What. A. Day! Valtteri Bottas celebrated his first Formula One win in one of the hardest-fought races in years. The Russian Grand Prix had drama and tension from start to finish…
Valtteri took the initiative straight from lights out, nailing his start from P3 on the grid to perfection as he swept past not one but both of the Ferraris on the long run down to Turn 2, snatching the lead.
An early Safety Car after some Turn 2 melee in the pack on Lap 1 meant was an extra challenge for the leader. But Valtteri caught the chasing Sebasian Vettel sleeping off the restart, scampering into an early lead. The Finn immediately put the hammer down and set about building a buffer of 5s back to Vettel.
Some trouble with lapped traffic saw that lead eroded ahead of the one and only round of stops, but Valtteri did enough on his early laps on the fresh SuperSofts to maintain a 4s lead into the second stint.
But the Ferraris were flying after switching to the red-marked Pirelli rubber and Vettel started to eat into the Silver Arrows lead lap after lap… From 4s the gap came down to 3s, then 2s. The pressure was mounting, but these Finns are made of stern stuff and Valtteri wouldn’t easily be rattled.
The gap was down to just a second as the scarlet Ferrari chased the Mercedes across the line for the final lap. Could the Finn hold on for a famous first win? Yes! The boys ran across the pitlane to greet their man home for his first win in Formula One! A well-deserved one too, after a strong weekend.
“It’s going to take a while to sink in,” said Valtteri. “Normally I’m not that emotional but hearing the Finnish national anthem was very special for me.'
“It’s all a bit surreal, the first win and hopefully the first of many. It was definitely one of my best races ever. The pressure from Sebastian wasn’t too bad; the main issue was with the lapped cars, trying to get past those. It was tricky to pass them without losing time.
“I also had a lockup with about 15 laps to go that hurt the pace, but it was manageable. I asked for a bit of radio silence just to get on it and focus. I’m sure this victory will give me lots of confidence going forward.
“I knew I could do these results, I always trusted my ability, but this result confirms it.”
While Valtteri sipped the champagne and basked in that winning feeling for the first time, it was a totally different race for teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Soaring temperatures plagued the triple World Champion in the opening stint, as he found himself boxed in behind Raikkonen’s Ferrari.
Switching to the SuperSoft in the the second stint didn’t improve the situation and, with the red cars out of reach, Lewis covered off Max Verstappen’s Red Bull to claim a solid but solitary P4 finish.
“A big congratulations to Valtteri, he did an exceptional job today and he really deserves it,” said Lewis. “He’s been fast all weekend and he’s done such a good job for the team. He’s a fantastic teammate to work with and it’s such an amazing feeling winning your first Grand Prix.
“For me it was a very tough weekend. I just wasn’t quick enough. I’ve never had cooling issues like that before but it meant I was out of the race from the get-go. I think I had the pace to fight with Kimi, but the car just kept overheating.
“Ultimately, if I had better pace then I would have been further up. At least I got some good points for the team. I’m just hopeful that I can pick up the pace at the next race.”
Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff was full of congratulations for Formula One’s latest winner.
“A fantastic first win for Valtteri this afternoon and an amazing day for him,” said Toto. “He controlled the race perfectly: a great start, then a perfect restart after the Safety Car and a fantastic first stint where he built the gap on the UltraSoft.
“But then it got tense: we stopped, didn't quite have the pace on the SuperSoft, hit traffic and it needed nerves of steel to handle the pressure in those final laps with a four-time champion closing in.
“But in the joy of Valtteri's first win, the result was also a reminder that we still have work to do. Lewis had to manage temperatures from very early on, which meant he couldn't unlock the potential of the undercut around the stops.
“After that, it was a question of managing the race and collecting the points. But it's clear we didn't give him the car to do the job this weekend and it is a priority for us to sort this out before Barcelona.”