The Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix was dominated by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who – thanks to another retirement for teammate Nico Rosberg – now moves to within striking distance of back-to-back Drivers’ Championship titles.
Mercedes also wrapped up the Constructors’ Championship title – never in doubt since the pre-season – but it took until a post-race hearing by the FIA Stewards who awarded Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen a time penalty before that was confirmed.
The 53-lap race featured a number of crashes that allowed many teams to explore contrasting strategies, and it took until the final 10 laps of the race before the ingredients came together to deliver an exciting finish.
In the end, Hamilton claimed victory by just under six seconds over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, while Force India’s Sergio Pérez inherited a richly-deserved third place after Räikkönen took out third-placed Valtteri Bottas with a clumsy lunge on the final lap of the race.
The start of the race saw pole-sitter Rosberg determinedly hold onto his lead through the opening sequence of corners, while a fast-starting Räikkönen gained two places off the line and slotted into third ahead of Bottas and Vettel.
There was drama almost immediately – as has been the case for much of the weekend in the support caqtegories – at Turn 2, when Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg lost the rear end trying to carry too much speed through the right-hander and looped into a spin. Stranded in the middle of the track as the midfield pack tried to thread its way around him, the German was collected by an unsighted Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber.
Their contact left Max Verstappen with nowhere to go, and the young Dutchman clipped the pair and spun, picking up a puncture and limping back to the pits for fresh tyres. Romain Grosjean was also a victim of the Turn 2 action, breaking his front-wing endplate in a separate contact with the sister Force India of Pérez
The race was restarted after a brief Safety Car interruption to clear up the Hülkenberg/Ericsson mess, and Rosberg again held his lead from the chasing pack. Having dominated all of the dry-weather running in Saturday, it looked like the German might be on course to return to the winner’s circle and keep his slim championship hopes alive.
Fate, of course, would have other ideas. Within a few laps, Rosberg was on the radio reporting that his throttle pedal was sticking. The team urged him to try and carry on, but on Lap 7 he ran too deep at Turn 2 and Hamilton was through into the lead while Rosberg hobbled back to the pits and retired.
Victory for Hamilton was – barring mechanical dramas of his own – was all but decided at that point, as the Englishman had enough of a pace advantage to keep comfortably clear of the rest of the field for the rest of the race.
There was a brief moment of worry when the Safety Car made its second appearance after Romain Grosjean destroyed his Lotus in the TecPro barriers at Turn 3 when he lost control of his car in Jenson Button’s slipstream.
It was a hard impact for the Haas-bound Frenchman, causing major damage to his car and said barriers, which were rather curiously patched up with strips of gaffer-tape by earnest marshals.
Hamilton again skipped away at the restart from Bottas, who had overtaken Räikkönen on Lap 4. The two Ferraris were locked in a tense battle for third place, with Vettel getting by Räikkönen on Lap 17.
Bottas was the first of the frontrunners to peel into the pits, swapping his Super Soft tyres for Softs just before the race’s halfway mark. The Finn, however, emerged in traffic, and Ferrari elected to keep Vettel out so the German could put in a string of quick laps in the hopes of emerging in front of the Williams when he pitted four laps later.
The plan worked, with Vettel getting Pérez and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo (who had pitted during the second Safety Car period) between he and Bottas once the pit stop cycles had worked their course; Räikkönen couldn’t quite make his pit stop cycle work as well and rejoined behind his countryman in an effective sixth place.
Hamilton and Vettel were left to run lonely races top finish first and second respectively – the result for the latter vaulting him to second in the Drivers’ Championship standings thanks to Rosberg’s DNF – while the battle for third place was heating up nicely as Pérez and Ricciardo were left to fend off the fresher-shod Bottas and Räikkönen.
It took until eight laps to go in the race before Bottas finally found a way past Ricciardo – the Australian retired shortly after with a suspension failure to promote Räikkönen – and that just left Pérez to dispatch to claim the final podium spot.
Pérez was delivering one of his hallmark demonstrations of tyre preservation, but even the Mexican was finding the final laps to be tough and ultimately had to cede to Bottas when the Williams put in an aggressive lunge at Turn 13 on the penultimate lap.
Räikkönen was through as well, and was determined to claim the podium finish for himself. He put in everything to get into Bottas’ slipstream at the start of the final lap, but coming through the exit of the Turn 3 left-hander, the Ferrari driver left his braking far too late for Turn 4 and slid into Bottas.
The contact punted a furious Williams driver into the wall and retirement, while Räikkönen hobbled around for the remainder of the lap and was passed by Pérez and the sister Williams of Felipe Massa – who had progressively worked his way up the field from fifteenth on the grid – before the finish line.
Räikkönen was rightly handed a 30-second post-race penalty for his indiscretion, which dropped him to eighth and therefore gave Mercedes enough of a points’ advantage to secure the Constructors’ Championship title for the second year running.
Fifth place went to the sole Red Bull Racing entry of crowd favourite Daniil Kvyat, while impressive drives from Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado netted them sixth and seventh thanks to Räikkönen’s penalty.
McLaren benefited from the attrition-hit race to get both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso into the top ten – a result no one in the team would have predicted given the MP4-30’s dreadful straight-line speed. The outfit’s celebrations were dented somewhat when Alonso was penalised five seconds for repeatedly exceeding the track limits, promoting Verstappen into the final points’ position.
That Verstappen’s teammate Carlos Sainz even made the start after his huge FP3 accident was a reason to celebrate, but the Spaniard failed to see the chequered flag after striking more brake troubles triggered another accident in the closing stages of the race after climbing his way into a points-paying position. Fortunately this accident was at much lower speed, although one has to question the wisdom of him pressing on after his first spin when the pedal went soft…
The two Manor-Marussias again made the chequered flag, with the returning Roberto Merhi finishing comfortably ahead of teammate Will Stevens after the Englishman was forced onto a two-stop strategy when he flat-spotted his second set of tyres at the Safety Car restart.
The next round of the season, the United States Grand Prix, takes place at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin on the weekend of October 23-25.
|2015 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix – Final Classification (53 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||53||1:37:11.024|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||53||+ 5.953|
|3.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||53||+ 28.918|
|4.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||53||+ 38.831|
|5.||Daniil Kvyat||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||53||+ 47.556|
|6.||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||53||+ 56.508|
|7.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||53||+ 1:01.088|
|8.||Kimi Räikkönen^||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||53||+ 1:12.358|
|9.||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda MP4-30||53||+ 1:19.467|
|10.||Max Verstappen||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||53||+ 1:28.424|
|11.||Fernando Alonso^||McLaren Honda MP4-30||53||+ 1:31.210|
|12.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||52||Collision|
|13.||Roberto Merhi||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||52||1 lap behind|
|14.||Will Stevens||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||51||2 laps behind|
|15.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||47||Suspension|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||45||Brakes|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||11||Accident|
|DNF.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||7||Throttle|
|DNF.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||0||Collision|
^ Post-Race penalties:
Kimi Räikkönen, who was originally classified in fifth place, was awarded a drive-through penalty (applied as a 30-second time penalty) for causing an avoidable collision with Valtteri Bottas on Lap 53.
Fernando Alonso, who was originally classified in tenth place, was awarded a five-second time penalty for repeatedly exceeding the track limits and gaining an advantage in doing so.
Images via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team and Sutton Motorsport Images