2019 Russian Grand Prix: The Rookie Report

by Sudha Sundararaj

At the Russian Grand Prix, the sixteenth race of the 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, Alexander Albon had an impressive outing as he finished in fifth position after a pit lane start.

Lando Norris qualified well and finished in eighth position. In a fairly sedate race at the Sochi Autodrom circuit, both rookie drivers were on form. The other two drivers in the rookie class, Antonio Giovinazzi and George Russell, in lesser cars endured through another non-scoring race.

Credit: McLaren Media Center

LANDO NORRIS (MCLAREN F1 TEAM)

QUALIFYING: EIGHTH (STARTED: SEVENTH), RACE: EIGHTH

Lando Norris qualified in eighth position at the Sochi Autodrom circuit. The young British driver was just 0.012 seconds behind Nico Hulkenberg and a further 0.079 seconds behind team-mate Carlos Sainz in a close qualifying session.

Norris started in seventh position and had a good start along with team-mate Sainz as both McLaren drivers got amidst the Mercedes drivers in front. Norris settled for sixth position behind Sainz until he was overtaken by the charging Max Verstappen on lap 12.

A good stint of twenty laps on the soft compound tyres saw Norris rejoin in thirteenth place after his first pit stop. The Briton made his way back to seventh place before losing two positions on the lap 35 to Albon and Sergio Pérez.

Norris finished in ninth position, but the five-second time penalty imposed on Kevin Magnussen promoted him to eighth position. The race ended with the ebullient young rookie driver having a characteristic fun-filled exchange with his radio engineer on the pit wall after a good drive.

It could have been a better result for Norris on this day but he was satisfied with his performance and said: “Today has been a positive day for the team with good points. Carlos and I both made good starts and gained positions. My first stint was reasonably good with decent pace, but then the VSC after my pit-stop shook things up.

“Cars came out of the pits from the VSC who were slower, preventing me from pushing as much as I wanted to, and then I was vulnerable to cars behind on fresher tyres. It was tough to keep the Renault and Racing Point behind. But overall a good weekend with more points for the team, a good reward for their hard work.”

Norris is now in ninth position in the drivers’ championship with thirty-five points.

Credit: Red Bull Media Content Pool – Mark Thompson/Getty Images

ALEXANDER ALBON (SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO)

QUALIFYING: NINETEENTH (STARTED: PIT LANE), RACE: FIFTH

Alexander Albon crashed in the first qualification session and started in the pit lane after an unscheduled gearbox change, floor change and penalties for additional new power unit elements.

After a long first stint of twenty-nine laps on the medium compound tyres, Albon pitted for the soft compound tyres. The Anglo-Thai driver pitted during the Safety Car period after George Russell’s crash.

In the second stint, Albon progressed from tenth to fifth position and finished behind team-mate Verstappen. A mature drive and good recovery for Albon after the error he made in qualification.

Albon has finished twice in fifth and sixth positions in the four races since his promotion to the Red Bull Racing team. Albon has performed consistently in the face of a difficult assignment as he tries to find his feet with a new team mid-season and as team-mate to the formidable Verstappen.

Albon has exuded a quiet confidence since his promotion and he said: “It was a good race and I think P5 is the best we could have done. I wanted to bounce back and get a good result after yesterday’s crash so I’m really happy with how the race went, although we probably got a bit lucky with the Safety Car.

“Morale was obviously a little bit low on Saturday night and it was a lot of work for the Team so this result is for them. Starting from the pit lane was never going to be easy but the pace was quite strong on the softs and it was a good haul of points.

“I just need to get up to speed and in a rhythm earlier on in the weekend, but that will come with more laps and time in the car. With the exception of Abu Dhabi, all of the remaining tracks will be new for me so Suzuka will be difficult, but I like new tracks.“

Albon is now upto eighth position in the drivers’ championship with fifty-two points.

Credit: Alfa Romeo Racing Media

ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI (ALFA ROMEO RACING)

QUALIFYING: THIRTEENTH (STARTED: TWELFTH), RACE: FIFTEENTH

Antonio Giovinazzi qualified in thirteenth position. Once again, Giovinazzi outqualified his team-mate Kimi Räikkönen and made it into the second qualification session.

The Italian driver was sandwiched between Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo at the start of the race. The resultant hit ended the race of Grosjean and Ricciardo suffered a puncture. Giovinazzi also had to pit after he suffered front-wing damage.

Giovinazzi’s race was compromised by this early mishap and he rejoined in eighteenth position after the first pit stop. With two more pit stops in the race, Giovinazzi could not make much progress and finished in fifteenth position.

This non-scoring race ended the two-race point scoring streak for Giovinazzi. The Italian driver has become more competitive in recent races in his duel with his team-mate Räikkönen, but the Alfa Romeo team in general has struggled in recent races.

“It was definitely not the kind of race I was hoping for but it is what it is,“ said Giovinazzi.

“I got stuck in the middle between Ricciardo and Grosjean on lap one. I don’t know if Daniel knew I had Romain on the outside, but I ended up like in a sandwich.

“I tried to lift off and avoid contact, but that wasn’t enough and we touched. We’ll need to check if there was any further damage as it was quite a big hit and the car didn’t really feel right afterwards.”

Giovinazzi sits in eighteenth position in the drivers’ championship with four points, just ahead of the two Williams drivers.

Credit: Williams F1 Media Center

GEORGE RUSSELL (WILLIAMS RACING)

QUALIFYING: SEVENTEENTH, RACE: DNF

George Russell as has become the norm, outqualified his team-mate Robert Kubica again. Williams after some progress has again fallen back in recent races.

Russell started on the medium compound tyres and after a steady stint of twenty-seven laps pitted for the soft compound tyres under the Virtual Safety Car.

On the restart, Russell went straight on into the barriers and suffered a DNF for the second race in a row. This was another frustrating race for the young rookie driver.

The race ending reliability issues on Russell’s car comes on the heels of the team saying that they retired team-mate Kubica’s car to conserve parts for the remaining races. These are very troubling times for the Williams team enduring through a miserable season.

“It was a disappointing Russian Grand Prix. The car was feeling good, and then all of a sudden after the pitstop there was an issue and the next thing I knew, I was in the barrier. It was a shame for the race to end like that as we were showing some strong pace,” said Russell.

Russell sits in twentieth position at the bottom of the drivers’ championship, the only driver who has not opened his account this season.

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