Russian Grand Prix: Virtual Safety Car gifts Hamilton victory

After an eventful weekend, all eyes were on the headline event of the weekend to see if it would live up to that. And it sure did have its moments. From team order controversy to virtual safety car and real safety car shake ups, which saw Lewis Hamilton take advantage of the madness by pitting under the VSC and taking the lead, it sure did have its talking points.

At the start, Sebastian Vettel immediately got into the slipstream of his team-mate Charles Leclerc and took the lead, whilst both McLarens got great starts and managed to get amongst the Mercedes. The race was interrupted after a collision between Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniel Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean, with the latter coming off worst and retiring from the race, brought out the safety car. It appeared Giovinazzi was pinched between the two cars, but he continued. Grosjean was harpooned into the barrier by the contact, whilst Ricciardo got a puncture, which would eventually see him retire.

At the restart, there was a lot of radio chatter between the Ferrari drivers as it appeared a pre-agreed plan had been agreed that Vettel would take the slipstream from Leclerc to prevent the Mercedes getting it, but Leclerc would retake the lead. However Vettel had a gap but did not oblige, leading to tension on the team radio. Eventually the swap was done as Leclerc got the undercut. However Vettel’s race would then end as an MGU-K issue forced him to park.

This cost Leclerc as the resulting Virtual Safety Car enabled both Mercedes to essentially get a free pitstop, where Hamilton got in front. Immediately after the VSC ended, George Russell appeared to have a brake failure which brought out the real safety car. Charles Leclerc took a gamble by pitting under the safety car for softs, but that lost him track position to Valtteri Bottas. On the restart he had many chances but couldn’t get close enough. Eventually Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to continue Mercedes’ 100% win record at Sochi, ahead of Bottas and Leclerc.

Max Verstappen finished in fourth ahead of his team-mate Alexander Albon, both benefiting from the VSC, with the latter also benefiting from feisty driving, pulling off a handful of overtakes. Carlos Sainz dominated the midfield battle and finished in sixth ahead of Sergio Perez, who also benefited from the VSC to finish in seventh. Lando Norris struggled for pace at the end but still finished in eighth ahead of Kevin Magnussen, who originally finished in eighth but a 5 second time penalty for not adhering to the bollard at Turn 2 dropped him to ninth, with Nico Hulkenberg rounding out the top 10.

Lance Stroll raced well but could not get into the points. The two Toro Rossos fought hard throughout the race but finished outside the points in twelfth and fourteenth. They were sandwiched by Kimi Raikkonen, who’s race was ruined by a jump start and the subsequent drive through, whilst Antonio Giovinazzi rounded out the finishers.

Here is the classification for the Russian Grand Prix.
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
4. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
5. Alexander Albon (Red Bull)
6. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
7. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
8. Lando Norris (McLaren)
9. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
10. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
11. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
12. Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso)
13. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
14. Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso)
15. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
R. Robert Kubica (Williams)
R. George Russell (Williams)
R. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
R. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)
R. Romain Grosjean (Haas)

Lewis Hamilton now holds a 73 point lead over his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, which means he could put himself in a position to be able to clinch the drivers championship in Mexico if he further extends his lead in Suzuka. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen remain closely matched in the battle for third, only 3 points separate them, whilst Sebastian Vettel has fallen further behind after his retirement today.

Mercedes have put themselves in a position to clinch the constructors in Suzuka, if they outscore Ferrari by 14 points. Whilst fourth placed McLaren have now cleared the 100 points marker for the first time since 2014.

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