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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Great Dane-ish performance by K-Mag // Magnussen and Alonso secure first points of season with outstanding drives

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The Russian GP and indeed the World Championship took a major turn at 3:48pm local time on Saturday when it became clear that Lewis Hamilton’s MGU-H had failed, leaving him stuck in tenth on the grid, with Nico Rosberg in a perfect position to profit with an easy pole and odds on for the win with the pace advantage Mercedes had. However, there was still intrigue with Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel coming through the field, and then more intrigue after the second corner as Daniil Kvyat triggered mayhem, knocking Vettel out of the race and hampering several of the front runners, which opened the door for the lower midfield to fight for points.

First points for Renault after stellar drive

Kevin Magnussen, Renault F1 Team: Started 17th, Finished 7th

Magnussen pitted early on lap 16 in an attempt to move further up the field
Credit: Renault Sport

The biggest benefactor of the first lap chaos was Renault as the French team escaped in 9th and 10th. That was a great leap having started on the ninth row; despite an improvement in performance Renault were still over two tenths off making Q2 for the first time since Australia. The near miss at turn one with the spinning Force India of Hülkenberg left the Renaults further back but they were both very brave through the melee of turn three to jump up through much of the lower order to the bottom of the points before the virtual safety car was called out.

With Vettel and Hülkenberg out and the Red Bulls and Pérez having to pit to repair damage on lap one, Renault had a great chance of their first points of the campaign. Magnussen pitted early on lap 16 in an attempt to move further up the field, coming out 13th, crucially ahead of teammate Palmer. As others in the midfield pitted, Magnussen made great use of his fresh soft tyres, although wary that he had to make his tyres last 38 laps for his one stop strategy to work.

By lap 21, Magnussen was back up to 11th and then the second stops of Ricciardo, Ericsson and Pérez vaulted the Dane up to eighth and it got even better on lap 33 as Max Verstappen retired with an engine issue, moving Magnussen up to seventh. But the battle was just starting, as a queue of cars had formed behind, with Grosjean, Pérez, Button, Sainz and Palmer all eager for points.

Magnussen was imperious and defiant, making his Renault as wide as it could be, defending in a car with a poor chassis and a power deficit on a circuit with several long straights. The only time the Dane conceded position was after an aggressive overtake by Daniel Ricciardo on lap 30 but Magnussen put in a great move to repass going into turn four, and held off the chasing pack with relative comfort on older tyres from then on.

Alonso “has some fun” on way to stunning sixth

Fernando Alonso, McLaren Honda: Started 14th, Finished 6th

Sixth place isn’t what Fernando Alonso re-joined McLaren for but it is certainly a step in the right direction as the Spaniard opened his account for the season. McLaren once again flattered to deceive with practice pace but were unable to make Q3, with Button 12th and Alonso a tenth slower in 14th, although both were within a couple of tenths of reaching Q3 for the first time since realigning with Honda.

Alonso looked calm and collected and was able to ease out a gap to the cars behind
Credit: McLaren Honda

Alonso was another man to profit at the start, jumping up to seventh by taking to the escape road at turn two to avoid the chaos (although he had already made a good start to move up to 11th). It looked as though Alonso would fall back as the faster midfield runners came through the field. Instead Alonso looked calm and collected and was able to ease out a gap to the cars behind. In fact, Alonso’s pace was so good that he was able to run a longer first stint on the supersofts and pit on lap 21, returning to the track in ninth but confident that Pérez and Ericsson ahead would likely stop again.

When they did, Alonso moved up to seventh, and then sixth as Verstappen retired, leaving Alonso with a rather lonely run, 35 seconds behind the Williams and eight ahead of Magnussen.

The second stint was made a little easier for McLaren by Renault’s cunning plan to undercut and move Magnussen up the order, providing Alonso a buffer and slowing those behind. It left Alonso managing a comfortable 10 second gap, other than a lap when he turned up the wick to show McLaren’s potential and “have some fun”.

Even with the help of others’ misfortune it was a strong effort by McLaren, highlighted by Alonso, especially on a track that doesn’t suit them in theory with long straights and slow corners. Nevertheless, it’s good to see McLaren getting back to somewhere near the front.

Checo recovers to points after first lap calamity

Sergio Pérez, Sahara Force India F1 Team: Started 6th, Finished 9th

Pérez was one of the innocent victims to the clash at turn two
Credit: Sahara Force India

Dropping three places in the race is hardly Class of the Field form but that barely begins to tell the story of Sergio Pérez’s race. Pérez was one of the innocent victims to the clash at turn two, clipped by Ricciardo causing a right rear puncture and a long limp back to the pits.

The Mexican was down in 18th, and unlike the Red Bulls decided to switch to a two-stop strategy, fitting the soft tyres. By lap nine Pérez was up to 13th, ahead of Ricciardo, Kvyat, Ericsson, Wehrlein & Nasr and able to use the life in his soft tyres to close the gap to the cars in front.

Pérez moved up as high as sixth as the pack made their stops and came in himself on lap 26, re-joining on soft tyres back in 13th.

Luckily for Pérez, the pace of the cars behind Magnussen had kept him in play for points; Ricciardo and Ericsson made their second stops and then a great move on Sainz on lap 31 moved Pérez up to 9th after Verstappen’s retirement for two points that looked very unlikely at the end of lap one.

Resilient Hamilton shows pace in damage limitation

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team: Started 10th, Finished 2nd

Hamilton deserves an award, as much for his reaction to adversity as a strong drive on Sunday. Once again Hamilton had an MGU-H issue in qualifying that left him tenth but he had at least made his way halfway to the front. After three first corner collisions already this year, Hamilton was extremely cautious on the brakes and then bailed to the escape road very early to ensure he didn’t maintain his 100% first corner collision rate. Hamilton then just about avoided the second Vettel/Kvyat incident, keeping to the inside of turn three.

Hamilton put up a great fight, halving the deficit to seven seconds by lap 36

Even having made up places, Hamilton knew he had overtaking to do, passing Massa on the restart on lap four, followed by a ballsy move on Räikkönen late on the brakes on lap seven. Bottas proved a tougher customer though and Hamilton simply couldn’t outdrag the Williams using the same Mercedes power unit. The Brit’s heart must have sunk when he saw that staying out an extra lap didn’t get him ahead on lap 18, but Hamilton was bold and made a move into turn two as Bottas was focusing on chasing Alonso.

Unfortunately, this meant the gap to Rosberg was 13 seconds and looked insurmountable but Hamilton put up a great fight, halving the deficit to seven seconds by lap 36. However, another reliability issue hindered Hamilton as low water pressure meant he had to call off the dogs and limp home. While I think Rosberg wasn’t on maximum attack and definitely had fresher tyres if a fight ever did develop, it’s clear that Hamilton is giving everything to stay in the championship hunt.

Who was the Official Driver of the Day?

Kevin Magnussen earned the award with a great climb through the field, exhibiting his defensive skills in sub-par machinery.