Binotto: The best is still in front of Vettel

Sebastian Vettel had been under considerable flak prior to winning the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, and credit to his Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto for believing that not only would his driver bounce back but also confident we have yet to see the best of the four-time Formula 1 World Champion.

After qualifying at Marina Bay, Vettel was third with his teammate Charles Leclerc on pole. Interviewing Binotto after the night session, Sky F1’s Martin Brundle asked of the German driver: “Maybe his best time is behind him…”

Without a blink, and not primed, Binotto replied, “The best is still in front of him. He has it in his own hands, how much he wants it.”

And added, “I think Seb is in a good shape. I’m pretty sure he can fight back here in Singapore, he’s focused, hopes for a good result important to me: that the spirit fits, with which he tackles the races. ”

Prophetic words indeed as 24-hours later Vettel did the business for his boss whose immense faith in the 32-year-old was rewarded despite the young rising force in the Red garage.

The sooner Vettel realises he will have to outsmart his very fast teammate Charles Leclerc the better for him. If he has not already, he might be wise to take a leaf out of Alain Prost’s tactics against Ayrton Senna.

The Professor realised that he was not able to match his McLaren teammate lap-for-lap and shifted to the long-slow game, allowing his teammate to strut his stuff when it did not really matter and then soak up the points when it did. It worked.

On Sunday, Singapore victory fell into Vettel’s lap as his side of the pitwall fluked into a strategy that even surprised them, the #5 Ferrari was not supposed to emerge ahead of Leclerc, but it did.

Full credit to Vettel who delivered a blistering set of in-and-out pitstop laps to find 1.5 seconds on top of the two seconds the computers figured was the maximum he could make up. That second and a half were the difference between tucking in behind his teammate and taking the lead which he did and went on to win the race.

Leclerc had been faster all weekend, Vettel needed to be better for a three or four-lap spell when it really, really mattered (which happened to be lap 18-19-20 of the race) in Singapore to bag maximum points. And therein lies the solution to beat Leclerc, brain rather than brown.

It will be a big ask for Vettel to accept he is no longer the guy with the killer pace that obliterated his teammates, as he did in his early Red Bull days.

Although he got a wake-up call when Daniel Ricciardo stepped up to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull. After the humbling experienced he moved to Ferrari where he found the comfort zone of Kimi Raikkonen in the sunset stage of his career.

Now the pressure is back on, Vettel has Leclerc to contend with. Hungrier, faster and in a rush – the kid is not going to go away any time soon, in fact the 21-year-old will only get better and Seb might or might not.

Binotto’s unyielding faith is good news for the driver because it is hard to fathom why Vettel would want to quit any time soon, he is still relatively young and has at least five to eight years in him for the top flight. There is clearly no animosity or reason to leave the best team in the sport.

All athletes with long careers at the summit of their chosen sport have peaks and troughs in performance, some longer than others and this is the most likely case with Vettel as he chases a fifth title in the future.

In closing, if he really wants to know-how to beat a faster teammate to the title – and it has happened more often than we imagine – he need only delve into the Ferrari archives and look up 1979, the year Jody Scheckter contained Gilles Villeneuve.

Big Question: Are Seb’s best years in F1 still ahead?


Russian Grand Prix Info, Facts & Stats

The Russian Grand Prix has been a regular fixture on the Formula 1 calendar since 2014. The race was one of the legacies of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which took place in Sochi, and the Autodrom utilises many of the Olympic facilities and passes alongside what was the Olympic village.

This year’s race is the sixth world championship Russian Grand Prix, but there have been previous grands prix in the country: two races were held in St Petersburg, in 1913 and ’14.

Sochi Autodrom is an exceptionally long and technical circuit, characterized by hard braking into low-speed corners.

There are 12 right-hand and six left-hand corners, with a 650-meter (2,133 foot) straight between the first and second turns. Of Sochi’s 5.848-kilometer (3.634-mile) layout, 1.7 kilometers (1.056 miles) are run on public roads.

The surfaces of both the public road and the purpose-built portions are incredibly smooth, and the track has remained consistent between its debut in 2014 and in F1’s subsequent visits.

