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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.

Podium pride for Pérez // Lack of running leads to unpredictable results and close racing

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Sergio Pérez was on top form, with a solid qualifying effort and a stellar race
Credit: Sahara Force India

After a tricky introduction in 2014, the Russian GP delivered a cracker in 2015. While Lewis Hamilton was unchallenged at the front to all but wrap up a third world title (Russian officials can’t affect Nico Rosberg’s throttle damper), there was intrigue up and down the field. Romain Grosjean’s accident – one of two that were a cause for a concern regarding the safety of the circuit – created havoc for strategists, who had to choose between maintaining track position and opening a gap or going aggressive and managing a long final stint.

The results were mixed but the intrigue was there for all to see as nine of the 11 teams were represented in the final result. Mercedes were ultimately crowned back-to-back constructors champions after a bizarre error from the third most experienced driver – ninth all time – in F1, Kimi Räikkönen.

Pérez on perfect form once again

Sergio Pérez, Sahara Force India F1 Team: Started 7th, Finished 3rd

There’s only one man who could receive the highest Class of the Field honours this week. Sergio Pérez was on top form, with a solid qualifying effort and a stellar race, fighting at the front and looking far from out of place. How often does the Mexican come strong when preparation is disrupted?

While it wasn’t completely representative, Pérez showed pace throughout practice, posting the fourth fastest time in the first and third sessions, not posting a time in P2 along with 12 others. Both Force India cars showed encouraging pace (Hülkenberg was first and sixth in P1 & P3) on a track that has similarities with the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, clearly benefitting their slippery aero design. They had a real speed advantage on the long straights.

Perhaps it wasn’t a surprise to see Force India looking competitive in qualifying
Credit: Sahara Force India

After their strong showing in limited practice running, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise to see Force India looking competitive in qualifying. Both drivers coasted through in an unpredictable first session with the cutoff time a bit of an unknown. Pérez was half a second faster than 16th placed Alonso.

Getting into Q3 was tighter with a host of drivers hopeful of progressing. Pérez came up with a lap right at the end to progress in eighth, less than two tenths behind his teammate in sixth. Come Q3, Pérez gave it everything, improving by two tenths but he was just pipped by Hülkenberg to sixth by 0.032 seconds.

While Nico edged qualifying, it was Pérez who starred in the race. Checo made a solid start, narrowly avoiding his teammate spinning at turn two on the opening lap to run sixth under the safety car. The Mexican’s pace kept him within range of the frontrunners and ahead of the Red Bulls, his main competition in the race. On lap 12, the engineers were faced with a tricky decision. Romain Grosjean’s heavy turn three crash brought out a second safety car just a few laps prior to the one stop pit window opening. Teams had to decide whether they could make the soft tyres last for 40 laps, which with very little running on Friday because of a diesel spill and heavy rain followed by Carlos Sainz’s huge accident, was far from easy to predict.

With two laps to go the dream was still alive

Force India thought it was worth a gamble with just faster cars ahead. Pérez was the first of those in the queue who decided to pit under the safety car, putting the team in place for a big result if he could make the aggressive strategy work.

Having Daniel Ricciardo behind was a blessing and a curse, preventing Pérez from protecting his tyres while also acting as a buffer to the charging Finns behind. Sebastian Vettel had already got by on lap 31 but a podium was still a real possibility. The problem was Valtteri Bottas had faster cars on fresher tyres behind him. And when Bottas got past Ricciardo with eight laps to go, as both Ricciardo and Pérez started to struggle on very worn tyres, the prognosis was bleak.

Pérez was the first of those in the queue who decided to pit under the safety car
Credit: Sahara Force India

Yet Sergio managed to cling on, with good enough traction and a fast enough car in a straight line to protect himself against DRS. With two laps to go the dream was still alive but a bold late lunge at turn 12 from Bottas appeared to have ended Pérez’s podium hopes, especially with Kimi Räikkönen sneaking past the struggling Force India behind Bottas.

Fifth was a great result for Force India, great championship points for the cash-strapped team. However, a moment of lunacy from Kimi Räikkönen at turn four on the final lap as he lunged from far too far back on Bottas, took the Williams out and left himself to limp home. Pérez had just enough space to avoid it and secured a magical fifth podium of his career, which moves him up to ninth in the standings and all but securing fifth for the Silverstone squad. Force India have a great driver lineup, but only one of them has stood on an F1 podium and once again it was Checo who delivered the goods.

Nasr nicks crucial result for Sauber

Felipe Nasr, Sauber F1 Team: Started 12th, Finished 6th

Felipe Nasr has had a solid season under the radar in a very peaky car. But at a track that suited them, with limited running causing an unpredictable pecking order, Nasr scraped through Q1 by a tenth, as teammate Ericsson was 17th. An incredible lap in Q2 put Nasr 12th on the grid, ahead of Button, Maldonado and Massa.

A great start launched the Brazilian up to ninth
Credit: Sauber AG

A great start launched the Brazilian up to ninth and in with a great chance of points. Going off strategy, Nasr jumped up to sixth by the second safety car and by running long in the first stint he was second before pitting. Nasr came out from his stop on lap 34 in 12th with a lot of work to do but with a lot of fresh rubber and went to work on making up places. Having passed Alonso and Button, the retirements of Sainz and Ricciardo had Nasr on for eighth before the final lap collision promoted the Brazilian to seventh on the road and sixth place in the results, his best result since his debut in Australia.

Massa’s mad rush through the field

Felipe Massa, Williams Martini Racing: Started 15th, Finished 4th

Just to confuse everyone, Felipe Massa was also on top form in Sochi. He had to recover from a dreadful performance in Q2 that saw him languishing 15th on the grid to rescue the day for Williams on Sunday, sneaking in to secure fourth place after the Finn’ final lap calamity.

By lap 44 Massa was back in eighth and then kept his cool

Massa went off strategy, knowing he needed to do something different to utilize the pace of his Williams. By running on the soft tyres for the first 30 laps of the race, Massa was able to jump up from 11th at the end of lap one to sixth by his stop. Having left the pits in 12th, Massa then had to make the most of the supersoft tyres and overtake cars to get a result. Nasr pitted, before he jumped past the McLarens and Daniil Kvyat. By lap 44 Massa was back in eighth and then kept his cool as Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo had reliability issues.

Sixth was already a good drive for the Brazilian after Saturday’s troubles but then Bottas was taken out by Räikkönen, leaving Massa to chase down the 12 second gap to the limping Ferrari ahead, which he did comfortably, a pleasant surprise after a couple of tough races in Singapore and Japan.