing the manufacturer of sabotage.
Toto Wolff may have branded those making the accusations as lunatics, but Lewis put the accusations by some of his fans to bed. While raising the question to his team to find the route of their issues.
“From my side of the garage the mechanics are having a hard time,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. “But I have absolutely every bit of confidence and faith in them.
“We were doing 800 kilometres a day in testing and the car was almost seen as bullet-proof. Then, all of sudden we’re having all these problems. But don’t jump the gun, that [prioritising Rosberg] hasn’t happened in the last three years and I don’t believe there’s any reason for that to happen now.”
- Kvyat leaves himself walking on thin ice
In China, Kvyat came into Vettel’s crossheads as the German blamed Daniil for Seb hitting Raikkonen on the opening lap. The incident ruining the Ferrari’s day, but not at the hands of Kvyat who attacked the gap left open by Vettel.
Yet, when someone holds you responsible, the worst thing to do is hit them in the next race. Something Kvyat did, not once but twice in as many corners.
Under braking for the tight turn two, Kvyat slightly locked his front tyre and rolled into Vettel. Not only leaving the Ferrari with a puncture, but his Red Bull with damage and his team-mate’s too. Then as they flowed around the fast turn three, Kvyat stormed into the back of the Ferrari again, sending it into a spin towards the wall.
Now the young Russian will be spoken to by Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s motorsport advisor. With Helmut displeased with Kvyat’s driving, stating that it was not acceptable.
This whole situation puts pressure on Daniil’s time at the Red Bull team following his promotion when Vettel departed for Ferrari. Particularly with Max Verstappen in the spotlight at Toro Rosso, with people suggesting Ferrari are interested in his services should he be available.
- Penalty pain for Carlos Sainz
While the spotlight sits on Max Verstappen, his Toro Rosso team-mate came under the spotlight of the FIA for his driving in Russia. Although Carlos does not feel he was responsible, the stewards saw the Spaniard’s defensive move against Palmer, which forced the Renault of the track, as not appropriate – resulting in Sainz being awarded a 10-second penalty which demoted him from 11th to 12th after running in the points, as well as two penalty points on his licence.
“First of all, at the exit of Turn 2, if you want to pass, you go on the inside for Turn 3,” Sainz explained.
“But he [Palmer] decided to go round the outside and I was never expecting him.
“I was looking in my left mirror to see him, suddenly he loses the car on the dirty part of the exit of Turn 2, and we crash. Then is when I felt ‘oh, there’s someone on my right, he’s not on my left’.
- Are Toro Rosso missing their chance?
Worse for Max and Carlos is Toro Rosso may be missing their chance at scoring points.
As the team split from Renault power at the end of 2015, they made a reconnection with Ferrari to run their 2015 engine. And as others develop their units throughout the campaign, they could find themselves left behind and out of the points, making it vital to score sooner rather than later.
But they are yet to capitalise on their results, while not being entirely their own fault. For in Russia, ignoring his penalty, a piece of another car became stuck in Carlos Sainz’s side pod, which caused him to lose downforce during his first stint after a strong start saw him move up the field.
- McLaren bag points with both cars
While Carlos found himself ending the Russian Grand Prix out of the points, McLaren found themselves with both men in the points for the first time sine Hungary 2015. Sixth for Fernando and tenth for Jenson saw the pair notch their first points of the season, joining Vandoorne in scoring for the team after his drive in Bahrain.
- Red Bull run the Aeroscreen
After Ferrari trialled their ‘halo’ concept in pre-season testing, Red Bull replied with their own cockpit protection concept with the introduction of the ‘Aeroscreen’.
The canopy trialled during an installation lap, at the beginning of the first free practice session on Friday, gave the F1 world the chance to see their alternative solution as they seek its introduction in 2017.
The ‘Aeroscreen’ is a more radical step than Ferrari’s ‘Halo’ as it brings a windscreen design to the open-cockpit formula of Formula One. However, Red Bull wanted to take the opportunity to gauge fan reaction to it’s concept after Ferrari’s design was not welcomed by most for its design.
Along with its FP1 outing, Red Bull released two video clips on social media which showed the ‘Aeroscreen’ being tested by the FIA.
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) April 29, 2016
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) April 29, 2016