At Sochi in 2017, Valtteri won his first Grand Prix after a nip-and-tuck battle with Sebastian Vettel all weekend. Ferrari locked out the front row and Valtteri qualified third, despite being just nine-hundredths off Vettel's pole position time.
But the team knew that all was not lost. Calculations revealed that Sochi was one of just two circuits on the calendar where it can actually be an advantage to qualify on the second row.
How so? Well, the gap between grid slots is 8m but the left-hand side of the Sochi grid - on the racing line - provides much more grip. Turn 1 is actually a flat-out right-hand kink shortly after the start and there follows a long run into the tight, right-handed Turn 2. If the driver starting P3 is able to pick up a tow, calculations prove that the benefits outweigh the 16m disadvantage of starting further back.
Although nothing is certain with an F1 start, Valtteri was able to pull off a text-book getaway, pass Kimi Räikkönen's Ferrari, tuck into Vettel's slipstream, use the additional momentum to go by on the run into Turn 2, then sweep across and claim the inside line. As hard as Vettel pressed throughout the race, that start was the cornerstone of Valtteri's first ever F1 victory, by just 0.617s!
In 2018, Valtteri, always strong at Sochi, was able to take pole position as he and Lewis locked out the front row and it was Vettel starting P3 with those same possibilities. The boot was on the other foot this time!
The team turned its attention towards trying to prevent Vettel picking up that advantageous tow. Team work in Russia has to start the moment the lights change and Toto confirmed that start strategy had been discussed.
"We even talked about what would happen if one of them had a worse start than the other. But they managed to tow each other and then swarm out approaching Turn 2. It was a pleasure to watch. They also give each other plenty of room in Turn 1."
That Valtteri and Lewis got through T2 without either of them ceding a place to Vettel proved a key component of the team's third 1-2 of the season after Spain and Germany.