Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix and yet the major talking point was Ferrari’s team orders controversy and a badly timed retirement from Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel refused to let his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc back into the lead after drafting past him and Hamilton at the start, but eventually retired from the race following an engine failure.
Leclerc had got himself back ahead of Vettel and into the lead of the race by this point by stopping early, but Vettel parked his car on track and caused a virtual safety car.
That allowed Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to make their pitstops during the safety car period, which they converted into an unexpected one-two finish as Leclerc finished a frustrated third.
Vettel got a superb run from third position at the start, passing Hamilton almost immediately and then drafting Leclerc on the run to Turn 2.
The race was immediately neutralised under a safety car because of a three-car clash involving Romain Grosjean, Daniel Ricciardo and Antonio Giovinazzi.
Giovinazzi found himself between both cars under braking for Turn 4, made contact with Ricciardo on the inside and pitched the Renault into Grosjean, whose Haas crashing into the barriers on the outside.
As the Haas was recovered, it emerged that Ferrari had ordered Leclerc not to fight Vettel if Vettel used the tow to get ahead at the start, and agreed to swap the drivers back when racing resumed.
However, just one week on after Leclerc was angered by Ferrari’s strategy handing Vettel the win in the Singapore Grand Prix, Vettel ignored the instruction to let Leclerc past, and then proceeded to pull away from his disgruntled teammate.
Leclerc was the first of the leaders to pit, and used his four laps on fresh mediums to set a quick pace that meant he moved ahead of Vettel when the race leader stopped on lap 22 of 53.
Shortly after rejoining the track, Vettel suffered an apparent MGU-K failure, and crawled to a halt.
That caused a virtual safety car period and that was a nightmare situation for Ferrari, as Hamilton and Bottas had stayed out and Leclerc was still well outside the Mercedes drivers’ pitstop window in the event of a caution.
Hamilton and Bottas duly pitted as Leclerc circulated at considerably reduced speed, changing to soft tyres and rejoining first and third.
George Russell then suffered a bizarre crash under the VSC, thanks to an unspecified failure, which turned it into a full safety car period.
Ferrari opted to sacrifice Leclerc’s track position to switch him from mediums to softs, dropping him to third behind Bottas but eliminating Mercedes’ tyre advantage in terms of wear rate and compound.
However, despite Leclerc’s best efforts, he was unable to mount a serious attack on Bottas at any point after the restart.
That left Hamilton in the clear to take his 82nd victory in Formula 1 in unexpected circumstances and extend his championship leader over Bottas to 72 points with five races remaining.
Max Verstappen finished fourth after a quiet race. The Red Bull Racing driver had started ninth after a five-place grid penalty and lost touch with the leaders as he worked his way through to fifth early on.
He used the VSC to switch to mediums and ran to the finish a few seconds adrift of Leclerc.
Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Alex Albon finished fifth despite starting from the pitlane and rising from the tail of the top ten during the final stint.
He demoted Carlos Sainz to sixth during that ascension, denying Sainz a top-five finish for McLaren – although the Spaniard still earned best-of-the-rest honours after heading the midfield battle.
Racing Point driver Sergio Perez overcame Kevin Magnussen to finish seventh, as Magnussen crossed the line eighth but was demoted to ninth at the flag.
He received a five-second penalty for leaving the track at Turn 2 during his unsuccessful defence of seventh from Perez.
The second McLaren of Lando Norris was the sole beneficiary, moving up to eighth, as Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg dropped too far back to also move ahead of Magnussen and thus finished P10.
Robert Kubica was the only other retirement. His Williams team ended his race shortly after Russell’s crash “to conserve parts”.
So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. Back to winning ways after so many defeats by Ferrari in the last couple of races. This victory was important in terms of the championship.
As for Ferrari, this was a nightmare situation following Vettel’s first DNF of the season while Leclerc was unlucky not to convert his pole to win. Third position was the end result.
Russian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33:38.992
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 3.829
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 5.212
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 14.210
5 Alex Albon Red Bull-Honda 38.348
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren-Renault 45.889
7 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes 48.728
8 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 57.749
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 58.779
10 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 59.841
11 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 1:00.821
12 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Honda 1:02.496
13 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:08.910
14 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1:10.076
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:13.346
– Robert Kubica Williams-Mercedes DNF
– George Russell Williams-Mercedes DNF
– Sebastian Vettel Ferrari DNF
– Daniel Ricciardo Renault DNF
– Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari DNF