Formula 1 Russia: Lewis Hamilton Takes his 100th Victory as Verstappen Recovers to 2nd
A late rain spoils Lando Norris’s strategy gamble as he drops down to 7th after leading a majority of the race.
Lewis Hamilton becomes the first driver to reach 100 wins after keeping his composure in tricky conditions, along with Mercedes outsmarting Norris’s McLaren on the winning strategy. The victory also means that Mercedes remains unbeaten in Russia, a record held since 1913 although the Russians have only hosted 9 grands prix since. It was also a near second consecutive win for McLaren after their triumph in Italy.
Starting from pole, Lando Norris made no mistake, but the long straight allowed Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz to take advantage of Norris’s slipstream, after a slower start from second placed him directly behind the McLaren for a draft. While Sainz took the lead in the second turn, Lance Stroll powered his Aston Martin from 8th on the grid to gain four places, tailing George Russell who held 3rd and was unable to find a way past the Williams. Aside from Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo also managed to pass Lewis Hamilton for 5th in the opening lap, fending off the Mercedes in a train of cars led by Russell. Hamilton eventually fell as far as 7th, being passed by Fernando Alonso. Meanwhile at the back, Verstappen was making moves lap by lap before eventually passing Bottas with ease at turn 14.
After managing to open a gap as big as two seconds, Sainz started experiencing tyre wear issues and saw a significant drop in pace, allowing Norris to retake the lead in lap 13. On the same lap, Stroll pitted to attempt an undercut on Russell, which ultimately succeeded as Russell – who responded the next lap – emerged behind Stroll after his pitstop. 2 laps later, Sainz made his pitstop after his Ferrari’s poor tyre wear issues were too much to handle, but barely coming out ahead of Stroll. Norris remained in the lead, while Ricciardo held his place in P2 until his pitstop in lap 23. It turned out to be disastrous as his crew struggled to remove one of his tyres, eventually rejoining the race in 14th. His stop also gave Hamilton the clean air to chase Norris and close their 13 second gap gradually before pitting on lap 27 for hards, while Verstappen followed him to the pits for mediums seconds after. They both rejoined in 9th and 12th respectively, and the Dutchman soon made up a place by passing Russell in 11th.
Norris responded to their pitstops 2 laps later, this time the McLaren crew made a decent stop and he emerged behind a train of cars that haven’t stopped, consisting of Leclerc, Alonso and Perez. Meanwhile, Hamilton made ground in lap 30 passing Stroll and Sainz to take 6th, and made yet another place a lap later overtaking Pierre Gasly. Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff also gave Hamilton additional motivation, telling him on the radio that “we can win this race”.
The top three finally came to pit, Leclerc being the first to do so in lap 35. His stop wasn’t exactly quick, leaving him 13th. Perez and Alonso followed on lap 37, with the Mexican getting a slow stop of nearly nine seconds but still emerged ahead of the Spaniard. The slow stops allowed Sainz and Ricciardo to pass them and take the virtual 3rd and 4th spots respectively.
While the midfielders chased the final podium spot, Hamilton managed to close his 8 second gap to Norris, tailing him for several laps in DRS range. Multiple attempts did not succeed and it looked as if the battle would last to the final lap, until the predicted rain arrived much quicker than expected. Light rainfall at turn 5 saw the pair drifting while trying to keep their cars in control, as well as encountering struggling backmarkers throughout each lap. Thinking the rain would stay in that corner only, Hamilton ignored repeated calls to pit for intermediates to keep chasing the leading McLaren. The rain at turn 5 got more intense the next lap, with Norris running off track and nearly losing the lead to Hamilton. The latter was eventually warned that more rain was approaching, prompting him to finally pit for a tyre change. Norris surprisingly stayed out, a gamble that ultimately backfired as the rain had already reached nearly the whole first and second sectors. He immediately started to lose control on his slicks, correcting a slide every few seconds before eventually aquaplaning to the run-off in turn 5, luckily stopping before the barriers. Whilst that all happened, Hamilton had already caught up to him by that particular corner and took the race lead in the penultimate lap, and went on to clinch his 100th victory by over 50 seconds, his biggest margin since his masterclass in the 2008 British Grand Prix where he won by a 1m 08.577s gap.
Meanwhile back at the midfield, Verstappen was set for a top six finish before the rain fell, but made a pitstop call on time for intermediates which allowed him to gain more spots to finish 2nd after starting last, one of the standout drives of the day. His teammate Perez unfortunately suffered the opposite fate, after succeeding to pass Sainz and Ricciardo to settle in 3rd – which would have been his first podium since the French Grand Prix – did not have the right strategy when the rain intensified, and eventually fell down the order to finish 9th.
Carlos Sainz sealed the final podium spot, taking his third podium for Ferrari after a perfectly timed stop for the inters. Ricciardo finished 4th ahead of Bottas who also made a great recovery, the Finn was set to finish 14th in the dry after a strategic engine penalty triggered by Mercedes proved to be useless. However, with nothing to lose he took his chances for a tyre change when the rain approached, a decision which paid off as he would recover to a top five finish after being out of the points all race. Finishing behind him was Fernando Alonso, another solid finish for the Alpine team. McLaren’s heartbroken Norris brought the car home 7th after a hard fought race for the lead, taking the fastest lap of the race as well as being voted Driver of the Day by the fans.
Kimi Raikkonen’s experience paid off once more in the harsh conditions, masterfully controlling his car before the tyre change and bringing the car home to 8th on his F1 return, his third points-scoring race of the season. While Sergio Perez finished 9th after being nearly destined for a podium, George Russell took the final point, his fourth points-finish of the season after a brilliant effort in holding 3rd at the early stages of the race.
Lance Stroll unfortunately fell out of the points after being in the mix for a top 5 finish, being involved in a collision with his teammate Sebastian Vettel and damaging his front wing before sending Pierre Gasly spinning later on, earning a 10 second time penalty as a result, and spinning to the barriers ironically after telling his team that the conditions were driveable. Despite the spin, his car suffered minimal damage and he brought the car home to 11th ahead of Vettel whose late strategy went wrong after competing for points-scoring positions.
Pierre Gasly took the chequered flag in 13th ahead of fellow Frenchman Esteban Ocon. Charles Leclerc was another driver who had suffered with a wrong strategy similar to Norris, also aquaplaning on slick tyres when the heavy rain arrived. He finished 15th ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, whose season-long bad luck continues yet again as the Italian had no team radio contact for the entire race, leaving him stranded without his rivals’ information, pit strategies and vital weather forecast. Yuki Tsunoda was the last finisher who was a lap down, and home hero Nikita Mazepin finished 18th two laps adrift.
Nicholas Latifi retired from the race in lap 47 due to a damage, but was a classified finisher as he had completed 90% of the race distance. The Canadian drove at a solid pace battling with Giovinazzi out of the points, but was one of the standout performers in qualifying before he sat out of Q2, preserving his car as an engine penalty was to send him to the back of the grid on raceday. Finishing 10th ahead of Russell in Q1, he believed that he had the pace to qualify for a debut Q3 appearance.
Mick Schumacher was the sole retiree of the race, returning to the pits in lap 33 after the team had discovered a mechanical issue mid-race.
Hamilton’s win ahead of Verstappen’s runner-up finish means that the Briton retakes the title lead by 2 points, in a nail-biting title fight that is expected to go down to the wire.
Featured Image – Mercedes AMG Petronas, Steve Etherington