F1 Debrief: Team orders, Gasly’s escape, Verstappen’s burn from the stern

Good morning. Welcome to the morning after a Russian Grand Prix where Mercedes amazingly found itself a bit deflated by a 1-2 finish that has left it on the verge of title success. Here is your morning catch-up from all the post-race reaction in the Sochi paddock last night.

F1 Debrief: Team orders, Gasly’s escape, Verstappen’s burn from the stern

HAMILTON’S GIFT

Second place Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1, and Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1, on the podium

Second place Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1, and Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1, on the podium

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / LAT Images

Lewis Hamilton found himself struggling to work out how he should feel after the Russian Grand Prix – where another win helped extend his championship advantage.

For although Russia was a great weekend for Mercedes, as it secured 1-2 on the grid and a similar result in the race, a controversial decision by the team to impose team orders on Valtteri Bottas meant everything was not so sweet.

But amid a season-long fight against Ferrari, and no guarantee that things over the next five races will be any easier, it would have been hard to see Mercedes do anything else on an afternoon when Vettel was quick enough to cause some annoyance.

“I can understand how difficult it was for Valtteri today and he deserved to win,” said Hamilton.

“But championship-wise, as a team, we are trying to win both championships, and I think today was a real team effort. While it doesn’t feel spectacular, I know he is going to do great in the following races to come.”

UNEXPECTED SCENARIO

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 in the press conference

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 in the press conference

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Sutton Images

Although Mercedes had been open on Saturday night that it would need to make a call on its team orders strategy during a race-morning meeting, it appears that it was actually caught on the hop in the race.

It was interesting to hear Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says immediately afterwards that amid all the many scenarios discussed beforehand, the one that eventually played out had not been predicted.

For it was the error in pitting Hamilton one lap late, which forced him to overheat his tyres as he battled back past Vettel, that ultimately put him in a scenario where he needed protecting.

"It was one lap too late with Lewis and he lost a position to Sebastian," Wolff told Sky about the timing of Hamilton's stop. "This triggered let's call it the mess, because we came out behind Sebastian.

"Lewis needed to attack, and that caused the blister and that blister we needed to protect when Seb was all over him."

Indeed, later on Hamilton himself was clear that he had never asked for – nor even wanted – team orders to be used to try to help him score as many points as possible.

VETTEL NOT GIVING UP

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari on the podium

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari on the podium

Photo by: Manuel Goria / Sutton Images

Vettel may have gone away from the Russian Grand Prix facing an ever tougher task in the championship battle than when he arrived, but he has not given up.

His opinion about the team orders scenario was one of the most considered out there, as he said that it was a ‘no-brainer’ for Mercedes to have done all it can to boost Hamilton’s chances.

With there now being a 50-point gap between himself and Hamilton in the standings with just five races to go, the German knows that things are not easy – but that was no reason to roll over and accept defeat.

"I still believe in our chance, yes,” he said. “Obviously it's not getting bigger if you finish behind but who knows.

"It takes one DNF and all of a sudden things look different. Ideally two! Which I'm not wishing to Lewis, but you never know what happens.”

FORCE INDIA HAS OWN TEAM ORDERS ISSUE

Esteban Ocon, Racing Point Force India VJM11, leads Sergio Perez, Racing Point Force India VJM11, and Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team VF-18

Esteban Ocon, Racing Point Force India VJM11, leads Sergio Perez, Racing Point Force India VJM11, and Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team VF-18

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / LAT Images

Mercedes was not the only team having to sort out team orders between its drivers – as Force India found itself managing Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez too.

The two men had been boxed up behind Kevin Magnussen, and the team had to weigh up whether to let Ocon carry the fight alone or let Perez through to have a better chance.

In the end, the team ordered Ocon to give the place up, before swapping the two drivers back again later on when Perez could not find a way past either.

Speaking in the TV pen afterwards, Ocon felt that the situation had not been the best way for things to be managed, as he felt that perhaps that team could have attacked its Haas rival better.

“I think we had the pace for more, the pace for at least being in front of the Haas. It’s a bit of a shame,” said the Frenchman.

“We tried to swap to see if someone could get the car in front, but we probably have to review this because I don’t think it worked that time.”

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN FOR VERSTAPPEN

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB14

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB14

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / LAT Images

Starting from the back of the grid, Max Verstappen had been downplaying his prospect of anything too special in the Russian Grand Prix.

After all, at a track that has never been good for overtaking and with Red Bull known to be facing a power deficit compared to other teams, there seemed little hope of anything brilliant.

But on the day he celebrated his 21st birthday, Verstappen was amazing – charging his way through the field from the back to lead for much of it.

And there had even been some thoughts before his late stop for tyres 12 laps from the end that he could target the podium.

In the end it wasn’t to be, as Red Bull felt it better to save his engine.

Even so, the growing indications of how strong Red Bull’s chassis is has opened up the prospect of the Milton Keynes-based team joining the fight at the front again very soon.

LUCKY ESCAPE FOR GASLY

Pierre Gasly, Scuderia Toro Rosso STR13 spins

Pierre Gasly, Scuderia Toro Rosso STR13 spins

Photo by: Andrew Hone / LAT Images

The Russian Grand Prix was a pretty miserable one for Toro Rosso, with both Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley retiring early on after mysterious spins caused by brake issues.

But Gasly was quite thankful that the afternoon had not been even worse after his helmet was hit by debris during a chaotic first lap. 

The Frenchman thinks that a piece of bodywork from Daniel Ricciardo’s car was flicked up into his path – and as it headed for his visor he was worried it was going to go through.

“I think Daniel lost a piece of carbon, which went straight into my visor, so this was really really scary,” Gasly told reporters after the race.

“I thought it was going through and straight into my eye, and finally it touched the visor and then came into the cockpit.

“In Turn 4 I had to take the carbon piece and throw it from the cockpit.”

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