Very exceptionally, this time Sergei Sirotkin's column is a Tuesday edition. The former F1 driver obviously enjoyed his home race, a weekend in which the driver made the difference and Sochi didn't present a predictable parade for once. “And from here on, the championship fight just gets tougher. It's no longer just about who gets P1 and who gets P2 in a race, you just can't screw up anymore."
Crossover was the word of the weekend. When to slicks, when to the wet tire. Normally that is a call for the team, they have all the information about amounts of water, where it will rain and when it will come. The driver's input is decisive, he feels the grip and feels where the risks lie. There is a lot of talk about Lando Norris being his own fault but I disagree. I find it strange that McLaren hasn't pushed him more to come in.
They saw the weather turn and should have said, "It's going to rain heavily, we need to pit." When Hamilton did that, I felt like it wasn't the right time yet. A large part of the track was dry and then the advantage you get out of that is still very large. When it splattered Norris also ran into Hamilton who seemed to be consolidating. But the lap after that the rain came very quickly and Norris had no time to react. Very painful for him but the team missed the moment.
That tipping point is very difficult to estimate. The wet tire is the safest option, it is predictable but that doesn't always mean it is faster. A slick can have more grip, you can steer sharper and the car can rotate more easily. But that is often more difficult to drive. If you go over the border, you pay a higher price. The predictability of a wet tire gives a driver confidence, it feels faster. While a slick can still have an advantage, but is less flexible.
What is always exciting about such conditions is the decisive factor of a driver. In dry conditions the proportions are easier to estimate. But now they had to adapt in high stress situations, out of their comfort zone. Then a driver really makes the difference and the best part of it all I thought the younger generation is also able to do this.
And as a Russian, I am proud that Sochi has delivered an exciting race weekend. It's not high on the list of favorite tracks and I can see why. Sochi is a beautiful seaside location with mountains as a backdrop. Drivers also like to come here and are comfortable there. But the layout isn't ideal for racing, the long straight should encourage overtaking for Turn 2 but the braking zone isn't big enough for that. Still we saw some nice fights, with the rain added this was the most beautiful Grand Prix of Russia ever.
The result of that exciting race will have been a psychological blow to Mercedes above all. Sure, they won but they had counted on Verstappen coming through the field with difficulty. That would have happened under normal circumstances. Without an engine change, P2 would have been the maximum for Verstappen, now he has achieved the same result including engine change. Lewis knows that he still has to swallow a substitution and then he has to go through the field, from last place to P2 remains difficult, especially in dry conditions.
A championship at this stage is not decided by P1s or P2s but by screwed up races. You can hardly make up for that. The fight will only get tougher from this point on, at two-thirds into the season. It is the ideal scenario for the sport and the fans, the two biggest stars fighting for the title as it often happened in the past. This is definitely the best F1 season I've ever followed.