Lewis Hamilton takes Russian GP win as Vettel falters again

AUTO-F1-PRIX-RUS

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes produced another flawless performance to claim victory at the Russian Grand Prix and move the Briton ever closer to a fifth Formula 1 crown.

There was a brief moment when it looked like Sebastian Vettel could spoil the party in Sochi as he got ahead at the first round of pit-stops but the British driver produced a perfect move on his championship rival at Turn 4 to retake the initiative.

The final piece of the puzzle was getting ahead of teammate and polesitter Valtteri Bottas but as a strange race developed with Max Verstappen leading for a while, the Brackley-based team played the low-risk option and asked the Finn to move aside giving Hamilton the win.

Before all that, the drivers had to navigate a traditionally tricky start, with the long run to the first braking zone at Turn 2 providing an opportunity for drama.

Bottas got away well when the lights went out with Vettel right behind looking to pass Hamilton but it was the two Mercedes' that helped each other with a slipstream allowing Lewis to move ahead into second.

Vettel had to settle for third as the pack behind just about made it through the tricky sequence unscathed.

The big mover was Verstappen as the birthday boy made his way up from 19th to fifth within the first nine laps having been as high as eighth within the opening four.

F1 Grand Prix of Russia

His pace on the Soft compound tyre was also equal to the leaders once in clear air and that made him a problem for the Mercedes' and Ferrari's as they tried to stretch out their first stint on the fragile Hypersoft.

The top three largely shadowed each other in this phase but as the lap times began to slip, Bottas would be the first to pit switching to the Soft rubber but coming out behind the Red Bull.

Then came Vettel a lap later from third with his out lap just enough to move ahead of Hamilton, as his strategy team misjudges the power of the undercut.

Fired up by the error, Lewis quickly closed in on the Ferrari and looked to make a move into Turn 2 only to be strongly rebuffed by Vettel.

Around the long Turn 3, however, the Mercedes could stay close enough allowing Hamilton to dive down the inside into Turn 4 and make up the crucial position on the German.

Further back, Charles Leclerc produced the perfect first stint to move up to what would be seventh as Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull made his way through the field more gradually.

Still, the Monegasque's pace had him comfortably clear of Nico Hulkenberg, Kevin Magnussen and the two Force India's, who had a diplomatic race using team orders with Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez taking it in turns to try and pass the Dane.

Verstappen led 22 laps on his 21st birthday at Sochi

Out front, Verstappen's pace remained equal with those now behind him after the pit-stop and what his presence did do was cause Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel to bottle up behind with rarely more than 3.5 seconds covering the three cars.

Fears of a blister on Lewis' tyre led to the inevitable use of team orders by Mercedes with Bottas letting his teammate by into Turn 13.

From that point on, whatever Sebastian tried, the Brackley-based team had an answer with the three drivers running equidistantly in the second half of the race.

Bottas would ultimately be forced to relinquish a second straight win in Russia

The Red Bull remained a factor, however, and as Max's pace began to dip, there was a brief moment when Hamilton considered a pass and almost hit the Dutchman before eventually doing the sensible thing and waiting until he pitted.

Fitted with fresh Ultrasofts for the final 10 laps, it was thought Verstappen would close back in on the leading quartet but the pace wasn't as good meaning he had to settle for fifth as Kimi Raikkonen ran a lonely fourth.

Ricciardo's lack of pace was a result of front wing damage picked up at the start, leaving him 50 seconds behind his teammate by the checkered flag in sixth.

Leclerc came home seventh with Magnussen holding off Ocon and Perez as they completed the top 10.

Leclerc proved his Ferrari credentials again in Sochi

Renault's gamble to start P11 and P12 using the Soft tyre backfired as Hulkenberg came home 12th and Carlos Sainz 17th.

The Spaniard finding himself amongst the McLaren's and Williams' that brought up the field.

The only retirements would be the two Toro Rosso's as both Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley suffered brake problems in the opening laps.

A full look at the results can be seen below:

Back at the front though, and another perfect day for Lewis Hamilton sees him leave Sochi with a 50-point lead over Sebastian Vettel with five races to go.

Valtteri Bottas may have looked forlorn on the podium as Mercedes claimed they would "speak later" to address to use of team orders but it was something that was almost guaranteed as the championship prepares for several tricky races.

The perils of Interlagos are many as is the threat of Red Bull in Mexico and next weekend F1 heads to a historic gem at Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix, a race that has seen it all down the years.

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