Lewis Hamilton took an historic 100th Grand Prix victory and 79th win for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team in what turned out to be an exciting Russian Grand Prix at Sochi that began in the dry but ended under persistent rain. It was Hamilton’s late switch to intermediate tyres that allowed him to take the lead when pole-sitter Lando Norris, who led for most of the race, lost the lead with just two laps left. Meanwhile Max Verstappen made a remarkable comeback having started from P20 to cross the finishing line second, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz taking third, dropping one place.
The Russian Grand Prix was also a race of grid penalties, with Valtteri Bottas starting from 16th due to putting a new power unit into his car and Max Verstappen starting back in 20th having taken a new Honda engine earlier in the weekend and Charles Leclerc starting 19th also with a new Ferrari unit.
After getting his first pole, Norris duelled it out with Sainz in the early stages of the race with Hamilton dropping down to seventh. By Lap 38 following team pit stops, Hamilton, who had worked his way back up the field, was rapidly catching Norris out front to be only a second apart when the rain started to come down in the closing stages of the race.
The two leaders stayed out on the track as the majority of the other drivers pitted for intermediates. Hamilton then made the decision to pit before Norris with just three laps of the race left. With his first Formula 1 victory within sight, the McLaren driver tried to hold on to the lead to the end, but unfortunately, he succumbed to the wet conditions and slid off the track, allowing Hamilton to pass him and take the lead and victory. Formula 1 can be cruel.
Norris had to settle for seventh in the end, pitting at the very end of the race. However, it was Verstappen, starting 20th on the grid, who finished an incredible second after switching from hards to mediums halfway through the race and then sliced his way through the field. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took the final podium position, having briefly led the race with an early switch to hards from mediums.
Valtteri Bottas, who started 16th came home fifth having pitted for mediums just after Verstappen, followed by Fernando Alonso. Kimi Räikkönen managed to make up places in the late wet conditions to finish eighth, with Sergio Perez and George Russell taking the final points for Red Bull and Williams.
It was Norris however, who deservedly came away with the Driver of the Day honours and an extra point for the fastest lap of the race, having had his maiden Grand Prix victory snatched in the final few laps thanks to the rain, in what must have been the most entertaining and dramatic Russian Grand Prix we’ve seen.
By taking the maximum 25 points at Sochi, Hamilton surpassed 4,000 points in Formula 1, the first driver to reach that milestone.
Hamilton now leads the Drivers’ Championship with 246.5 points ahead of Verstappen with 244.5 points, while Bottas is third with 151 points. Mercedes leads the Constructor’s Championship with 397.5 points, ahead of Red Bull who have 364.5 points.
Hamilton commented after the race:
“Wow… 100! It’s taken a long time and I wasn’t even sure the 100th would come! Going to bed last night I wasn’t the happiest with the job I did yesterday. I watched the replay over and over again; they were subtle mistakes, but I was so determined to put things right when I woke up this morning.
“Today was tough – I lost a lot of ground at the start, just trying to stay out of trouble. I was patient and at the end, when the rain came, I didn’t want to let Lando go by boxing. Of course, I didn’t know what the rain was doing, it was just my feeling but I’m incredibly grateful to the strategy team for the job they did today. Getting anywhere near 100 victories wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of the men and women here and back at the factory, I’m so grateful to them – it just feels so special.
“Lando did an amazing job today, he had incredible pace and he’s doing such a great job for McLaren. It was bittersweet to see my old team ahead, they’re doing so well powered by Mercedes and it’s good to see them united again. Max did a good job to come up from second to last, the battle continues, and we know we need to be on top form over the remaining races.”
And so, the top 10 finishers were Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas fifth, Fernando Alonso sixth followed by pole sitter Lando Norris who finished seventh in the end. Kimi Räikkönen eighth, Sergio Perez ninth and George Russell taking the final point to round off the top ten.
The teams now head to Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix on the weekend of the 9th and 10th October where Lewis Hamilton will be looking to extend his lead in the championship.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Photographs courtesy of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, Mclaren and Scuderia Ferrari Press Office