Valtteri Bottas took a comfortable victory at the Russian Grand Prix after teammate Lewis Hamilton copped two time penalties before the race started.
Hamilton started from pole and had his sights set on equaling Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 victories, but two practice starts on his way to the grid outside the designated area in the pit lane immediately put him under investigation for breaching the rules.
Shortly after the race got underway the stewards slapped him with a five-second penalty for each offense, effectively rubbing him out of victory contention.
The Briton was already facing an uphill battle to convert pole to win, having been forced to start on the delicate soft tire after a scrappy qualifying hour while chief rivals Bottas and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen would start on the more durable mediums. It meant he was locked into a deleteriously early pit stop for new tires, leaving Bottas and Verstappen to run away with the lead while he was mired in traffic.
Only a safety car might have saved Hamilton’s afternoon, but the race’s sole neutralization came too early, on Lap 1.
Carlos Sainz had clattered over the curbs at Turn 2, requiring him to drive to the far side of the run-off zone to rejoin at a specified point near the barrier. Carrying too much speed in an effort to minimize positions lost, he clobbered the wall with his left-front wheel, snapping it from the chassis.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 27, 2020
Further ahead, Lance Stroll was tagged from behind exiting Turn 4, sending his Racing Point machine spinning across the track and into the inside barrier.
The safety car slowed the field for five laps, and after the restart Hamilton held the lead until making his sole stop on Lap 16. Pausing to serve his 10-second penalty, the Briton emerged from pit lane 11th and 35 seconds off the lead.
“This is just ridiculous,” he said as he rejoined the circuit, almost immediately moving past Kimi Raikkonen into 10th. It took him only 13 laps to climb to third, slicing past midfield drivers as they made their mandatory stops, but by then he was already 22s off the lead. He was forced to manage his way to the flag, his win tally stalled at 90.
Bottas inherited the lead after Hamilton’s early stop and penalty and was never challenged by Verstappen, whose RB16 was marginally adrift of the pace, as has so often been the case this year.
With both on the same medium-hard single-stop strategy, there was nothing to be done to prevent Bottas from cruising to his second victory of the year and first since the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
“It’s nice to get a win again — it’s been a while,” a relieved Bottas said. “Obviously Lewis had a penalty, so once I was in clear air I felt the pace was pretty awesome and I could control everything.”
Joy and relief for @ValtteriBottas as he celebrates victory in Russia 😆 🏆
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Victory and a point for fastest lap reduced Bottas’s championship deficit to 44 points.
“You just never know,” he noted. “I’ll keep pushing and never give up.”
Verstappen could do little more than run his own lonely race to the checkered flag.
“I was just trying to do my own race. They were fast today,” he said. “I think we managed it well. I did everything I could. In the end being able to split the Mercedes cars again, we can be pleased with that.”
Hamilton was barely responsive post-race, such was his disappointment.
“Not the greatest day, but it is what it is,” he said. “It’s done now. I’ll take the points I got and move on.
Sergio Perez came home a comfortable fourth, the Mexican taking advantage of both his Renault rivals getting caught behind Ferrari cars after their pit stops.
Daniel Ricciardo was classified fifth and more than 17s behind the Racing Point driver after serving a five-second penalty for cutting run two while overtaking his teammate in a coordinated team order.
Told of his indiscretion over team radio, the Australian cooly replied, “OK, I’ll drive faster,” and duly pulled a large enough gap to Charles Leclerc behind to negate the punishment.
Leclerc had Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel to thank for his lofty sixth-place finish, the German having delayed his first stop to keep both Renault drivers behind to create space for the Monegasque to pit into. It allowed Leclerc to keep ahead of Esteban Ocon in the second Renault through to the flag.
AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat pressured the Frenchman for position late in the race with fresher tires, having started on the hard and switching to mediums on Lap 30, but to no avail, finishing eighth.
Pierre Gasly finished behind his teammate in ninth, his team accidentally manufacturing a thrilling finish after a pit stop for fresh rubber during a virtual safety car on Lap 42, forcing him to get back past Alex Albon and Lando Norris to resume position.
Albon took the final point of the race from Norris when the Englishman’s tires, having been fitted on Lap 4, cried enough.
Antonio Giovinazzi finished 11th ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Sebastian Vettel. Kimi Raikkonen took the flag 14th ahead of Norris after the Briton’s late stop, while Nicholas Latifi finished 16th for Williams ahead of Romain Grosjean and George Russell.