Hamilton handed Sochi win after Mercedes team orders

Russian Grand Prix: Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W09 and Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W09 lead
© XPB 

Lewis Hamilton succeeded in extending his lead to 50 points in the 2018 drivers world championship after claiming victory in the 2018 Russian Grand Prix.

He overcome an early scare when he lost out to Sebastian Vettel's attempt to undercut him during the single round of pit stops. Hamilton was subsequently able to use the superior pace of the Mercedes to force his way back past Vettel.

However he needed help from the Mercedes pit wall to get around his team mate Valtteri Bottas. The instruction did not go down well with the Finn, who went on to finish in second place ahead of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen completed an outstanding run from the back row of the grid to finish in fifth ahead of team mate Daniel Ricciardo with Sauber's Charles Leclerc the best of the rest.

2018 Russian Grand Prix - Race result

1Lewis HamiltonMercedes53 laps - 1:27:25.181s1
2Valtteri BottasMercedes+ 2.545s1
3Sebastian VettelFerrari+ 7.487s1
4Kimi RäikkönenFerrari+ 16.543s1
5Max VerstappenRed Bull+ 31.016s1
6Daniel RicciardoRed Bull+ 80.451s1
7Charles LeclercSauber+ 98.390s1
8Kevin MagnussenHaas+ 1 lap1
9Esteban OconForce India+ 1 lap1
10Sergio PérezForce India+ 1 lap1
11Romain GrosjeanHaas+ 1 lap1
12Nico HülkenbergRenault+ 1 lap1
13Marcus EricssonSauber+ 1 lap2
14Fernando AlonsoMcLaren+ 1 lap1
15Lance StrollWilliams+ 1 lap1
16Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren+ 2 laps1
17Carlos SainzRenault+ 2 laps1
18Sergey SirotkinWilliams+ 2 laps1
19Pierre GaslyToro RossoDNF1
20Brendon HartleyToro RossoDNF2

Despite some dark clouds in the skies overhead, Sochi Autodrom was bathed in warm sunshine as Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton led Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to the grid following Mercedes' dominant display in qualifying 24 hours earlier. Spots of rain in the air were keeping everyone on their toes, but not in nearly enough amounts to be a significant factor as the lights went out to get the 53 lap race underway.

Having won last year's race with a slipstream run into the first corner, Bottas was all too aware of the threat represented by the Ferraris. He made sure he got the perfect launch from the grid, sharply moving across to ensure that Vettel was unable to capitalise on any tow down the long straight. The top four finished the first lap in the order they had started.

In fifth, Kevin Magnussen was under fire from Charles Leclerc and on the second lap the Haas succumbed to a muscle move from the Sauber around the outside of the long sweeping turn 3 left-hander.

Further back there was even more eye-popping stuff from the birthday boy Max Verstappen. Hit by penalties for power unit upgrades, he had started from 19th place but had rocketed back into the points after just three laps. Rapid overtaking moves on Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean and the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteben Ocon then put him up to seventh place on lap 5. His Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo was doing his best to keep up, but was still in 12th place despite having started one spot ahead of the Dutchman.

News from the junior Toro Rosso team was markedly less positive. Having taken an additional overnight penalty for new power unit elements, Brendon Hartley had started from dead last; with little to lose, he adopted the unexpected strategy of starting on hypersofts. That appeared to backfire when he spun in turn 2, but when Gasly had an almost identical mishap on soft tyres it was clear that something more serious was amiss. Sure enough, moments later both cars were pulling into the garage and their day was already over.

Grosjean was the first of the top ten to pit on lap 9, swapping his set of qualifying hypersofts for a new set of softs. His Haas team mate Kevin Magnussen followed suit next time by, with Leclerc and both Force Indias also making their stops over the course of the next few laps.

Having started on ultras, it was a little longer before Bottas pitted on lap 12 for a new set of softs. Vettel responded next time by, but Hamilton stayed out and started to get held up by slower cars. That put him at risk of falling foul of the undercut: sure enough when Hamilton finally did make his stop, he emerged from pit exit side-by-side with his title rival.

The Ferrari had the momentum and the hotter tyres, and Vettel was able to overhaul the Mercedes into the next corner for fourth place behind Raikkonen, Verstappen and Bottas. Hamilton was not happy with the outcome and was on the team radio demanding to know "Guys, how did that happen?"

He immediately set about reversing the situation, using DRS to get a run down the straight only to be squeezed toward the wall which forced him to back off. Hamilton complained to the team that the Ferrari had moved twice, but he didn't wait for any appeal to the race stewards: just moments later he got a slingshot run out of turn 3 that catapulted him past Vettel and back up to fourth. Ferrari's risky strategy had worked as advertised only to be immediately undone by the superior Mercedes package.

His role holding up the field now superfluous to team requirements, Raikkonen was permitted to pit on lap 19 which handed the lead to the still-to-stop Verstappen. The Red Bull had two seconds on Bottas and another second over Hamilton, with Vettel slipping out of DRS range in fourth followed by Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg and Charles Leclerc.

Behind Magnussen in ninth, the two Force Indias were squabbling over the final points paying position with Perez on the team radio asking them to order Ocon to move aside. Ocon was given three laps 'to get the job done' on Magnussen. Unable to do so, the swap in position was subsequently enforced on schedule with Perez moving into tenth place on lap 26. However, the team made it clear that the situation would be reviewed again if Perez was also unable to dispatch the Haas.

Team orders were simultaneously becoming a factor at the front of the field. With Verstappen's pace on worn tyres now flagging, Bottas had been pushed back into DRS range of Hamilton meaning that the question for Mercedes principal Toto Wolff was whether to order his drivers to reserve position in order to boost Hamilton's championship campaign.

The inevitable call was made. A clipped instruction was delivered to Bottas to let Hamilton by in turn 13, which he duly acceeded to. When he queried the call, Bottas was told by the team's chief strategist James Vowles that a potential blister on Hamilton's left rear tyre had left the team with little choice but to play it safe. When Hamilton was subsequently unable to make any impact on Verstappen for the lead, Bottas complained that he had been poised to overtake the Red Bull before being stymied by the team orders.

On lap 35, Sainz was the first of the four remaining drivers to have started the race on soft tyres to make his deferred stop for a set of fresh ultras. Hulkenberg was in on lap 37 leaving just the two Red Bulls: Ricciardo made the jump on lap on lap 40, also picking up a replacement front wing after sustaining damage from debris earlier in the race. Verstappen finally surrendered the lead to Hamilton on lap 43.

With all the pit stops now completed, Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel were covered by less than three and a half seconds. After that was a seven second gap back to Raikkonen who in turn had a big advantage over Verstappen and Ricciardo. Leclerc maintained seventh place ahead of Magnussen, while Force India had indeed followed through on their threat to restore Ocon to ninth place ahead of Perez.

Would there be similar restitution at Mercedes? Bottas asked the question but got the answer that the order remained as it was, confirming victory for Hamilton. The Mercedes pit wall promised that it would be discussed after the race.

2018 Russian Grand Prix podium

Grosjean ended up running just outside the points ahead of Hulkenberg. Marcus Ericsson finished in 13th place ahead of a frustrated Fernando Alonso, whose McLaren team mate Stoffel Vandoorne crossed the line in 16th behind Lance Stroll, with Carlos Sainz just behind in 17th. And it was an unhappy maiden home Grand Prix outing for Stroll's Williams team mate Sergey Sirotkin, the Russian rookie finishing the race in last place.

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