Tire degradation is minimal compared to most tracks, allowing for teams to employ a one-stop strategy while still giving drivers the freedom to push hard. (Sources: McLaren & Haas F1 Media)

Sochi Autodrom

  • Round: 16/21
  • Race laps: 53
  • Circuit length: 5.848km/3.634 miles
  • Total race distance: 309.745km/192.476 miles
  • Distance to Turn One: 450m/0.280 miles
  • Number of corners: 18 (12 right, six left)

Session start times:

  • FP1 – 11:00 local, 09:00 MTC, 10:00 CEST
  • FP2 – 15:00 local, 13:00 MTC, 14:00 CEST
  • FP3 – 12:00 local, 10:00 MTC, 11:00 CEST
  • Qualifying – 15:00 local, 13:00 MTC, 14:00 CEST
  • Race – 14:10 local, 12:10 MTC, 13:10 CEST

Allocated tyre compounds:

  • Hard: C2
  • Medium: C3
  • Soft: C4

Sochi Q&A sourced from

When was the track built?
Designed by Hermann Tilke, the Sochi Autodrom is effectively a street circuit, evolving out of the internal roads of the park built for the city’s 2014 Winter Olympics.

When was its first Grand Prix?
Formula 1’s first ever Russian Grand Prix took place on October 12 2014. The race was won by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who was midway through a five-race winning streak that would ultimately see him clinch that year’s drivers’ title.

What’s the circuit like?
Looking at a map of the track, your eye can’t help but be drawn to the epic Turn 3, a 750m constant-radius left-hander taking the drivers around the outside of the dramatic Poyushchiye fountain. The rest of the track is characterised by a series of 90-degree bends coupled to some rapid, flowing straights-that-aren’t-straight.

Why go?
Occupying a prime spot on the Black Sea, Sochi is one of Russia’s top beach resorts in the summer, while the race’s early autumn slot should mean it’s just about warm enough for you to work on your tan. If you were inspired by the city’s Winter Olympics, however, you’re out of luck – the ski season in the resorts around Sochi doesn’t get going until December.

Where is the best place to watch?
Get yourself a seat in the Turn 2 grandstand – or the T2 Grandstand Vitaly Petrov, to give it its proper name – to oversee the track’s best overtaking spot, before the cars get back up to speed and slingshot into Turn 3.

Statistics for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, the 16th race of the 21-round season:

  • Lap distance: 5.848km. Total distance: 309.745km (53 laps)
  • 2018 pole: Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes one minute 31.387 seconds.
  • 2018 winner: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes
  • Race lap record: Bottas, 1:35.861, 2018
  • Start time: 1110 GMT (1410 local, GMT+3)

Russian Grand Prix

  • Mercedes are the only team to have won in Russia since the first race in Sochi in 2014.
  • Hamilton won in 2014, 2015 and 2018, Nico Rosberg in 2016 and Bottas in 2017.
  • Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, in 2017, is the only non-Mercedes driver to have started on pole in Russia.
  • Mercedes and Ferrari have taken 13 of 15 podium places in Russia to date. The only exceptions were Bottas, third in 2014 for Williams, and Sergio Perez who was third for Force India in 2015.
  • Bottas started on the front row in Sochi in 2016, took the first race win of his F1 career there in 2017 and pole in 2018
  • The layout runs clockwise around the 2014 Olympic Park venues, partly on public roads, and features 12 right and six left-hand corners.
  • Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat is the only current Russian F1 driver.

Race Victories

  • Hamilton has 81 career victories and has Michael Schumacher’s record 91 in his sights. Vettel, third on the all-time list, has 53.
  • Ferrari have won 238 races since 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 97 and Red Bull 61. Former champions McLaren and Williams have not won since 2012.
  • Hamilton has won eight out of 15 races so far this season and has a 65-point lead over team mate Valtteri Bottas, who has won twice. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc have also won twice, Vettel once.

