2015 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix Champion :
Lewis Hamilton #44 Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
Lewis Hamilton is on the cusp of 2015 Formula 1 World Championship title after a dominant win in the Russian Grand Prix, coupled to an early retirement for main rival Nico Rosberg, saw him move 66 points clear with four races remaining.
Indeed, it was Rosberg that would successfully get away well and hold his position through the turn one kink and into the tighter second bend, ahead of Hamilton and the fast-starting Kimi Raikkonen up from fifth.
Behind them, the tricky funnel into the right-hander would see Nico Hulkenberg spin on the outside, only to slide back across the field. Scattering the pack and forcing Max Verstappen to spin in avoidance, the unfortunate Marcus Ericsson proceeded to collect the Force India and put both drivers out on the spot.
Prompting an early safety car, Rosberg got away well at the restart, but was instantly on the radio to complain of an apparent problem with his throttle pedal. Persevering for one more lap, when Rosberg ran wide at turn two on lap four, Hamilton quickly pounced to snatch the lead.
However, it was soon clear Rosberg's issue was more terminal than initially feared as he slowed to a canter and made his way to the pit lane to retire. Marking his second DNF in four races, the exit all-but-ends Rosberg's title aspirations, with Hamilton needing to out-score him by just two points in the final four races to eliminate his team-mate from the reckoning.
With his main rival out, Hamilton set about establishing his advantage over now Valtteri Bottas, the Finn having slipstreamed past Raikkonen at the restart to move into what was now second place, ahead of his countryman, Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez.
On a weekend that has seen several sizeable crashes in both F1 and the support classes, the paddock would hold its breath again on lap 11 in the aftermath of a heavy crash for Romain Grosjean, who lost control of his Lotus through the long left-hander at turn three and struck the barriers hard. Despite the severity of the impact, Grosjean extricated himself from the wreckage and has declared himself unhurt.
Forcing the safety car to make its second appearance, it would prompt a handful of drivers to attempt an alternative strategy, with Perez (5th), Daniel Ricciardo (8th) and Carlos Sainz – impressing having been in hospital less than 24 hours earlier – all diving for the pit lane for their planned single stop.
With Hamilton persevering out front, he quickly switched from fuel saving mode to all-out attack, quickly putting distance between himself and Bottas, while the Ferraris disputed third place behind. Having gotten a run on Raikkonen into turn two, only to be spurned with a bit of robust defence from his team-mate, Vettel eventually planted the pass successfully at turn five to move ahead on lap 17.
From here the race began to settle, Hamilton multiplying his lead over Bottas, who was the first of the leading drivers to pit for new tyres on lap 25. Allowing Vettel clean air to push, the German's stop on lap 29 would duly see him emerge ahead of the Finn on resumption.
Even so, with the various strategies playing out, though Hamilton remained comfortably in front when he pitted on lap 31, it was Perez that would emerge in second place, his strategy gamble paying off as he led Vettel, Ricciardo, Bottas and Raikkonen with 20 laps remaining.
Perhaps inevitably, Vettel wasted no time in using his fresher rubber to snatch second from Perez on lap 32, but Bottas and Raikkonen's progress up the order would prove slower.
Bottled up behind Ricciardo initially, Bottas and Raikkonen took until laps 45 and 48 of 53 to disperse of the Red Bull, leaving them with just a handful of laps to get onto the tail of Perez, who by now was in tyre protection mode.
Quickly catching the Force India as the end of the race loomed, it appeared the Mexican would have the pace to keep his rivals behind him, only for Bottas to dive for the position towards the end of the penultimate lap. Forcing him wide, Raikkonen duly followed through to demote Perez to fifth.
However, the fight for third was not over as the race entered the final revolution and when Raikkonen's attempted to pass Bottas at turn four, he instead clipped the Williams, sending furious Finn spinning into the barrier and out of the race.
With damage to his Ferrari, Raikkonen continued on but the clash would promote a thrilled Perez back up to third place to complete only the third-ever podium finish for the Force India team.
Further up the road, however, it was Hamilton celebrating yet another win, his ninth success of the season putting him into a very comfortable position in the overall standings with four races remaining.
Indeed, it is Vettel that is now classified as Hamilton's nearest championship rival, his second place lifting him past Rosberg in the standings. However, with 66 points between the two rivals, Hamilton needs to out-score the Ferrari by just nine points in the USA to seal the title early.
Behind a jubilant Perez in third, Felipe Massa gave Williams something to smile about with a charging drive to fourth place from 15th on the grid, the Brazilian the main beneficiary from a race of high attrition. Indeed, with an unfortunate Ricciardo retiring with four laps remaining following technical issues, Bottas' crash and Raikkonen's damage, he gained three places in the closing stages.
With Raikkonen still under investigation, he remains a provisional fifth, ahead of home hope Daniil Kvyat, who gave fans something to cheer in sixth, while Felipe Nasr picked up a strong seventh place finish for Sauber after an untroubled performance.
His second consecutive top ten finish in a row, Pastor Maldonado crossed the line in eighth for Lotus, while McLaren were also beneficiaries of the various dramas as they picked up a double points' finish in ninth and tenth, Jenson Button leading Fernando Alonso.
With Verstappen's spin and puncture on the opening lap putting him out of contention, Toro Rosso's fortunes looked set to rest on Sainz, who was putting in a fine effort given his minimal laps of the Sochi Autodrom. However, after the Spaniard got up to a net eighth place, a problem with the car would see him spin off and out of the race.
2015 Formula 1 : Russian Grand Prix - Race result
|3||Sergio Perez||MEX||Force India||+28.918s||15|
|6||Daniil Kvyat||RUS||Red Bull Racing||+47.566s||8|
|11||Max Verstappen||NED||Toro Rosso||+88.424s||0|
|13||Roberto Merhi||ESP||Marussia||+1 lap||0|
|14||Will Stevens||GBR||Marussia||+2 laps||0|
|15||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Red Bull Racing||DNF||0|
|NC||Carlos Sainz||ESP||Toro Rosso||DNF||0|
|NC||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||Force India||DNF||0|
Fastest Lap - Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 1m 40.071s (lap 51)
2015 Formula 1 : Drivers Championship Standing
|7||Daniil Kvyat||RUS||Red Bull Racing||74|
|8||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Red Bull Racing||73|
|9||Sergio Perez||MEX||Force India||54|
|11||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||Force India||38|
|12||Max Verstappen||NED||Toro Rosso||32|
|16||Carlos Sainz||ESP||Toro Rosso||12|
2015 Formula 1 : Teams Championship Standing
|4||Red Bull Racing||147|
[Source : F1, DAIMLER & CRASH.NET]