Hamilton back on top following Ferrari team order drama

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

6 thoughts to “Hamilton back on top following Ferrari team order drama”

  1. Russian Grand Prix race review as reported by Formula1.com.

    Ferrari looked set to end Mercedes’ dominant run at the Sochi Autodrom, but in the space of a few seconds their hopes of victory vanished, with championship leader Lewis Hamilton seizing the advantage to seal a first Grand Prix win since the summer break….

    Sebastian Vettel took a surprise lead at the start from third on the grid, leapfrogging pole-sitter and Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc and Mercedes’ Hamilton, with it soon emerging that Ferrari had plotted such a scenario pre-race as part of a plan to defend from Hamilton.

    It worked, with Leclerc slotting into second, but when Vettel was asked to hand the place back to his team mate, the four-time world champion kept his foot down. After much discussion, and some consternation from Leclerc on team radio, the red duo settled into rhythm until the pit stops.

    Leclerc pitted first and set a flurry of fastest laps which proved enough to undercut Vettel and regain what would have been the net lead. But on his first lap out of the pits Vettel pulled over on track with an energy recovery problem, to his absolute dismay. There was worse to come for Ferrari, though, because that retirement triggered the Virtual Safety Car, neutralising the race.

    This allowed Hamilton, whose Mercedes team had instructed him to extend his stint on the medium tyres, to get what essentially amounted to a free pit stop. The Briton boxed for soft tyres and rejoined comfortably ahead of Leclerc, with the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas pitting and rejoining third.

    A full Safety Car was then required when George Russell suffered an apparent brake issue, pitching the Williams driver into the barriers. Ferrari took the opportunity to bring Leclerc in for a fresh set of softs, dropping him behind Bottas but hopeful he could attack both Silver Arrows with a little over 20 laps to go.

    But try as he might, Leclerc couldn’t get close enough to launch a proper attack on Bottas, while Hamilton was able to cruise away at the front, even having enough breathing space to pump in the fastest lap of the race to secure the extra bonus point.

    The Briton crossed the line to secure his ninth victory of the season, stretching his championship lead to 73 points – almost the equivalent of three race wins – with just five Grands Prix remaining. Bottas, having rebuffed Leclerc, ended up second to give Mercedes their fourth one-two in Sochi in six attempts.

    Leclerc completed the podium, failing in his bid to snatch the fastest lap of the race, with Max Verstappen in a lonely fourth place. His Red Bull team mate Alexander Albon pulled off a brilliant recovery from a pit lane start to rescue fifth, ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.

    Racing Point’s Sergio Perez scored points for the third time in four races with seventh, with McLaren’s Lando Norris eighth. Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10, the former after having five seconds added to his race time for an off-track moment several laps before the flag.

    But the day belonged to Mercedes, who brilliantly took advantage of a supreme slice of luck to secure their eighth one-two of the season to edge closer to their sixth successive constructors’ championship title.

    Under bright blue skies, those on the clean side of the grid found some extra purchase as they pulled away at the start, Vettel slipping by Hamilton and then using Leclerc’s slipstream to blast into the lead at Turn 2.

    Further back, there was heartache for Romain Grosjean – who had started eighth – as he was pitched into the barriers by Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, who was given the squeeze by Daniel Ricciardo. The three-way contact also caused a puncture for Ricciardo, the Renault retreating to the pits for fresh rubber but later retiring from the race because of damage.

    A Safety Car was triggered, with Ferrari using the period to discuss a driver swap between Leclerc and Vettel, as apparently previously agreed before the race. Vettel didn’t want to budge, suggesting Leclerc should get closer if he wanted to be let by. Leclerc, meanwhile, was furious that Vettel wasn’t playing ball, insisting he couldn’t get close enough as it was hard to follow.

    Meanwhile, replays showed Kimi Raikkonen had jumped the start, triggering a drive-through penalty for the Alfa Romeo driver. When the race got going again, Vettel stormed away at the front, building up a tidy lead over Leclerc, who continued to voice his dismay at Vettel not moving over, only to be told by the team that they wold rectify the situation later in the race.

    Verstappen was making good progress through the field, making up for the five-place grid penalty for an engine change that confined him to ninth, and ran a comfortable fifth following a slick pass on Sainz, who opted not to defend in a bid to focus on his own race.

