Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday.PHOTO BY LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC
MERCEDES CLINCHES CONSTRUCTORS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP WITH VICTORY
Victory for Lewis Hamilton in the Russian Grand Prix confirmed Mercedes as constructors’ World Champions for a second straight season — but only after a post-race penalty for Kimi Raikkonen took Ferrari out of mathematical contention.
With Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen finishing second and fifth on the road, Ferrari initially scored sufficient points to make Mercedes have to wait for Austin. However, more than an hour after the flag, the FIA gave the Finn a 30-second penalty for punting Valtteri Bottas off the track on the final lap. Raikkonen dropped back to eighth place — that was was enough to guarantee that Mercedes cannot be beaten, whatever happens in the last four races.
It was a strange way for Mercedes to get confirmation of a title that has looked to be in the bag since the first race of the season in Australia, but at least the job is done now, and the focus moves to resolving the drivers’ version. Hamilton now leads Vettel 302 to 236, with Rosberg having slipped to third at 229. There are still 100 points up for grabs.
Hamilton’s victory took him another step closer to his third career title in a day when a mechanical failure took out his teammate and main rival Nico Rosberg. The German had won pole position and led away from the start, but almost immediately, he began to suffer with a throttle pedal problem.
It originally cropped up under a safety car, dispatched for a first-lap crash involving Nico Hulkenberg and Marcus Ericsson, and then after the restart it became worse. Rosberg found himself going off track as the pedal refused to co-operate, and he had no choice but to head into the pits after seven laps. After a quick investigation, the team retired the car, to his obvious frustration. In the last few races, Mercedes has suffered an unexpected run of mechanical gremlins.
After that Hamilton had everything his own way. There was another safety car period when Romain Grosjean crashed heavily on lap 12, and then after that restart Hamilton simply pulled away from his main pursuer, Valtteri Bottas. He waited until his main pursuers had pitted until coming in himself, and thereafter he had things under control on the run to the flag, the only worry caused by some debris jammed in his rear wing.
Meanwhile, having run second, Bottas found himself jumped by Vettel at the pit stops, and the German kept up a good pace as he pursued Hamilton in the latter part of the race. As Lewis backed off, Vettel closed to within 5.9 seconds at the flag, but the winner had plenty in hand.
This was the 42nd win of his career, moving him ahead of Ayrton Senna on the all-time list, and it clearly meant a lot to the Briton.
“I’ve been incredibly grateful to be where I am,” he said. “I think today’s just a happy moment for me. Yesterday, of course, when you qualify second and your target is to excel and over-deliver, and when you under-deliver, of course it’s not a happy moment, but today I came here with a positive attitude, which I have at every race and I think even in the last race — not all the races; I’ve been incredibly grateful for the car holding together. In the last few laps, I was just rubbing the cockpit. You know what it’s like, you know, and you’re like ‘please just hold it together.’”
If it was straightforward at the front, there was plenty of excitement going on behind. When the Grosjean safety car came out, several midfield runners, including Force India’s Sergio Perez, opted to pit. Thus at the restart, they had the option to run all the way to the flag without another stop, as they had used both types of tire. It was always going to be a stretch, but it was possible.
When others pitted under green, Perez moved up to third, and Daniel Ricciardo — who had done the same -– moved into fourth. It was then a case of whether the quicker guys who pitted later could catch up. Bottas and Raikkonen were the two chargers who were coming through the field, and after losing time behind Ricciardo, both finally got by Perez on the penultimate lap as the Mexican’s attempt to keep his tires alive and stay ahead appeared to have failed.
However, on the very last lap, Raikkonen took a dive down the inside of Bottas as he tried to relieve his countryman of third, and the pair made heavy contact. Bottas was pitched into the barrier, while Raikkonen was able to carry on, despite damage slowing him down. Perez shot through to reclaim a popular third, while from 15th on the grid Massa took fourth, Ricciardo having retired in the closing laps with a suspension issue.
Raikkonen crawled across the line in fifth, but later the penalty dropped him back to eighth, his misfortune promoting Dany Kvyat, Felipe Nasr and Pastor Maldonado to fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.
Overall it was a much more satisfying race than last year’s inaugural Sochi event, which saw very little action. This time around incidents, safety cars and some mixed up strategies ensured that the spectating Vladimir Putin had plenty to watch.
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
3. Sergio Perez, Force India
4. Felipe Massa, Williams
5. Kimi Kaikkonen, Ferrari
6. Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull
7. Felipe Nasr, Sauber
8. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus
9. Jenson Button, McLaren
10. Fernando Alonso, McLaren
11. Max Verstappen, STR
12. Valtteri Bottas, Williams
13. Roberto Merhi, Marussia
14. Will Stevens, Marussia
15. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull
DNF Sainz, Grosjean, Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Ericsson