Pole Position

  • Hamilton has a record 87 career poles, Vettel 56.
  • Five races so far this season have been won from pole — Bottas in Azerbaijan, Hamilton in Monaco and France and Leclerc in Belgium and Italy. Max Verstappen took the first pole of his Formula 1 career in Hungary on 3 August.
  • Ferrari have had 63 front row lockouts, one behind Mercedes in the list of all-time records.
  • Leclerc has outqualified Vettel for eight races in a row.

Lewis Hamilton

  • Hamilton has 146 career podiums. Vettel has 118.
  • Hamilton has led 142 grands prix, a record he shares with Schumacher.
  • Hamilton has finished the last 27 races in the points. He holds the record of 33 successive scoring finishes.


  • Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen is making his 307th start this weekend, sending him third in the all-time list ahead of Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button. Only Fernando Alonso (311) and Rubens Barrichello (322) have started more.


Ferrari resurgence threat to Mercedes dominance in Russia

Formula 1 World Champions Mercedes have won every Russian Grand Prix since the first, held in the shadow of Sochi city’s Olympic Park in 2014, but that could all change on Sunday.

Ferrari are on a roll at present with Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel racking up three wins in a row between them and a fourth will really have the alarm bells ringing at Mercedes headquarters in Brackley and Stuttgart.

Lewis Hamilton, despite being a hefty 65 points clear of Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas with six races remaining, has already expressed concern that Ferrari are looking hungrier than the champions.

“If anyone in the team feels relaxed they need talking to, because we should all be feeling the pain,” the Briton said after a strategy error left him fourth in Singapore behind a Ferrari one-two and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

“These next few races are going to be tough,” added the five times world champion, who won in Sochi a year ago — his third Russian success.

The Black Sea resort circuit has also been good to Bottas in the past, with the Finn taking his first fastest lap in F1 and first race win there.

“I´ve got some unfinished business in Sochi. It has normally been a good track for me and I need to make sure it will be again,” said the Finn, who last year was ordered to move aside and let Hamilton win.

His hopes of settling scores will not have been boosted by Mercedes also making sure he slowed and did not get ahead of Hamilton in Singapore after lapping faster on fresh tyres following his pitstop.

Ferrari have now won on the flat-out speed circuits of Spa and Monza as well as slow and twisty Singapore, and Sochi, different again, offers the chance to show the resurgence is real.

“It´s another circuit where we´ve come close to winning but never quite managed it,” said Vettel, a four times world champion and to date the only non-Mercedes driver to start on pole in Russia.

“I’ve started from the front row and in fact two years ago Ferrari locked out the front row, but we really want the satisfaction of taking that last step and winning,” added the German, whose Singapore win was his first in 13 months.

Sochi’s long straights should suit Ferrari but the smooth surface makes it a tricky track for drivers to hit the sweet spot with their tyres, and the layout also demands a very different aerodynamic set-up to Singapore.

Lecrlerc said, “We have made good progress on our car, especially in terms of our performance on high downforce tracks, and seem to be more competitive on tracks with various layouts now. Time will tell whether we can be as strong here as we have been lately.”

Only twice in five years has a driver from outside Mercedes and Ferrari stood on the podium in Sochi, and one was Bottas who finished third with Williams in 2014. The other was Mexican Sergio Perez for Force India, now Racing Point, in 2015.

Verstappen, level on points with third-placed Leclerc in the standings but 96 points behind Hamilton, was hopeful he could also be in the mix even if his car was less suited to the circuit characteristics.

“I´m looking forward to Russia where there are more overtaking opportunities,” said the 21-year-old Dutchman.


Wolff: Difficult days are the ones that make us stronger

While both the 2019 Formula 1 drivers’ and constructors’ world titles are a mere formality, ahead of the Rusian Grand Prix weekend Mercedes are concerned that their rivals, Ferrari, in particular, appear to have a better package since the end of summer.

On Sunday in Singapore, there was no Mercedes driver on the podium, with Ferrari scoring a unique one-two with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc at Marina Bay plus Max Verstappen edging the Silver Arrows duo off the podium.

It was also the third race in a row won by the Reds since the second half of the season kicked off at Spa-Francorchamps earlier this month.

Ahead of the Sochi race weekend, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said, “Singapore was a tough weekend for us. We had opportunities to win the race, both with a stronger qualifying on Saturday and our decision-making on Sunday.”

