Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix extend his Drivers’ Championship lead over title rival Sebastian Vettel to 50-points, after Mercedes called on race leader Valtteri Bottas to move aside in order to defend against a threat from eventual third-place finisher Vettel.
Pole position man Bottas held his advantage at the start and controlled the early phases of the race, with Hamilton coming under strong pressure from third-placed Vettel. Vettel briefly managed to get past Hamilton after the drivers’ single pit stops but when the title leader reclaimed second with a brave move soon after, Mercedes took the decision to switch their drivers’ positions.
Bottas slowed at the end of lap 42 and Hamilton eased past to take the lead and eventually his 70th career win. Bottas was left to take second place, keeping Vettel at bay until the flag.
“It’s quite a difficult day,” said Hamilton afterwards. “Valtteri did a fantastic job all weekend and he was a real gentleman to let me by. The team have done such an exceptional job to have this advantage on Ferrari and to have a one-two. Usually you would be just elated, but I can understand how difficult it is for Valtteri. He did a fantastic job today and he deserved to win. But championship-wise, as a team we are trying to win both championships and I think today it was a real team effort. Whilst it doesn’t feel spectacular, I know he is going to do great in the following races to come.”
When the lights when out at the race start, Bottas held his advantage and took the lead ahead of Hamilton. Vettel made an excellent start and drew level with Hamilton, but the Briton quickly picked up a tow from Bottas’ car and managed to hold onto P2 ahead of the German and Ferrari team-mate Kimi Räikkönen.
It was Red Bull, however, who made the biggest gains in the opening laps, with Max Verstappen making a stunning start to rise from P19 on the grid to 13th place at the end of the first lap. The Dutchman’s charge up the order continued and by lap eight he was powering past Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, to claim a remarkable fifth place.
Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was also making progress, though his fight was made more complicated by front wing damage picked up when he hit debris on the opening lap. By lap 10, however, the Australian had climbed from P18 on the grid to P10.
Bottas now led Hamilton by eight tenths of a second, with Vettel 2.8 off the lead. Bottas pitted on lap 12 and then on lap 13 Vettel then made his single pit stop on lap 13, looking to undercut Hamilton.
The Ferrari driver took on soft tyres in a 2.8s stop and rejoined behind Bottas. Ahead on track, Hamilton was encountering traffic and losing time. Mercedes reacted and pitted the championship leader. Hamilton emerged alongside the quicker Vettel and the German swept past.
Vettel’s advantage didn’t last long. Hamilton was quickly on the attack and on lap 15 made a move in Turn 2. Vettel defended aggressively and blocked the pass, but Hamilton was immediately on the offensive again and in Turn 4 he dived down the inside and stole the place once more.
When Räikkönen became the last of the lead drivers to pit, on lap 18, vertappen took the lead. The Ducthman’s pace on his starting soft tyres, while solid, served to back up the cars immediately behind and second-placed Bottas began to come under pressure from Hamilton. Crucially, Vettel now began to close on Hamilton.
The threat from Ferrari again forced Mercedes to react, and Bottas was told to let Hamilton past. On lap 42 the Finn obliged and as Max continued to lead, the Finn became the third-placed bulwark between the title leader and Vettel.
With Hamilton now in control, the only question was where would Red Bull finish. Having gone deep into the race on starting soft tyres, the team was now targeting aggressive finishes from its drivers on softer compound tyres.
Ricciardo pitted on lap 39 to take on ultrasoft tyres, as well as a new nosecone to replace one damaged at the start of the race. He rejoined in P6. Verstappen then made his stop on lap 43, also for ultrasofts, and he rejoined in P5, 14s behind Räikkönen.
The expected pace advantage from the ultrasofts didn’t materialise, however, neither Red Bull driver couldn’t find the pace needed to reel in Räikkönen.
On lap 53, then, Hamilton took his 70th career win ahead of Bottas with Vettel taking third place. Räikkönen held onto fourth place, while Verstappen and Ricciardo took fifth and sixth place respectively. Seventh place went Charles Leclerc with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen in eighth. The final two points places were occupied by the Force India’s of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez.
2018 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix – Race
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 2.545
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 7.487
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 16.543
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 31.016
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:20.451
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber 1:38.390
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1 lap
9 Esteban Ocon Racing Point Force India 1 lap
10 Sergio Perez Racing Point Force India 1 lap
11 Romain Grosjean Haas 1 lap
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1 lap
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 lap
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1 lap
15 Lance Stroll Williams 1 lap
16 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 2 laps
17 Carlos Sainz Renault 2 laps
18 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 2 laps
Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 49 laps
Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 49 laps