Team orders came into play with Lewis Hamilton extended his Formula 1 title advantage over Sebastian Vettel with victory in the Russian Grand Prix after Mercedes ordered Valtteri Bottas to move aside.
Bottas led from pole and was running in the de facto race lead, behind the yet-to-pit Max Verstappen, when he was told to let Hamilton past to protect him from Vettel.
Hamilton’s eighth victory of the season means his lead over Vettel is now 50 points with five Grands Prix left and 125 points up for grabs after Bottas, who sacrificed a first win of 2018 for his team-mate, restricted the Ferrari driver to third.
Bottas held his lead at the start as a good Vettel launch allowed him to attack Hamilton through the Turn 1 kink, but Hamilton regrouped in Bottas’s slipstream and rebuffed the Ferrari.
Hamilton had such a good run behind his team-mate that he closed right up and locked up slightly under braking for Turn 2, which allowed Vettel to attack again through the ensuing long left-hander, but Hamilton held the place.
Bottas led until pitting on lap 12, with Vettel stopping on the next lap and Mercedes keeping Hamilton out another lap longer.
Mercedes told Bottas to slow down and back Vettel up, but it was not enough to prevent Vettel undercutting Hamilton and stealing second.
Hamilton moved quickly to respond and was in Vettel’s slipstream two laps later on the run Turn 2 but Vettel appeared to move to the right twice in the process.
Hamilton retaliated with a good run out of the corner and toughed it out on the outside through the long left-hand Turn 3 and nailed Vettel on the inside of Turn 4.
Hamilton caught and followed Bottas for several laps but started to develop a blister on his left-rear tyre, not helped by Bottas being backed up by the long-running Verstappen.
Mercedes acted on lap 25, telling Bottas to slow and let Hamilton by at Turn 13, which he did.
Hamilton moved into second but did not start attacking Verstappen, which frustrated Bottas and led Mercedes strategist James Vowles to tell Bottas over the radio that he understood his concerns but had to make the team orders decision to secure Hamilton’s position.
Verstappen continued to lead with relative comfort and extended a stunning first stint in which he rose from 19th to fifth in just seven laps.
Hamilton reported engine “hesitations” but as those concerns appeared to ease he attacked Verstappen on lap 42 but had the door slammed in his face.
Verstappen finally stopped a lap later, releasing the Mercedes pair with ten laps to go to ease clear to a comfortable one-two. Bottas asked how they would finish the race, indicating he wanted to be let back ahead, but was told they would maintain position.
Kimi Raikkonen was a muted fourth after Verstappen lacked the pace on fresh ultrasofts to mount a challenge in the closing stages.
Daniel Ricciardo made it back to sixth in the second Red Bull, having been passed by Verstappen at the start and failing to replicate the speed of his team-mate’s early charge.
Charles Leclerc produced a fine drive to take seventh, having ran as high as fifth early on, and claimed his first unofficial ‘Class B’ win of the season for Sauber.
Kevin Magnussen claimed eighth for Haas after fending off the Force Indias for the duration of the race, including an on-the-limit defence against Esteban Ocon early on.
Ocon finished ninth ahead of Sergio Perez having briefly led Perez ahead to try, unsuccessful, to pass the Haas.
The race featured only two retirements: Toro Rosso team-mates Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley suffered independent spins almost simultaneously but made it back to the pits to retire their cars having suffered brake failures.
The causes was not immediately determined but Toro Rosso had changed the rear brake duct blanking before the start.
So a muted celebrations for Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton had gained an extra 7 points with this Russian Grand Prix victory but Valtteri Bottas was denied the top result in the sake of the championship.
Yet the star of the race was birthday boy Max Verstappen. Even with grid penalties, the recently turned 21 year old drove an incredible race from P19 to finish in the points with fifth. Excellent result for Red Bull Racing.
Russian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 1h27m25.181s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 53 2.545s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 53 7.487s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 53 16.543s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 53 31.026s
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 53 1m20.451s
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 53 1m38.390s
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
9 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
10 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
11 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 52 1 Lap
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 52 1 Lap
15 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
16 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 51 2 Laps
17 Carlos Sainz Renault 51 2 Laps
18 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 51 2 Laps
– Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 4 Brakes
– Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 4 Brakes
1 Lewis Hamilton 306
2 Sebastian Vettel 256
3 Valtteri Bottas 189
4 Kimi Raikkonen 186
5 Max Verstappen 158
6 Daniel Ricciardo 134
7 Kevin Magnussen 53
8 Nico Hulkenberg 53
9 Fernando Alonso 50
10 Sergio Perez 47
11 Esteban Ocon 47
12 Carlos Sainz 38
13 Pierre Gasly 28
14 Romain Grosjean 27
15 Charles Leclerc 21
16 Stoffel Vandoorne 8
17 Lance Stroll 6
18 Marcus Ericsson 6
19 Brendon Hartley 2
20 Sergey Sirotkin 1
1 Mercedes 495
2 Ferrari 442
3 Red Bull-Renault 292
4 Renault 91
5 Haas-Ferrari 80
6 McLaren-Renault 58
7 Force India-Mercedes 35
8 Toro Rosso-Honda 30
9 Sauber-Ferrari 27
10 Williams-Mercedes 7