Four races into the season; two victories apiece for Mercedes and Ferrari. But this time it was Valtteri Bottas tasting the bubbly on the top step for the first time after a tense finish in Russia.
The Formula 1 roadshow continues on its tour of Europe with the Spanish Grand Prix up next, and Betsafe have linked up with Johnny Herbert and Planet F1 to give you an in-depth race preview.
Bottas: best served chilled
Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton – and now Valtteri Bottas has joined the very exclusive club of drivers to have won a grand prix for Mercedes. But by god did he have to work hard to claim his first-ever win of his Formula 1 career.
The Finn had to show nerves of steel to prevent being hunted down by Sebastian Vettel, who extended his World Championship lead to 13 points with a second-place finish, while Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium. Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, had a weekend to forget as he limped home a very distant fourth.
Most of the drama came at the very start of a sunny afternoon in Sochi, beginning with Fernando Alonso’s season somehow going from very bad to even worse after his MCL32 came to a stop on the formation lap and was unable to start the race.
After another formation lap, Bottas, who qualified P3, got off to a stunning start when the lights eventually went out and flew past the two red Ferraris out in front.
Lance Stroll then spun out after coming into contact with Niko Hulkenberg and further down the field, at a very congested Turn Two, Jolyon Palmer and Romain Grosjean collided which prompted an early Safety Car appearance.
Bottas caught everyone napping on the restart and was the first of the front-runners to blink first as the cars made their one and only pit stop in a largely straightforward race in terms of strategy.
The Finn had been slowed down by traffic, though, and his healthy lead of 5.5 seconds was whittled down to 2.5 seconds at the midway point of the race.
Yet Ferrari decided to play the waiting game with Vettel, who did not switch to fresher tyres until Lap 31 in the hope that they could catch Bottas once he had worn his out.
The plan appeared to have worked. With just 12 laps remaining, the four-time World Champion was getting very close to within DRS range of Bottas as both tried to negotiate their way through the traffic.
The gap was down to just 0.7 seconds on the final lap, but any hopes Vettel had of one last charge were ended by Felipe Massa, a former team-mate of Bottas, who held the German up and lost precious time through the first sector.
As Bottas held on for victory, Raikkonen finished 10.3 seconds behind in third and Hamilton was a whopping 36 seconds back in fourth as he struggled for balance in the car all weekend.
Max Verstappen finished a very distant fifth as team-mate Daniel Ricciardo retired early on with a brake issue, while Force India completed their 14th consecutive double-points finish with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon in P6 and P7 respectively.
Nico Hulkenberg’s mighty 40-lap stint on the ultrasofts earned him a P8 finish. Massa and Carlos Sainz collected the remaining points in what was a slow-burner in Sochi.
What to expect in Spain
Vettel and Hamilton have been the two key components of the 2017 season so far, but Bottas has silenced those who doubted his move to Mercedes and has shown that he is worthy of a place among the elite in Formula 1. If Raikkonen can continue to rediscover his old form then Spain has all the ingredients for another fascinating chapter between Ferrari and Mercedes.
There also has to be improvement from an out-of-sorts Hamilton, who was uncharacteristically slow throughout the whole weekend in Sochi. He claims he knows where he went wrong, though, and is hopeful of a quick return to form at the Circuit de Catalunya.
For other teams, most notably Red Bull, Spain means upgrades and both drivers desperately need them if they are to be late arrivals to the title picture. While their engine will not be upgraded until Canada, Red Bull will arrive in Spain with a brand-new chassis which may eventually help bridge the gap to the leading duo.
Force India, who are consistent points-scorers, are also ready to unleash some new aerodynamic parts that have the potential to see them pull further clear of the rest of the midfield.
Down in the dark and murky world at the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship, Sauber and McLaren, who incidentally will both be running Honda engines from next season onward, appear to be having their own private battle as to who can go the longest without scoring a single point. Spain promises to be another difficult destination for them both.
Circuit de Catalunya
The drivers are no strangers to the Circuit de Catalunya circuit, having spent eight days there for pre-season testing back in February and March when they were first able to fully get to grips with 2017 challengers under the new aerodynamic regulations.
The huge start/finish straight is the immediate stand-out feature of the track. As it dips down into Turn One, this will be a key overtaking area come race day and grabbing the inside line is imperative, or else the car will be out of shape for the left-handed Turn Two.
Then comes the long, sweeping Turn 3, which you may remember as the scene where Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided and both had to retire from last year’s race.
The elevation change is the aspect to note after Turn 3, as the track climbs and dips around the hills, with Turn 9 – named Campsa – a rapid right-hander with the corner over the crest which could catch some out over the course of the weekend.
After another long straight and a sharp left-hander, the track coils around to the right where a tight Turn 13 and the insertion of a chicane at Turn 14 ensure that the driver cannot build a whole lot of momentum in the last sector.
A gentle left-hander marks the end of the lap and will flash by in an instant with the increased speed the cars have through the corners this year.
There are 16 corners in total and the circuit length is 4.654km, the seventh shortest on the F1 calendar.
Previous winners and track suitability
Jarama, Montjuic and Jerez have all been home to the Spanish Grand Prix before Catalunya took over full control in 1991.
Ferrari have been particularly well suited to Spain with 12 victories in total, the most of any of constructor. Six of those were recorded by one Michael Schumacher, who managed to string four consecutive successes together between 2001 and 2004.
Mercedes have two victories to their name, with Hamilton and Rosberg winning in 2014 and 2015, but any chance of a three-timer ended with their infamous collision at the front in 2016. That high-profile incident paved the way for Verstappen to become the youngest-ever grand prix winner in what was his first race for Red Bull.
Both Verstappen and Ricciardo have both been pinning their hopes on the upgrade package that is coming their way in Spain, so Catalunya may well be the scene of another revival.
Other notable winners include Raikkonen, who is a two-time winner around this circuit, as is Alonso in 2006 and 2013, much to the delight of the home crowd.