Lewis Hamilton scored his 100th grand prix victory in a dramatic late-race deluge at the Russian Grand Prix to retake the championship lead from second-placed Max Verstappen.
The Briton had been engaged in a battle for the lead with polesitter Lando Norris in the late stages when rain suddenly arrived in Sochi, sprinkling the track with rain and then drenching the circuit in a downpour that turned the race on its head.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 26, 2021
He and Norris both resisted switching to the intermediate tire with so few laps left to run, with Hamilton even ignoring a call from his pit wall to box on lap 48 before finally accepting the summons on the following lap, leaving the McLaren in the lead in deteriorating conditions.
The gamble didn’t pay off for Norris. The light shower turned into downpour, and the would-be maiden winner spun off into a run-off zone as Hamilton tore his lead to shreds.
He stopped at the end of lap 51 — to rub salt into the wounds he slid out of the pit land and had to re-enter over the white line, likely earning him a penalty — and crossed the line seventh.
The way was clear for Hamilton to take a complicated 100th career victory.
“It’s taken a long time to get to 100,” he said. “I wasn’t even sure whether or not it would come.
“The team made a great call right at the end. I didn’t want to let Lando go but I didn’t know what the weather was doing.
“Lando did such an amazing job. He had incredible pace.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 26, 2021
The victory maintained Mercedes’s 100 percent victory record in Russia and returned Hamilton to the top of the title table with a two-point advantage over Verstappen, but his Dutch rival swam through the late-race chaos to secure second place after starting last.
Verstappen was serving a back-of-grid penalty of a power unit change but had recovered to seventh in the second stint of the race by running a long first stint on the hard tire. His pace had begun to fade on his set of mediums and he’d just lost a place to Fernando Alonso when the rain arrived, and a perfectly timed switch to intermediates vaulted him to second place in an instant to maximize his points haul.
“It was pretty tricky on the in lap to make the call to go to inters,” Verstappen said. “To come from last to second… very, very good.
“Luckily the rain helped us to make that last jump … when I woke up this morning I definitely didn’t expect this result.”
Carlos Sainz completed the podium after leading the first 12 laps of the race from polesitter Norris, having swept around his outside in the first braking zone thanks to the powerful slipstream down the straight.
But his race seemed to unravel shortly afterwards, with Ferrari committing to an early stop and a long final stint that had him running a vulnerable third in the second stint and almost sure to drop to fourth or fifth as rivals with fresher tires made their advances — until the rain arrived and equalized the field.
“We did exactly the right call at the right time,” he said. “A really strong race in general.”
Daniel Ricciardo was similarly saved by the rain. The Australian had been second behind his teammate before a disastrously slow first stop dropped him to 14th, and though he recovered to fight Sainz for third late, by then his tires were similarly aged and vulnerable to attack from behind.
But none benefited more from the climatic intervention than Valtteri Bottas. The Finn started 16th with what the team described as a tactical engine change penalty that seemed designed more to hold up Verstappen than benefit its outgoing driver, but the Dutchman found his way past after only six laps, and the Bottas spent the race mired in the lower reaches of the midfield, seemingly unable to make progress. He was running 14th when the weather turned, and once the final stops were made he rejoined a face-saving fifth.
Fernando Alonso finished a meritorious sixth ahead of the heartbroken Norris and Kimi Raikkonen.
Sergio Perez was unlucky to finish ninth in the wet, having been battling Sainz for third before the rain, while George Russell secured another point for Williams with 10th.