Norris led race with 3 laps to go but decision to stick with slick tires was proven wrong; Verstappen storms from last to second
By Yuri Coghe
Lewis Hamilton came out on top of a late rain mayhem to collect a 100th win and regain the championship lead on Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi.
The seven-time world champion started the race in fourth place and dropped to seventh in the first lap, but eventually it all came together for the Briton who had been waiting to reach the three digits in victories since claiming his home race in Silverstone back in July, five races ago.
Hamilton came out the pits in P9 on lap 27 and proceeded to overtake Carlos Sainz Jr. and Pierre Gasly three laps later, then Charles Leclerc on lap 35. He was running in second place behind Lando Norris when rain started to fall in Sochi late in the race.
He pitted for intermediate tires on lap 49 following team orders despite wanting to stay out and ignoring the first recommendation by Mercedes to do so. Pole-sitter Norris, who was leading the race at that point, decided to stay out just to finally pit with two laps to go due to undrivable conditions as the rain picked up.
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The McLaren driver, who finished second in Monza in the previous race, eventually crossed the line seventh after coming so close to a first career win. Norris was investigated for crossing the white line when coming into the pits as he lost control of the car in the wet conditions but was only reprimanded for it and kept his P7 result.
Hamilton’s championship rival Max Verstappen also has reasons to celebrate after storming from last to second in the weekend Red Bull decided to renovate his engine. By adding fresh components and going beyond the limit allowed by F1, Verstappen had to start the race at the back of the grid. He also had a three-place grid penalty related to his crash with Hamilton in Monza.
The Dutchman made up for a lot of positions on track and also took advantage of the late rain to clinch an impressive podium finish. Verstappen was already on P11 on lap 11, enjoying overtakes on the likes of Valtteri Bottas on lap 7 and Charles Leclerc on lap 11.
Carlos Sainz Jr. took his Ferrari to the podium for the third time this season, his first one wearing Scuderia colours. The Spaniard overtook Norris for the lead at the start but had to pit early on lap 15 due to tie degradation, two laps after Norris regained the lead.
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“It’s taken a long time to get to 100 (wins) and I wasn’t even sure it would come,” Hamilton said in the post-race interview. “Lando (Norris) did such an amazing job. I’m incredibly grateful to the team here and at the factory.”
Hamilton’s win allowed Mercedes to keep a perfect record in Sochi. The Briton also took the checkered flag first in 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019, with Nico Rosberg grabbing the win in 2016 and Bottas claiming the honours in 2017 and 2020 for both his first and most recent wins.
Both championship contenders leave Russia with a feeling of victory.
“It was tricky to make the call to go to intermediate tyres but we had to make that call in the end,” Verstappen said in the post-race interview. “To go from P20 to P2 is amazing. With the penalty we had it’s a great result for us. I definitely didn’t expect it when I woke up this morning.”
Sainz earned a fifth career podium but felt like the top-3 finish would slip away from his fingers during the race.
“After leading the race quite comfortably for the first seven, eight laps, and facing so much degradation and losing the position to Lando (Norris) and being one of the first ones to pit and getting in the queue behind Valtteri and suffering in all that traffic, at some point I thought (the) podium wasn’t happening,” said Sainz as quoted by F1.com.
“As Ferrari, we need to keep analyzing and keep seeing what we can do better with tyres, with fuel, with the top speed, to make sure that the next time a Ferrari is leading a Grand Prix we do not get overtaken so easy as it happened today,” he added.
Sainz is ahead of teammate Leclerc in the standings.
Norris reflected on the heartbreaking Sunday when speaking to Sky Sports after the race.
“I don’t know where to start. I’m unhappy, devastated in a way,” said the 21-year-old. “The team told me what was going on and I made the decision. I said I want to stay out, so it’s not the team’s fault.”
“From what the team was telling me, I made the right decision. They weren’t telling me that it was going to rain a lot more and the slick tyre wasn’t going to be the one to be on. At that point it wasn’t a risk, we were making a correct decision, but for some reason not seeing the rain or not knowing it was going to get a lot harder was the thing that caught us out.”
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes’ Bottas rounded out the top-5, respectively. The Australian had a slow stop on lap 23 but added another strong result to his name after claiming the win in Monza. Bottas also benefited from the rain to make up for some positions.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez went long in his first stint and looked like a contender at some point, but had to deal with a 9-second stop on lap 36 that hampered his chances of claiming a second win this season and a third overall. The Mexican driver finished in P9.
Hamilton, Norris, Sainz and Perez all lead the race at some point.
2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who will retire from F1 at the end of the year, collected his season-high result by taking his Alfa Romeo to eighth place. His teammate Antonio Giovinazzi was 16th.
Williams driver George Russell, who will drive for Mercedes in 2022, made it to the points for the fourth time this season, all in the last five races, by coming tenth after starting the race in P3.
Stroll involved in two scraps
Canadians Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi both finished outside the points, coming in P11 and P19, respectively. Stroll collided with teammate Sebastian Vettel, who finished right after him in the 12th position, late in the race. Neither of the Aston Martin drivers sustained damage, however.
Stroll also hit Gasly some laps later, for which he was awarded a ten-second penalty and two points in his super license. The Canadian has had eight points in the last 12 months, with 12 points resulting in a one-race suspension.
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AlphaTauri endured a zero points weekend with Gasly finishing the race in P13 after being in the point for part of the race. His teammate Yuki Tsunoda was 17th.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Ferrari’s Leclerc also left Sochi with no points to their name, coming in 14th and 15h, respectively. Nikita Mazepin finished in 18th with his Haas teammate Mick Schumacher retiring on lap 34 due to a hydraulic leak.
The next round of the 2021 Formula 1 season takes place in Istanbul in two weeks with the Turkish GP set for Oct. 10th.
See the full Russian GP results: