Build around the site of the olympic wintergames, the scenery is sheer awesome on this long and actually rather fast street ciruit. And all the scenery on the television was nice ;-)
Runours before the grand prix are abound as silly season, as the driver carrousel in F1 is often called, is in full spring. After Vettel`s announcement that he would be leaving Red Bull last week, we already know that his place is going to be taken by Kvyat, promoting from the Toro Rosso team. But who will pilot the second Toro Rosso along Max Verstappen? Carlos sainz Jr, son of the legendary rally driver is said to be the prime candidate, but don`t write off Jean-Eric Vergne just yet for another season. And what might the future hold for Jolyon Palmer, son of F1 pilot Jonathan Palmer, who crowned himself GP2 champion this weekend?
It does see to become a father son business though... F1 The Next Generation? With Crashdonado we already have a Klingon at least on the grid...
In qualifications, Hamilton took another pole to his tally in his hunt to become along Mansell the british driver with the most GP wins ever (Nigel currently still holds 31 to Lewis`s 30) in front of Rosberg. Mercedes has just simply ordered them to bring the cars home, because if they score 25 points mimimum, they are officially the Constructors Champions...
But perhaps the suprise on the grid is local hero Kvyat, taking a 5th place gridslot. Behind him, some are being put back 5 spots as gearbox and engine issues are becoming more apparent in the field, but this weekend also saw the (unimpressive) debut of Sorokin in FP1 for Sauber.
The Start: Hamilton has a decent get away, but Rosberg shoots past in turn 2, locking his front up and taking the run off for definite advantage. The team orders him to yield the lead back to Lewis, which he does, and he is forced to make a pit stop as early as lap 1 for the tyres. The strategy is to have him run the entire race on this single set... Massa also needs to change tyres due to a lock up, but it is Vergne that rocketed away from the grid to 5th place, while Alonso went to 4th.
2: Hamilton starts a series of Fastest Laps, improving on it for the first dozen of laps during the race. Ericcson is in 15th place, and although Merhi did outpace him in FP1, he has had an overall good weekend so far, just like in Japan, showing decent form and pace in an effort to retain his seat for 2015.
3: Magnussen DRS`s past both Red Bulls and the Toro Rosso of Kvyat, as McLaren has shown very good pace the whole weekend.
5: Whilst Massa interupts Lewis series of fastest laps as he needs to catch up and clear the field after the lap 1 tyre change, Kvyat has trouble following the race pace.
6: Hamilton resumes the fastest lapping, as Rosberg is now in 18th position having caught back up with the rear of the field. Lewis had to do a drive through the pack three times so far this season, let`s see if Nico can do it as well to do damage control in the world championship standings.
8: Rosberg is going up the field to 16th now, but the big scrap is between positions 6 and 11, involving Ferrari`s, Red Bulls, McLarens and Force India.
9: Time prognoses, without having to make a second stop if he can save his rubber, put Rosberg in a virtual 5th place now.
11: Chilton, having had issues with the steering column yesterday, has to make a second pitstop. He will shortly afterwards retire.
12; Ricciardo pits early, aiming to go for a long stint
14: Rosberg has advanced already up to 12th, and is now prognosed a podium finish while Hamilton keeps knocking in the fastest laps to open the gap more and more on Bottas and Button.
20: Rosberg has entered the points as he goes to 9th from 11th in a swift passing, just as Button comes in to pit.
23: The plagued Kobayashi retires with issues on the car. It seems more and more like Caterham is focussing everything in the final races on Ericsson, and have the japanese just hang by...
25: Nearing the halfway mark, most of the pack is making it`s pitstops, including Alonso. However, the otherwise so slick Ferrari crew botches his pitstop up. With barely degradation and single stops, this almost seems like a 90s race.
27: Bottas pits as Rosberg starts hammering in fastest laps. He feels Lewis is about to box and wants to close the gap as much as possible.
28: Hamilton indeed boxes, but retains his lead in front of Vettel who still needs to come in, Bottas and Rosberg.
29: As Sutil goes by Grosjean, they touch slightly and Sutil spins. An innocent racing incident as the german can continue, but never the less Grosjean is penalised for this, just when stewards in the races before passed on these kinds of slight incidents.
31: Forcing Bottas wide, Rosberg goes by him and Mercedes locks the 1 and 2 spots. Rosberg keeps pushing, giving the impression he might need to come in for a second stop, but he assures the pits by radio his tyres are doing better then good.
