The Morning After: Cutting it close

Lewis Hamilton

Despite a final margin that was about as dominant as it could be, Lewis Hamilton could not have cut things closer in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Indeed, while the timesheets say his two laps in Q3 are why he will start from pole, it was his out-lap after the red flag in Q2 that actually got him there.

With just 1.25 seconds remaining in the session when he crossed the line, Hamilton’s margin was about as thin as one of the hairs in Chase Carey’s moustache. You couldn’t run it closer if you tried.

And what made it more remarkable was that unintentionally, he kind of did! First the off at turn 2, then after overtaking two cars at the second-last corner, he got caught behind the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo, dawdling at the final turn in order to give himself space.

If you haven’t seen the onboard, do yourself a favour and watch it. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Bono as panicked as he was there. Incredible stuff, and now what could have been a much harder fight through the field on Sunday is very likely to be an easy victory.

Quick Hits

I really don’t want to dump on Alex Albon after he just earned his maiden podium last time out at Mugello, but a 1.141s gap to Max Verstappen is worthy of a major ‘yikes’. In his defence, Max is clearly an alien, but is it too much to ask him to get within a second?

What a disaster for Ferrari. To think they started 1 and 3 here last year, and now can’t even make Q3 – and that’s with upgrades on the car. Surely mixing it with the Renaults and McLarens shouldn’t be too much to ask?

Interesting to see how Mercedes will play things on Sunday with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas starting 1-3 and the tow so powerful here. Presumably there will be some sort of agreement that Bottas will have to give the lead back should he take it into turn 2, but if there’s anyone who can complicate such matters, it’s Max Verstappen.

Sunday race strategy preview, courtesy of Pirelli

The theoretical quickest pit-stop strategies predicted by Pirelli for the Grand Prix based on the data collected from Friday and on weather conditions expected for the race, are as follows:

THE QUICKEST ONE STOPPER: 1 stint on soft (12 laps) + 1 stint on hard (41 laps) to the flag

JUST AS QUICK (but very marginal in terms of wear) ONE STOPPER: 1 stint on soft (14 laps) + 1 stint on medium (39 laps) to the flag

SLIGHTLY SLOWER ONE STOPPER: 1 stint on medium (22 laps) + 1 stint on hard (31 laps) to the flag

SLOWER (but the quickest 2 stops strategy) TWO-STOPPER: 1 stint on soft (12 laps) + 1 stint on medium (29 laps) + 1 stint on soft (12 laps) to
the flag

FOCUS ON

  • Soft tyres. With Pirelli bringing a softer range of tyres to Russia than last year, the teams will have to manage the soft tyre in particular carefully this weekend. Although the soft has held up well, there’s potentially a big advantage in starting on the medium compound as it provides more flexibility: as the frontrunners demonstrated in qualifying.
  • Strategy. While a one-stopper is set to be chosen by most drivers tomorrow, there is a wide variety of strategic permutations using all three compounds.
  • Medium tyre. Only the Red Bull of Max Verstappen and Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas will start on the medium compound in the top 10 of the grid, from second and third. The cars immediately behind them – as well as Hamilton on pole – will be on the faster soft tyre.
  • Second place on the grid is reckoned to be a cleaner line, which could help Verstappen get in front of Hamilton tomorrow and claim a subsequent advantage on his different strategy.
  • Red flag. The Q2 session was disrupted with just over two minutes to go, interrupting a number of crucial qualifying laps, including that of Hamilton. This severely compromised qualifying strategy and also meant that managing tyres on the out lap was particularly crucial in the short time remaining.