Hamilton paces Mercedes 1-2 in Russian GP

Image by Hone/LAT

Hamilton paces Mercedes 1-2 in Russian GP

Formula 1

Hamilton paces Mercedes 1-2 in Russian GP

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Lewis Hamilton led home teammate Valtteri Bottas as Sebastian Vettel’s retirement set up a 1-2 for Mercedes in the Russian Grand Prix.

Vettel comfortably led the opening stint after some smart work from Ferrari on the long run down to Turn 2, with pole-sitter Charles Leclerc giving his teammate a tow and the pair emerging in the lead. Ferrari then spent much of the first part of the race working out how to switch the driver positions back; but Hamilton remained close enough and on a different strategy that it wasn’t a simple decision.

Ferrari opted to pit Leclerc first for medium tires and leave Vettel out longer on softs, losing some time to Hamilton — who had started on mediums — behind him before pitting on lap 26. While the timing succeeded in getting Leclerc back ahead due to his stop four laps earlier, Hamilton was now in the race lead.

But it all instantly unraveled as Vettel reported a loss of MGU-K, then rolled to a stop in the final sector on his out lap.

Vettel’s retirement brought out the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) and allowed Hamilton a free pit stop for soft tires, with the championship leader retaining the lead ahead of Leclerc. At the time, it was not enough for Bottas to move into second place as he pitted for softs and emerged in third; but then Ferrari made a strategic error to hand Mercedes a 1-2.

When the VSC ended, George Russell immediately crashed with some sort of car issue, and the Safety Car was deployed once again. Instead of celebrating the fact that Leclerc would be right behind Hamilton when the race restarted and on tires he could push hard to the end, Ferrari then pitted Leclerc for softs. But the team waited an extra lap before calling him in and gave up track position to Bottas as a result.

When the race restarted, Leclerc pushed Bottas for several laps, but even with DRS activated, he couldn’t launch a significant attack. On one occasion, Leclerc closed right up but then made a mistake in the final sector to give Bottas a buffer into Turn 2; and from then on it was a relatively uneventful run to the flag for the top three.

Behind, Max Verstappen had made solid progress through the field from ninth on the grid — passing Carlos Sainz for fifth place by lap 17 — and ended fourth, albeit nearly nine seconds behind. Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Alexander Albon went from the pit lane to fifth, getting ahead of Carlos Sainz with six laps remaining, McLaren securing best-of-the-midfield runners status.

Racing Point’s Sergio Perez made a good start to run in the top 10 for most of the race and overtook McLaren’s Lando Norris for seventh place shortly after the Safety Car restart, with Norris ending up eighth as Haas’ Kevin Magnussen — eighth on track — picked up a five-second time penalty for missing Turn 2 when defending from Perez.

Magnussen still picked up points in ninth while Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault came home 10th to score the final point as 15 drivers finished.

The retirements came early, as Ferrari’s strong start was immediately followed by a Safety Car when Romain Grosjean, Daniel Ricciardo and Antonio Giovinazzi tangled. The trio went three-wide into Turn 4 with the Alfa Romeo in the middle; and, as Giovinazzi tried to back out, he was squeezed from both sides, making contact with Grosjean’s left rear and Ricciardo’s right rear.

Grosjean was pitched into the barrier and retired, triggeing the Safety Car, while Ricciardo picked up a puncture and damage that led to his retirement on lap 25.

The McLaren pair had made excellent starts as Sainz briefly moved into third place ahead of Hamilton before the braking zone for Turn 2, but settled into fourth and sixth until Bottas and Verstappen started making progress.

All eyes were on the front at that stage, as Vettel led Leclerc from the race restart and the two Ferrari drivers were told not to fight each other. Vettel was then instructed to let his teammate pass him as a result of their agreed plan at the start, but the German pushed on and Ferrari sensibly opted to try and address the order later in the race.

Leclerc had been calm on team radio but made clear he had held up his side of the bargain and followed orders at the start, so Vettel was arguably losing too much time to Hamilton as Ferrari kept him out front in the opening stint until it was clear Leclerc’s earlier stop would provide an undercut.

Ferrari’s race fell apart soon after as Vettel slowed with a loss of MGU-K power and stopped with a radio message of “bring back the f***ing V12s”, but it wasn’t the only team dealing with scrapping drivers as the two Toro Rossos went wheel-to-wheel on a number of occasions into Turn 2.

Albon had been a part of that party but, after starting on medium tires, he benefited from the Safety Car to climb into the top 10 and his former team was left with two drivers fighting amongst themselves for P12.

Albon closes in on the dueling Toro Rossos. Image by Hone/LAT

Daniil Kvyat came out on top in 12th place as Pierre Gasly ended up 14th, outbraking himself into Turn 2 when trying to overtake and dropping a further place to Kimi Raikkonen, the Alfa Romeo driver having served a drive-through penalty for a false start. Gasly at least adhered to instructions when rejoining the track, but it was an incident that would prove costly for Magnussen.

The Haas driver was running as high as sixth after the Safety Car but dropped behind Albon, and then went straight on at Turn 2 as Perez attacked. Magnussen lost the position but did not go around the bollards as instructed when rejoining, resulting in a five-second time penalty that dropped him a second behind Norris at the flag.

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