Lewis Hamilton wins an incident-filled Russian GP to close in on the 2015 F1 world title as teammate Nico Rosberg is forced to retire.
Lewis Hamilton is now on the verge of sealing his third F1 world title after taking his ninth win of the 2015 season at an incident-packed Russian GP in Sochi that saw his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg retire early in the race with a throttle problem.
The result means that Hamilton’s lead over Rosberg is now 73 points, with four races (aka 100 points) remaining. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished second to move above Rosberg in the championship standings, but he is still 66 points behind the Brit. Force India’s Sergio Perez finished third to secure his first podium in 18 months after Kimi Raikkonen and Valterri Bottas collided on the final lap.
Hamilton’s lead over Rosberg stood at 48 points before Sunday’s race, and Rosberg knew that a win was imperative if he was to have any chance of overhauling that lead. He did everything right on Saturday, taking pole ahead of Hamilton, and his start was good enough to keep ahead of his teammate on the opening lap, while further back Nico Hulkenberg and Marcus Ericsson retired as the former spun into the latter’s path at turn two.
All too soon however things took a dramatic turn for the worse for Rosberg when he reported throttle issues. Around eight laps in he was passed by both Hamilton and Williams’ Bottas before crawling into the pits, knowing his title challenge was now virtually over.
Hamilton went on to increase his lead ahead of Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen and Perez, but the lead was curtailed on lap 14 as the Lotus of Romain Grosjean had a sizeable crash at turn three, bringing out the Safety Car for the second time after it was initially called out for the incident on lap one.
Perez and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took the opportunity to make their one and only stops during this safety car period, which would prove to pay off very handsomely for Perez in particular, as he was able to jump Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen once those cars had made their stops around the midway point of the race.
Perez was unable to keep the fast-charging Vettel behind for very long, but he drove impressively thereafter to keep himself in third spot, while Ricciardo had also jumped Bottas and Raikkonen in the pit-stops and was able to stay in front of the pair of them until around eight laps from the end.
Once Bottas and Raikkonen had passed the Red-Bull, they quickly closed on Perez, and on the penultimate lap both of them managed to pass the Mexican at the same corner, as Perez’s tyres started to go off. It seemed then that third and fourth places were settled, but Raikkonen wasn’t done yet, and on the final lap he made a daring but ultimately ill-fated attempt at passing Bottas at turn four, with saw Bottas crash into the barriers, and Raikkonen break his front-wing. Bottas’ expletive remarks on the team-radio said it all.
The incident meant Perez was back up to third, capping off a fine day for him and the team, while Bottas’ teammate Felipe Massa finished fourth after starting the race in 15th after a poor qualifying. Raikkonen crawled home to finish fifth, but a penalty for the Bottas incident relegated him to eighth.
That incident, coupled with late retirements for Daniel Ricciardo and Torro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz through suspension and brake issues respectively, meant several drivers were able to jump up the order in the final few laps. Ricciardo’s teammate Daniil Kvyat finished fifth on his home race, while Sauber’s Felipe Nasr was an excellent sixth. Pastor Maldonado was seventh for Lotus, while the Mclaren’s of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso managed to avoid the carnage to finish ninth and tenth.
In a season which has not always set the pulses racing as much as previous campaigns, and where there has been increasing criticism of new circuits in Asia and the Middle East for lacking the defining features and ability to produce great races as much as older European circuits, this race, the second one at Sochi, could be classed as an unqualified success, and the large number of fans in attendance, especially those supporting Daniil Kvyat, make it look as though the Russian GP will be on the F1 calendar for the long haul.
None of the drama however was of any concern to Hamilton, and this win means his third world title is now in touching distance. He has undoubtedly had the best car this season, but he has made the absolute most of the tools at his disposal, and few would seriously call him an undeserving winner of this season’s championship.
The title could be claimed in two weeks time when the circus heads to Austin, Texas, a track where Hamilton has won two of the three previous races. One way or another, it would take a seriously catastrophic run of form to stop him winning the 2015 F1 title now.