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Rosberg Joins Elite Club With Sochi Victory

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 3 2016
Nico Rosberg has won seven straight Formula One races. That makes him one of five.

Nico Rosberg has won seven straight Formula One races. That makes him one of four.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Nico Rosberg’s relentless pursuit of Formula One perfection remains intact following a dominating performance in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, where the Mercedes ace scored his fourth win in as many 2016 starts and seventh in a row dating to last season.

formula1logoRosberg, the pole-sitter, led all 53 laps around the 3.634-mile/5.848-kilometer/18-turn Sochi Autodrom course and set fastest lap in-race en route to a 25-plus-second margin of victory over teammate Lewis Hamilton _ the suddenly star-crossed, three-time/reigning World Driving Champion.

“The car has been fantastic, really even in qualifying and in the race. It felt very special out there,” said Rosberg, who joined Alberto Ascari, Michael Schumacher and Vettel as the only drivers to win seven grand prixs in a row. “I was feeling really comfortable, especially at the end of the race. In the last 15 (laps) I opened the gas and pushed a little bit more because I knew it was safe to push and definitely get to the end of the race with that set of tires. Seldom had such an awesome car. So, special weekend.”

Rosberg, who has built a massive 43-point lead in the driver’s standings, downplayed talk of a runaway to what would be his first world championship.

“Yeah, it’s four races from 21,” Rosberg said. “Lewis is going to come back, of course. He’s on it and as motivated as ever. So, early days, just taking it race-by-race, looking forward to Spain now. We have such an incredible car, which is really a pleasure to drive, so just want to try to win races.”

Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean logged a full-distance, eighth-place finish for Haas F1 Team, as the first-year American organization scored points for the third time in four races.

Hamilton rallied from a 10th-place starting spot to earn his podium after falling water pressure forced him to back off his late-race pursuit of Rosberg.

“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I could win it,” Hamilton said. “I had the pace but then a problem with the engine again, so I had to back-off. I wasn’t at full-throttle down the straights, so just trying to look after it.”

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen finished third, 31.998-seconds behind Rosberg, for the Scuderia’s historic 700th podium result. Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, saved the day for the Scuderia after teammate Sebastian Vettel was eliminated in a first-lap accident.

“It was a fine race,” Raikkonen said. “Definitely want to be more higher-up with two cars _ not ideal on that side. I had quite a big struggle the whole weekend so I’ll take third place. In the race the car was good, like I wanted, but qualifying we struggled, and in the practice. OK, fine, but not what we want.”

Vettel was hit from behind by Chinese GP nemesis Daniil Kvyat in Turn 2 of the opening lap as he pushed inside Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull. As Vettel appeared to slow with a rear tire puncture, the four-time world champion was hit again from behind by Kvyat and sent spinning hard into the wall in Turn 3. The Russian was given a 10-second stop-and-go penalty and assessed three penalty points, but Vettel ‘s day was done.

Raikkonen sits third in the driver’s standings with 36 points, with Vettel fourth at 33, one ahead of Felipe Massa of Williams.

Grosjean, who started 15th in his Ferrari-powered No. 8 VF-16, moved to seventh in the overall driver standings. Grosjean earned his 38th career top-10 finish and sixth top-10 in the last seven races via a one-stop strategy.

“It’s great to be back in the points, especially after a very difficult weekend where we were never very happy with the car,” the Frenchman said. “It was a good first lap to avoid all the incidents, and then I kept (Sergio) Perez behind. There are still so many things we can improve on the car. I’m still not 100 percent happy with the behavior. I think for the next race it’s going to be so much better.  It’s very positive knowing that we have something that will become better.”

Grosjean’s performance at Sochi mirrored his efforts in the Formula One season-opener in Australia and the year’s second race in Bahrain, where he finished sixth and fifth, respectively. Haas F1 Team _ owned by businessman Gene Haas and the first American F1 team in 30 years _ now has accumulated more point-paying finishes than any all-new program in this millennium.

When Jaguar debuted in 2000 and when Toyota joined F1’s Flying Circus in 2002, each managed only two point-paying finishes in their entire first seasons. Haas F1 Team has three-point paying results four races into its debut season, with 17 more races to collect additional points. The Russian Grand Prix solidified Haas F1 Team’s fifth-place position in the constructor standings, where it is 29 points behind fourth-place Williams and five points ahead of sixth-place Toro Rosso.

Esteban Gutiérrez, Grosjean’s Mexican teammate, finished 17th after bringing his No. 21 VF-16 home for the second straight race. Gutiérrez overcame an early pit stop for a new front wing, as he was caught in the first-lap, second-turn skirmish that involved a handful of drivers. The chain-reaction incident saw Gutiérrez get into the back of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India. Compounding the problem was the stewards’ decision to impose a drive-through penalty, which Gutiérrez served on Lap 9.

“A fantastic result for the team being in the points,” said Guenther Steiner, team principal. “After the last two days of testing and qualifying, we didn’t expect to finish eighth. However, we were always aiming for the points and we pulled it off again. Obviously, it was very unfortunate for Esteban after his incident at the start, but he will get back from this and hopefully he’ll be in the points soon. It was a great race from Romain to keep his position, fighting left, right and center. It makes F1 interesting.”

Round 5 of the FIA Formula One World Championship is the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. Practice begins May 13, with qualifying on May 14 and the race on May 15.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 3 2016
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