“But we failed to do so, for a number of different reasons. But it was also a valuable reminder of the sceptical and humble mindset that has been so important for our success in the past seasons.

“Straight after the race, we started to analyse what went wrong in Singapore and we will use those lessons to learn and improve. These difficult days are the ones that make us stronger: this team has shown time and again that it can turn weaknesses into strengths. And we will do so again, here.

“However, that shouldn’t take anything away from the strength of our opposition, either. The last seven races have shown us that we are in the midst of a fierce battle – and we need to be at our best in every area to claim the top step of the podium,” added Wolff.

Ahead of Russia, Round 16 of the 21-round championship, Mercedes are 133 points ahead in the constructors’ race, while Lewis Hamilton is on 296 points, 65 ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas in second and 96 ahead of Leclerc and Verstappen tied in third on 200 points.

The Silver Arrows have won every race held at the Olympic venue since its inception in 2014, with Hamilton hunting a fourth victory there on Sunday, with Bottas winning in 2017 and Nico Rosberg a year earlier.

Wolff acknowledged, “Sochi has been a strong circuit for us in recent years but those trends don’t mean anything once we are on the ground. We expect the weekend ahead to be another challenging one for us – and the entire team is ready to tackle that challenge head-on.

“The circuit features a range of corner speeds, an unusually smooth asphalt and long straights, particularly on the run down to Turn 2. We’re hungry to get to Sochi and begin fighting out on track,” added the Mercedes team boss.


Williams: Overtaking is not as easy as it might first appear

Sochi on the Black Sea Coast plays host to round 16 of the FIA Formula One World Championship, following quickly on the heels of a sweltering race around the streets of Singapore last weekend.

Unofficially known as the ‘summer capital of Russia’ the city contains the 5.848 km Sochi Autodrom; effectively a street circuit that has evolved out of the internal roads of the park built for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Dave Robson, Senior Race Engineer: “The Sochi track winds its way around the Olympic Park and starts with an interesting mix of straights and medium-speed corners, before reaching Sector 3 where a series of low speed turns test the cars’ handling and braking before returning the drivers to the long main straight.

“Overtaking on the straight requires cars to follow closely throughout Sector 3 and then to have good traction exiting the last corner. As a result, overtaking is not as easy as it might first appear.

“Tyre compounds are from the middle of the Pirelli range and are the same as those used in Monza. How they will behave will depend on the track temperature on the day but generally, once up to temperature, they should be reasonably robust and may not require much management.”

Robert Kubica: “I have been to Russia as a Reserve Driver, so I know how it looks but I have never driven there. It is always a good experience to discover a new track, so hopefully it will be enjoyable and nice to drive.”

George Russell: “I have good memories from Russia because that was when I found out I would be driving for Williams last year, and so I will always remember that. It is a unique circuit, and off the back of what was a relatively promising weekend in Singapore, I am looking forward to seeing if we can bring a similar amount of performance in Russia.”


Renault: After the summer break we’ve looked very strong

Renault F1 Team previews the sixteenth race weekend of the 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the VTB Russian Grand Prix.

Drivers Nico Hülkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo share their thoughts on the challenges of the Sochi Autodrom.

Nico Hülkenberg: “Russia is an interesting place and it’s still a relatively new venue for Formula 1 but, in recent years, the Russian atmosphere has grown quite strong. In terms of a lap, it’s quite long with a lot of corners. Putting together a complete lap can be difficult and you have to string it all together and carry all the momentum.

“We recovered well in Singapore after the lap one incident. That’s part of the game at street circuits as anything can happen, but you have to be patient and we managed to take home some points.

“We were competitive in both qualifying and the race and certainly more points were possible had things panned out a little smoother. We move on to Russia immediately and we’ll be aiming for more points.”

Daniel Ricciardo: “Sochi is quite a cool track as it’s very flat and open; almost directly opposite to the close walls and bumps in Singapore. It’s an enjoyable lap with a lot going on at the wheel. The surface is smooth with quite a lot of challenging corners to get right.

