Max Verstappen was set to face a very tough battle at the Sochi Autodrom. Starting 20th on the grid due to a power unit change, he incredibly finished second after switching from hards to mediums midway through the race and eventually making the right call to pit for intermediate compounds.
With the decision made at the right time, Verstappen climbed from P7 to a podium place behind race-winner and title rival Lewis Hamilton.
“Wow, we will definitely take that result! Of course, to come from last to second is very good and when I woke up this morning I definitely didn’t expect this result.”
At the rear of the field, Max had a good start and quickly began to work his way through the pack. By the end of lap five, he was already up to P15 and was closing in on Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who had taken an overnight 15-place penalty for changing power unit elements and started from P16.
Max overtook the Finn, who didn’t show much opposition, on lap six. He then quickly proceeded to drive past AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
"To finish where we did with the penalty we had, we didn’t lose as many points as we could have so as a Team we did a really good job,” said Max after the race.
“A lot of things can happen when you’re starting from the back of the grid, especially on the first lap when other cars are fighting each other, but we stayed out of trouble, kept it clean, and managed our race very well," added the Dutch driver.
“The race itself was not very easy, it was difficult to pass other cars and once you got stuck it was easy to damage your tyres but luckily in the end the rain helped us make the last jump in positions.”
Almost halfway through the race, Verstappen began to pump in fastest laps and by lap 21 as Sainz, Stroll and Russell pitted ahead of him, he climbed up to sixth place behind Alpine’s Fernando Alonso. More crucially, as Norris led from teammate Ricciardo, Max found himself just under four seconds behind third-placed Hamilton.
Umbrellas started being open on the stands just over five laps from the chequered flag.
With rain predominantly falling just in the final two sectors, the two drivers at the lead – Norris and Hamilton – initially elected to remain on track on the slicks.
However, the rain began to intensify making the track almost undrivable on slick compounds. Verstappen read the conditions just right: The Dutchman made the switch to inters at precisely the right time, avoiding the track still being dry, which would damage inters in the slow corners, and also choosing the right moment to shed slicks that were no longer capable of keeping him on track.
I didn’t expect to be able to finish 2nd after starting last, I’m super happy 💪 Our race was tough, but the call to switch to intermediates was crucial and worked out perfectly 👌 #KeepPushing #RussianGP 🇷🇺 pic.twitter.com/FP8b4zWHd7— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) September 26, 2021
After emerging from the pit lane on lap 50, he swept through the field to claim a brilliant second place.
“It was a crucial call to change to the inters, it was really slippery on track and we made a great decision with the timing and took the right lap to pit".
Verstappen's recovery drive was essential for keeping the battle for the title alive. Indeed, with his 100th GP victory, Lewis Hamilton is now leading the Championship by just two points over Verstappen – while Mercedes are 33 points ahead of Red Bull.