Mercedes AMG Petronas wrapped up back-to-back Constructors’ Championship titles exactly one year on from achieving the inaugural feat thanks to another imperious victory for Lewis Hamilton – and a penalty for one of the Ferrari drivers – at Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.
Who were the winners and losers at the Sochi Autodrom?
Lewis Hamilton was undoubtedly the winner who took it all here. Not only did he win the race from second on the grid, but he also extended his championship lead by 73 points as his teammate Nico Rosberg retired. Once polesitter Rosberg was out of the way, Hamilton simply cruised to his ninth win of the season. If he can outscore Sebastian Vettel by at least fifteen points at the next round in America, he’ll claim a third World Championship crown.
Force India’s Sergio Pérez was another big winner at Sochi, notching up the team’s third podium finish thanks to a bold call to pit early during the second Safety Car period. The Mexican delivered another hallmark performance of tyre management in his second stint to the flag, and benefited from the last-lap collision between Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen to reach the final step of the podium.
Credit too should go to Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, who earned his best finish since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Left as the sole Sauber driver after teammate Marcus Ericsson was taken out on the opening lap, the Brazilian drove hard and kept his nose clean to cross the finish line in seventh place, which became sixth when Räikkönen was given a time penalty. The result helped the Swiss team close to within 11 points of seventh-placed Toro Rosso in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
Both McLarens looked to have finished in the points at a venue where no one would have expected them to succeed given the car’s poor straight line speed. Attrition helped Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso to cross the line inside the top-ten, although Alonso was later issued a five-second penalty for exceeding the track limits and fell out of tenth as a result.
It was also a good day for both the Manor cars with Roberto Merhi outperforming Will Stevens to finish thirteenth on his return to the field while standing aside for two races when he was replaced by Alexander Rossi.
Nico Rosberg started from pole and led early on until a broken throttle pedal put paid to his chances of claiming victory. The German slid off the track at Turn 2 on Lap 7 to hand the lead to Hamilton, and was overtaken by Valtteri Bottas and both Ferrari drivers as he limped to the pits to retire. It was another major blow to his slim championship hopes, and although he isn’t mathematically out of the championship yet, he’ll need a miracle to stop the flawless and consistent run that teammate Hamilton is enjoying.
It also all ended too soon for Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg. The German driver made as far as Turn 2 before the back end got loose and looped him into a spin into the path of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Toro Rosso teenager Max Verstappen. Both Hülkenberg and Ericsson retired on the spot; it was a shame for the Force India driver after starting from sixth place. It was his fourth DNF in the last sixth races.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean was another driver to come to grief at Sochi. The Frenchman was already out of sequence after being forced to pit at the end of the opening lap for a new nose after tagging Pérez at Turn 2, and was putting in a solid recovery drive to be up to thirteenth by Lap 12. Chasing down Jenson Button’s McLaren through Turn 3, the back end of Grosjean’s car got loose and he slid onto the marbles before slamming into the barriers. Thankfully he emerged from the car unassisted and was given the all-clear of any injuries by the FIA medical team.
Just being able to make the race after his huge practice accident would rank Carlos Sainz Jr as a winner in many people’s eyes. The Spanish driver was quickly making moves up the order from the back of the grid and looked on course for a points’ finish. Later in the race he was handed a five-second time penalty for crossing the pit entry line, but his race came undone with a brake failure that pitched him into a spin. He tried to get going, but seemingly unaware that his brakes were clearly shot, he spun two corners later at the same corner where he crashed in practice, this time sliding backwards into the wall.
The final lap of the race proved to be incredibly dramatic thanks to the late-race battle between Pérez, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen. The two Finns managed to overtake Pérez on the penultimate lap to be third and fourth, but Räikkönen made a rare error and collided with Bottas on the last lap with a wild move at Turn 4. He was subsequently issued with a post-race penalty, while Bottas was out of the race. On balance, justice wasn’t quite served by the FIA Stewards.
Images via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team