35: Perez and Massa pass Kvyat, pushing him out of the points. As Vergne also is falling back, it seems Toro Rosso has focussed to hard on qualifying set up, costing them in race pace.
42: Some drivers like Perez are told to start managing fuel consumption, as Rosberg radios in and confirms he will be driving these tyres to the end, making them having lasted 52 laps.
46: Bottas is closing the gap, but it is probably just to little to late to catch Rosberg.
48: Hamilton starts knocking in fastest laps again, he seems set to put his name in the books as the very first record holder.
52: Fastest Lap Rosberg, it`s not much, but he can boast to Lewis about it perhaps...
53: Hamilton takes his 31st win, and Mercedes has officially become the constructor`s champion for the first time in their existence. Back in the 50s and 60s when they where so dominant, this championship namely didn`t exist yet.
And the fastest lap for the record books... goes in the very final lap to Bottas.
1. Hamilton - Mercedes
2. Rosberg - Mercedes
3. Bottas - Williams Mercedes
4. Button - McLaren Mercedes
5. Magnussen - McLaren Mercedes
6. Alonso - Ferrari
7. Ricciardo - Red Bull Renault
8. Vettel - Red Bull Renault
9. Raikonnen - Ferrari
10. Perez - Force India Mercedes
11. Massa - Williams Mercedes
12. Hulkenberg - Force India Mercedes
13. Vergne - Toro Rosso Renault
14. Kvyat - Toro Rosso Renault
15. Gutteriez - Sauber Ferrari
16. Sutil - Sauber Ferrari
17. Grosjean - Lotus Renault
18. Maldonado - Lotus Renault
19. Ericsson - Caterham Renault
Driver of the Race
Though at first I wanted to put Rosberg here for having driven such an excellent catch up, the fact is that the Mercedes is so overpowered compared to the other cars, this is already the 4th time this season a silberpfeil pulled it off. So i am going with another silver coloured car driver: Jenson Button.
Still wearing his commemorate pink helmet in honour of his dad, since it has been known he might have to leave McLaren (and perhaps even F1 altogether), he has upped his perfomances drasticly. And being an okay bloke, he just deserves another go...
Team of the Race
They are now World Champions, so what is there not to say: Mercedes completly dominated this race again.
All in all, as feared, it was indeed a pretty boring race with no tyre degradation. Sure the location was fantastic, and Pirelli will have learned valuable lessons for the next year, but this was basically a non-race which only served to see wether Lewis could open the gap further, or Nico being able to close it.
Blast from the Past: MasterCard Lola
So you have an experienced constructor in Lola. An engine to be build by the manufacturer himself, the Lola V10, to which the car was streamlined around. Nice financial backing by a huge sponsor in MasterCard, and two young but promising drivers in Vicenzo Sospiri and Riccardo Rosset, which should be enough to enter the grid in 1998 and run a solid first season.
So what went wrong in the disaster that MasterCard Lola turned out to be? They where forced to enter by shareholder pressure already in 1997. The car was far from ready when they appeared in Australia that year.
They had to put the Ford Zetec, in the specs of the Forti team the year before (yeah, we will be getting to them as well in the future), they where overweight and aerodynamically not ready for the engine / chassis combination, compared to the other newcomers of Stewart GP (which I did a piece about a few GPs back).
Unable to qualify for the GP by an astoundishing 11 and 13 seconds (okay, they improved over the weekend, they started out at 20 seconds...), they where nowhere near the required 107% margin and not allowed to enter the race.
And that was it.
No seriously, that was indeed it. In ancient times you had one race teams, usually private funders being an existing car, but in modern day Formula One, they did tend to last a bit longer. Some teams closed halfway after a season, but rarely in their first season (Andrea Moda does not count, that was the biggest farce in the history of the sport and they where actually thrown out of F1 by Bernie).
The wednesday before the second GP of 1997, Brazil, it was announced MasterCard had backed out. The staff was already in Interlagos, and returned to their homebase in the UK, and shortly afterwards Lola withdrew. Their appearance was so unnoticed (if you didn`t watch the aussie qualies, you would never have seen the cars actually drive) that on some entry lists for the 1997 season, they don`t even appear...
So even the best laid efforts can go sour due to such a thing as `no patience`, a lesson Haas seems to have picked up as he will be on the grid in 2016 and prepared, not in 2015 and rushed...