FORMULA 1 PRESS RELEASE
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton eased to victory in Sochi on Sunday, his pole-sitting team mate Nico Rosberg having retired from the lead with throttle problems on lap 7. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took the runner-up spot to move into second in the title standings, with Force India’s Sergio Perez earning third in dramatic fashion after a final-lap clash involving Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
“What the **** did he do?” an incredulous Bottas asked moments after hitting the barriers. Raikkonen was subsequently penalised for the incident, with stewards adding 30s to his race time, thus dropping him down the finishing order.
There was action from the outset of the race. As Rosberg safely retained his advantage, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg spun of his own accord at Turn 2, collecting the innocent Sauber of Marcus Ericsson. That eliminated both men on the spot and brought out the safety car. Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen also spun avoiding the incident and picked up a puncture, forcing him to limp back to the pits and condemning him to another afternoon of playing catch-up.
Rosberg started complaining of throttle problems on lap 5, and by lap 7 Hamilton was past and the German was in the pits, retiring his car, a further huge dent placed in his 2015 title hopes.
Romain Grosjean became the next casualty, bringing out the safety car again from laps 12 to 16 after he lost his Lotus on marbles in the long left-handed Turn 3 and slammed into the wall. Mercifully the Frenchman was able to walk away from his shattered machine unscathed.
After racing resumed on lap 17, Hamilton never looked back, retaining his lead even during his single stop and going on to take his ninth win of the season with relative ease, despite some ‘suspect rear wing performance’ late on. Vettel’s harassment of the Silver Arrows driver, as he cut the Englishman’s lead from 13s to just 5.9s by the end, enlivened the race, and takes the German into second place in the drivers’ championship ahead of the unfortunate Rosberg. The Ferrari driver is now 66 points behind Hamilton with 100 still up for grabs.
But some of the biggest cheers on the day were for Perez. The Mexican moved himself into podium contention with a very early stop, but it looked like his strategy had failed when, on the penultimate lap, Bottas and Raikkonen were able to squeeze past as his tyres finally faded. But as the Finnish duo clashed at Turn 13 on the final lap after a very optimistic overtaking attempt by Raikkonen, Perez slipped by to seize a richly-deserved podium finish – his and Force India’s first since last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
After starting 15th, Felipe Massa fought his way up to fourth for Williams with a strategy that started him on soft rubber and then let him charge through in the second half on supersofts. Raikkonen limped across the line in fifth, with Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat coming home in sixth to give the home fans something to cheer about. Felipe Nasr scored his best result since the season-opener with seventh for Sauber, while Pastor Maldonado came home eighth after a battling drive in the remaining Lotus. With Raikkonen’s post-race penalty applied, the Finn dropped to eighth, with Kvyat, Nasr and Maldonado all promoted a place.
The final points places initially went to McLaren who looked to have collected only their second double score of the season, with Jenson Button ninth from Fernando Alonso in tenth. However, post-race Alonso received a five-second time penalty for not observing track limits, dropping him to 11th behind the recovering Verstappen. Bottas was classified 12th, ahead of the two Marussias of Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens.
Joining the retirements, Daniel Ricciardo’s chances of points disappeared when his Red Bull suffered suspension problems. The Australian had run as high as fourth after a bold one-stop run similar to Perez’s.
The final DNF went to Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, who made a super-brave return to racing after his 46g shunt in FP3. Despite starting last the Spaniard was a feisty points contender until brake problems forced him to retire after two spins.
Hamilton’s victory gives him 302 points, with Vettel, now his closest challenger on 236 as Rosberg stays on 229.
In the team stakes, Mercedes moved on to 531 points, and with Raikkonen’s penalty costing Ferrari, the Silver Arrows thus clinched their second successive constructors’ title.