Hamilton scores 100th grand prix win in Russia as late rain denies Norris first victory
Rain helps Lewis Hamilton claim his centenary win and get back to winning ways..
Lewis Hamilton took a record 100th Formula 1 victory in a Russia Grand Prix that ended in dramatic fashion as rain in the final laps saw McLaren’s Lando Norris slide out of the race lead and out of contention for his maiden F1 win and which allowed Max Verstappen to rise to second place after starting the race in last place on the grid. The final podium position was taken by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
At the race start Norris got away well from pole position, but behind him Sainz got the benefit of a strong slipstream on the long run towards the first two corners and as they went through the complex the Ferrari driver powered past the McLaren man to take the lead as third-on-the-grid George Russell held third place.
Hamilton made a solid start from fourth place but got boxed in on the inside as the field went into Turn 1 and he was passed by Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and soon after by Daniel Ricciardo in the second McLaren.
At the rear of the field Verstappen made a good start and quickly began to work his way through the pack. By the end of lap five he was up to 15th place and was closing in on Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas who had taken an overnight 15-place penalty for changing power unit elements and started from P16. Verstappen soon made his way past the Finn on lap six, powering down the inside of the Mercedes into Turn 13 to steal P14. He then caught Pierre Gasly and two laps later employed the same move to push past the AlphaTauri driver.
There was a nervous moment for the Red Bull driver soon after, though. Ahead of him Charles Leclerc was attacking Sebastian Vettel. And seeking to profit from the battle Verstappen dived to the right of the Ferrari driver. But fighting for position, Leclerc was unsighted and almost pushed the Dutch driver into the wall. Verstappen escaped and when Leclerc outbraked himself into the next corner, he pounced to claim P12. Vettel was next in his sights and once again the Red Bull driver made the move into Turn 13 .
At the front, Norris was closing up to Sainz and on lap 13 he tucked into the slipstream and powered past the Ferrari driver on the run to Turn 13 to claim the lead.
Versatppen was on a march and as Sainz, Stroll and Russell pitted ahead of him he rose to sixth place behind Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and found himself just four seconds behind third-placed Hamilton.
Hamilton and Verstappen made their sole visit to the pit lane at the end of lap 22. Hamilton rejoined in P9 on hard tyres with his title rival in 12th place. Hamilton began to make his way through the pack and by lap 30 he was back up to P5 as Verstappen laboured more behind Ricciardo in P10. At the front, Sergio Perez, still running on his starting hard tyres, now led the Russian Grand Prix. Behind him, Alonso was in P2 ahead of Leclerc, who also needed to pit. Norris was now fourth ahead of Hamilton, Gasly and Sainz.
Leclerc pitted on lap 35 but a slow stop dropped him down the order. Perez then pitted from the lead at the end of lap 36 but the switch to medium tyres was hampered by a stuck rear left wheel and when he rejoined the action he was behind Ricciardo who was now fourth behind Sainz, Hamilton and race leader Norris.
Verstappen’s progress had halted, however. The Red Bull driver’s medium tyres were beginning to fade and he dropped to seventh behind Alonso. Ahead Perez managed to get past Ricciardo to sit in fourth place and as the race entered the final 10 laps and gaps appeared secure it looked like the order might solidify. However, on lap 46 rain began to fall and as the umbrellas went up in the grandstands the race was suddenly thrown into chaos.
With rain predominantly falling just in the final two sectors, both Norris and Hamilton initially elected to remain on track on slicks. And for a lap it looked like both had made the right choice. But after a brief lull the rain suddenly intensified and Hamilton dived for the pit lane for intermediate tyres, matching a call being made throughout the order. With just four laps left Norris gambled on slicks. It proved to be the wrong call. Hamilton quickly chased down the McLaren driver and when Norris slid wide in the final sector, Hamilton flew past to take his 100th career F1 win.
Verstappen though, read the conditions just right. The Dutchman made the switch to intermediate tyres at the right time and after emerging from the pit lane he scythed through the field to claim second place when Norris eventually pitted for inters.
Behind him Sainz took third place, with Ricciardo claiming fourth. Fifth place went to Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, despite the Finn spending the bulk of the race outside the points. Alonso took sixth, while Norris was left with seventh place. Eighth place at the flag went to Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen and Perez, who had also chosen to stay on slick tyres for too long, finished ninth. The final point on offer went to Williams’ George Russell.
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