Hamilton wins Russian GP in surprise Mercedes one-two
Lewis Hamilton claimed a surprise victory at the head of an even more surprising Mercedes one-two in the Russian Grand Prix.
Mercedes had been out-performed throughout the weekend by Ferrari, whose hopes vanished amid internal squabbling.
The Italian team seemed on the verge of implosion in the opening stages as Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc squabbled with the team over the radio.
A deal orchestrated before the race saw Leclerc stay wide at the start, allowed Vettel to use the slipstream and shoot by Hamilton.
He also claimed the race lead, before refusing to hand it back to his team-mate, triggering a serious of fraught messages over the radio.
Through it all, Hamilton remained in contact in third place, before savvy use of a fortunately timed Virtual Safety Car saw the Englishman effectively gifted the lead.
Ferrari rolled the dice in an attempt to reclaim the lost track position, ironically the result of an MGU-K failure for Vettel, but was unable to make inroads on second placed Valtteri Bottas.
It saw Mercedes therefore claim an unlikely one-two result with Leclerc a frustrated third.
A strong start from Vettel saw the German leap from third to first as the field reached Turn 2, taking the inside line under brakes to move by his team-mate.
Further back there was drama for Daniel Ricciardo who picked up a left rear puncture while Romain Grosjean found himself in the barrier at Turn 4.
Ricciardo held the inside line on approach to Turn 4 with Antonio Giovinazzi to his left, and Grosjean making it three wide on the other side of the Alfa Romeo.
As the trio turned in the space evaporated, Grosjean’s Haas picking up damage to its left rear as he was pitched out of the race.
It prompted an immediate Safety Car, Ricciardo limping his Renault back to the pits where a set of medium compound tyres were fitted.
The race restarted as the field began Lap 4, Vettel easily in command ahead of Leclerc, Hamilton and Carlos Sainz.
On the soft compound tyres, both Ferraris quickly opened an advantage over the third placed Mercedes, Hamilton 2.9s off the back of the race leader after the first full racing lap.
Running an unchallenged second, Leclerc was told over team radio that Vettel would let the pole sitter through on Lap 7.
With more than a second advantage over his team-mate, Vettel was reluctant to cede the spot.
“You put me behind. I respected everything. We’ll speak later,” came the terse response from Leclerc.
After a dozen laps Hamilton began his fightback, going on to set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 15 at 1:38.533.
Vettel also had significant pace, dropping Leclerc to the tune of four seconds as Ferrari wound its young charger up ahead of his stop on Lap 22.
A set of medium compound tyres fitted, Leclerc rejoined fourth.
After 25 laps Ricciardo called into the pits to retire, the Australian’s pace having never recovered following the opening lap contact with Giovinazzi.
Race leader Vettel stopped after 26 laps, his three second stop dropping the German back out on track behind Leclerc.
His race lasted little more than half a lap more, the four-time champion having to pull off at Turn 15 with MGU-K failure.
The Virtual Safety Car was called for, Mercedes taking the opportunity to pit both race leader Hamilton and second placed Bottas.
It gifted Hamilton the race lead, the time gained courtesy of the Virtual Safety Car seeing him emerged well clear of Leclerc.
Under the Virtual Safety Car, George Russell went straight on with an apparent brake failure at Turn 8, prompting the deployment of the Safety Car proper.
Williams promptly retired Robert Kubica in the sister car amid concerns of a repeat failure.
Ferrari took the opportunity presented by the Safety Car to pit Leclerc, replacing his hard compound tyres for a set of softs.
It dropped him to third behind Bottas, a loss of just one spot as the field had not yet compressed behind the Safety Car.
Tucked up beneath the rear wing of Bottas at the restart, Leclerc was unable to close the gap on the Finn to afford an opportunity to launch an attack.
In the lead, Hamilton eased his way clear of the second placed battle to all but confirm himself of victory with more than a dozen laps remaining.
And so it proved, Hamilton taking the unlikeliest of wins ahead of Bottas with Leclerc resigned to third despite a charge in the final laps.
Max Verstappen climbed from ninth to fourth, while Alex Albon picked Sainz’s pocket for fifth in the closing laps.
Rounding out the top 10 were Sergio Perez, Kevin Magnussen, Lando Norris, and Nico Hulkenberg.
Victory moves Hamilton to to 322 points, 73 points clear of Bottas in second in the championship with five races remaining.
Japan hosts the next at Suzuka on the October 11-13 weekend; the same weekend as the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
Result: Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix
|4||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Honda||53||+14.210s|
|5||23||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Honda||53||+38.348s|
|6||55||Carlos Sainz||McLaren Renault||53||+45.889s|
|7||11||Sergio Perez||Racing Point Mercedes||53||+48.728s|
|8||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Renault||53||+57.749s|
|9||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||53||+58.779s|
|11||18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point Mercedes||53||+60.821s|
|12||26||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso Honda||53||+62.496s|
|13||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||53||+68.910s|
|14||10||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso Honda||53||+70.076s|
|15||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||53||+73.346s|
|NC||88||Robert Kubica||Williams Mercedes||28||DNF|
|NC||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||27||DNF|
|NC||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||0||DNF|
Fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton
|3||Red Bull Racing Honda||311|
|6||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||55|
|7||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||52|
|8||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||35|