Lewis Hamilton Wins Russian GP Amidst Team Orders Controversy

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Lewis Hamilton secured a controversial win at the Russian GP and extended his lead in the drivers’ championship over Sebastian Vettel to 50 points. Hamilton recorded his 70th career win and his eighth win of the 2018 season. Valtteri Bottas finished second after the Mercedes pitwall gave him team orders to let Hamilton through on lap 25. Vettel completed the podium places, as his title hopes faded significantly on a weekend in which Ferrari lacked pace.

Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth, as Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth and sixth respectively. Charles Leclerc with another sparkling drive finished seventh and “best of the rest”. Kevin Magnussen, Esteban Ocon, and Sergio Perez rounded off the top 10 positions.

Lewis Hamilton Wins Russian GP Amidst Team Orders Controversy

The race started on a slightly damp track after a rain shower before the race. The conditions were steamy and humid with the air temperature at 24 degrees C and track temperatures at 28 degrees C at the Sochi Autodrom circuit. Valtteri Bottas started from pole position after he eclipsed the championship contenders in qualification. Lewis Hamilton joined him on the first row.

Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were on the second row. Kevin Magnussen and Esteban Ocon lined up on the third row. Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Romain Grosjean, and Marcus Ericsson lined up at the front of the grid.

A slew of drivers had engine penalties and they lined up at the back of the grid. Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, and Brendon Hartley started from P16 to P20. Vandoorne (P15), Ricciardo, and Verstappen also had a 5-place grid penalty for unscheduled gearbox changes. Verstappen had an additional 3-place grid penalty for a yellow-flag infringement in qualification.

The top 4 drivers started on the purple-striped ultrasoft tyres which were expected to last longer than the hypersoft tyres. The other six drivers in the top 10 were on the pink-striped hypersoft tyres. Hulkenberg and Sainz, outside the top 10, had a free choice of tyres and started on the hardest compound yellow-striped soft tyres. The Red Bull drivers also started on the soft tyres from the back.

The Start With A Clean Bottas Getaway

Bottas made a good start with Hamilton and Vettel jostling behind him through Turn 1. Hamilton stayed ahead of Vettel in the early exchange. Leclerc made a good start as he overtook Magnussen on lap 2 to claim fifth position. At the back, Verstappen made a storming start from P19 and moved up six places on the first lap.

The order at the end of the second lap was Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, Leclerc, Magnussen, Ocon, Perez, Grosjean, Ericsson.

Max Verstappen Storms Through The Field As Toro Rosso Drivers Retire

Verstappen moved up six places on lap 1 and by lap 2 was P11. By lap 3, the Dutchman was in the points. Verstappen on this day took no prisoners and by lap 8 was P5 behind the top 4 drivers.

Ricciardo’s progress was more sedate and by lap 13 he was P6 behind his teammate. The Australian suffered front-wing damage on the first lap which led to a lot of understeer in the first stint. The two Toro Rosso drivers, Gasly and Hartley, suffered a spin and were out of the race by lap 4.

The First Pitstops

Alonso pitted early on lap 6 for the soft tyres and rejoined P17. On lap 10, among the frontrunners, Magnussen pitted first for the soft tyres and rejoined P13. Next lap Ocon and Leclerc also pitted for the soft tyres and rejoined behind and in front of Magnussen respectively. It was clear on a track were tyre degradation is low, it was a one-stop race with drivers putting on the soft tyres for a long second stint till the end of the race.

On Lap 12, race leader Bottas pitted and rejoined P5 behind Verstappen. On lap 13, Vettel pitted and rejoined P5 behind Bottas. Hamilton stayed out for another lap and lost out to Vettel with the undercut as he came out behind the German. A lap later, Hamilton with a great overtake move got past his title-rival to regain his position behind teammate Bottas.

On lap 19, Raikkonen pitted to rejoin P5. Meanwhile, Verstappen led the race with a long stint on the soft tyres that lasted upto lap 43. The order at the end of lap 20 was Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Leclerc, Magnussen, Ocon, and Perez.

Mercedes Team Orders

Verstappen put in fast laps even on significantly older soft tyres and led the race lap after lap. As he held up the leaders, Bottas, Hamilton, and Vettel were closely bunched up behind him.

On lap 25, Mercedes gave team orders to Bottas to let Hamilton past. The Finn was told that Hamilton’s tyres had a blister and had to be protected from Vettel. Hamilton moved upto P2 and Bottas fell within DRS-range of Vettel. But the Finn defended his position against Vettel and stayed ahead.

Racing Point Force India drivers, Ocon and Perez, behind them were involved in a team orders squabble of their own. Ocon was given a few laps to try and overtake Magnussen for P8. Then the Frenchman was ordered to let Perez through to battle with Magnussen. The Mexican was given a finite number of laps to do it or he had to swap back with Ocon. After Perez was unsuccessful at making the overtake move, he gave the place back to Ocon.

Hamilton Wins and Mercedes Clinch An Unhappy 1-2

Verstappen finally pitted on lap 43 to take on the ultrasoft tyres. He rejoined P5 behind Raikkonen and settled for fifth place. The Dutchman on his 21st birthday had put in yet another eye-catching drive and was voted “Driver Of The Day”.

Hamilton now took the race lead and won the race and extended his lead to 50-points over Vettel in the drivers’ championship. A crestfallen Bottas finished second and Toto Wolff apologized on team radio. Mercedes had sacrificed a win for Bottas to help Hamilton in his title fight against Vettel.

Hamilton’s post-race celebration was subdued as he said:“It’s actually quite a difficult day. Valtteri did a fantastic job all weekend and he was a real gentleman to let me by. He’s now not fighting for the championship as where we are. It’s just been such a great weekend for the team.

“The team have done such an exceptional job to have this advantage on Ferrari and have a one-two. Usually, you’d just be elated, but I can understand how difficult it was for Valtteri. But really, he did a fantastic job today and deserved to win. But championship-wise, as a team, we’re trying to win both championships, and today, it was a real team effort.”

Vettel finished third and lost more ground to Hamilton. Raikkonen, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Magnussen, Ocon, and Perez rounded off the top 10 positions.

Hamilton clinched his eighth win of the season and extended his lead to 50-points over Vettel. With just five races remaining, Vettel and Ferrari have a tough fight on their hands with a lackluster performance in Sochi.

The Formula 1 circus heads to Suzuka for the Japanese GP (October 04 – 07 2018) next week.

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