“The Singapore weekend was a bit of a shame in the end, having initially looked so promising. The disqualification was painful to take as we know how important track position is in Singapore and how difficult overtaking can be.

“We have the opportunity to carry some energy into Russia and look to make amends and be back where we deserve to be. After the summer break we’ve looked very strong and turned the battle for fourth around.


Toro Rosso drivers preview the Russian Grand Prix

Toro Rosso drivers the Russian Grand Prix weekend, Round 16 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrom.

Pierre Gasly: “Before I was in Formula 1, I raced in Sochi in GP2 and finished second behind Alexander Rossi and ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne, but the year I won the GP2 Championship, the series did not go to Russia.

“Last year with Toro Rosso, we had a bit of a complicated weekend with failures for myself and Brendon (Hartley) at the same point during the race. However, the circuit has plenty of good points, even if a lot of the corners are very similar 90 degree turns, taken at the same sort of speed.

“The key is to have a car well set up for these types of corners because if it works well here, there’s a good chance it will work well in the rest of the track too.

“For me, this will be my fourth race back with the team and so it will be an important weekend. We must make sure that together with the engineers we do a very good job to be in the fight for points. We have been there since Spa and Monza and only a few days ago, I had a really fun and exciting race, scoring four more points to finish in eighth place, which is so important because we want to try and improve our position in the Constructors’ classification.

“Coming from Singapore, with its heat and humidity, this weekend will have a very different feel to it, heading back to more normal conditions. My priority is to continue working well with the team as we have been making progress since

“I returned from Spa onwards. Of course in Russia, all the attention will be on my teammate and there’ll be plenty of support from the fans for Daniil. Then, after that, we come to Japan which is another important race for the team, as a home event for Honda.“

Daniil Kvyat: “As you can imagine I am very happy to be racing here in Russia, where I always have plenty of support from the fans. It makes for a very cool atmosphere in Sochi and the track itself can usually provide some good racing with its long straights. I think it’s going to be an interesting weekend for us. I plan to really enjoy my home race.

“The Sochi Autodrom is an interesting track and the images will be well known to anyone who watched the Winter Olympics here. I still remember the first race we had here back in 2014: I was also driving for Toro Rosso back then and I had a really good qualifying and started from fifth on the grid. Then a year later, driving for Red Bull Racing, I finished the race in fifth place, so I have some nice memories of this event.

“A few weeks ago, I was in St. Petersburg to promote the Grand Prix, which was a very enjoyable experience. I was surprised at how many people were there thanks to the efforts of Red Bull Russia. I think this year’s race could be quite tough but, as always, I will be giving it my best shot for myself, the team and of course all the home fans.

“A few days ago in Singapore, I had a very difficult race which didn’t go well for me. But I don’t let things like that bother me and I’m planning to try and make up for it this weekend, so I hope we’ll be able to celebrate a good result together!”


Honda: Aiming for another positive result in Sochi

A breath-taking purpose-built facility, this year we’re looking forward to enjoying a weekend at home with Daniil! 2018 was a short-lived affair for Toro Rosso Honda as both drivers were forced to retire due to a technical issue early in the race.

In the opening laps, both Pierre and Brendon spun within a few moments of each other. With something clearly not being right, the decision was made to retire the cars. Perched in the shadow of the towering Caucasus Mountains, a combination of public and private roads make for excellent grip allowing drivers to push the limits.

Many of the 18 turns around the track are slow corners, meaning that when it comes to set-up, we have to find a compromise between suiting those and the long high-speed straights. We’ll be hoping for a good result in Sochi, giving us confidence heading home to the Japanese Grand Prix in two weeks.

Toyoharu Tanabe, Technical Director: “After the very high speeds in Monza, followed by the special requirements of a street circuit in Singapore, we come to a more conventional type of track in Sochi. Its main characteristics are a lot of 90 degree turns where, just like in Singapore, good driveability from the PU side will be an important factor.

“The straights are also quite long here and energy management will not be issue as we have plenty of data from the past. Despite experiencing some difficulties in Singapore, we still came away with a podium finish and now we have just a couple of days to prepare as well as possible, aiming for another positive result in Russia.”