    As the pit window approached, Mercedes told Hamilton – who had started on the more durable medium tyres versus the softs that the Ferraris and Verstappen ran – that they were going to extend their stint by 15 laps, allowing him to complete the final stint on soft tyres.

    The Briton was showing impressive pace on the mediums, suggesting he still had a shot a victory in the closing stages when he was on the fresher rubber and could attack the Ferraris. But it proved to be even easier for him, as by staying out longer, he could pit for free when the Virtual Safety Car was called into action following Vettel’s sudden retirement.

    That lifted him ahead of Leclerc into a lead he wouldn’t relinquish. Ferrari still fancied their chances at this point, boxing Leclerc for softs in the hope they could use their superior straight-line speed to get back ahead of the two Mercedes on track – but it proved too difficult a challenge for Leclerc, who ended up third behind a resiliant Bottas.

    It means Hamilton became the all-time record holder in races led, as this was the 143rd Grand Prix he had achieved the feat, surpassing Michael Schumacher who had held the accolade for 18 years.

    Verstappen didn’t have the pace to keep up with the lead battle, so was forced to settle for fourth, comfortably ahead of team mate Albon, who continued his run of finishing in the top six in all four of his starts for Red Bull.

    Sainz, who ran as high as third briefly at the start, took a strong sixth, his first points since F1 returned from its summer break, with team mate Norris’ eighth place meaning McLaren have scored 100 points for the first time since 2014.

    Sergio Perez maintained his 100% record of scoring points in all six Sochi races in seventh, Kevin Magnussen gave Haas something to smile about as he ended the American team’s four-race scoreless run in ninth and Nico Hulkenberg score points for the fourth time in a row with 10th.

  2. Ferrari created another team orders problem for itself in the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi, as Sebastian Vettel passed pole-sitting teammate Charles Leclerc on the run to Turn 2 – and then appeared to ignore instructions to give the position back.

    Here’s what was broadcast over the Ferrari team radio during the race, until Vettel was forced to retire – causing the virtual safety car which handed the race win to Mercedes.

    As the race settles down after the opening exchanges, Leclerc is told: “Sebastian will let you by next lap.”

    Vettel: “I would have got him anyways, but let’s break away for another two laps. Let me know.”

    Vettel is told: “Let Charles by.”

    Vettel: “Well, tell him to close up.”

    Leclerc: “You put me behind, I respected everything… We’ll speak later, but now it’s difficult to close the gap, obviously.”

    Vettel is told: “He’s trying to close the gap, let him by, he’s 1.4 behind.”

    Vettel is told: “We are looking to Plan C, Charles 1.9 behind.”

    Vettel is told: “You are the fastest car on track, head down, you’re doing well.”

    Leclerc is told: “Charles, we will do the swap a bit later on, Lewis is a bit close, and we want to push now, we will do it later, just focus on your race, thank you.”

    Leclerc: “I completely understand, the only thing is that I respected, I gave you the slipstream no problems, but then I tried to push at the beginning of the race, but I overheated the tyres. Anyway, it’s no problems… manage the situation.”

    Leclerc is told before his pitstop: “And you can push now.”

    Vettel: “My rears are falling off now.”

    Vettel is told: “We worry about Hamilton going long, Hamilton laptime [1m3]8.8[s].”

    Leclerc is told during Vettel’s in-lap: “And we need you to push.”

    Vettel hits trouble: “I’ve got no [MGU-]K.”

    Vettel is told: “Stop the car.”

    Vettel: “Are you serious? Bring back those f**king V12s.”

    Source: Motorsport.com

  3. Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen wants answers after “nightmare” run of races. Motorsport.com has the news story.

    Kimi Raikkonen has urged his Alfa Romeo bosses to get to the bottom of why it is going through a “nightmare” spell in Formula 1 right now.

    The Finn’s hopes of a points scoring finish in the Russian Grand Prix were effectively killed off on the grid when he made a jump-start which resulted in a penalty.

    He eventually finished 13th.

    But with neither he nor teammate Antonio Giovinazzi making it into the top 10 in Sochi, Raikkonen says a run of poor form since the Belgian GP needs to be properly understood.

    “The race was my fault even though in the end we got back in a race with the safety cars and managed to unlap ourselves,” said Raikkonen afterwards.

    “Unfortunately we just didn’t have enough speed.

    “We could just hang on with Toro Rosso, and I got past [Pierre Gasly] because they were fighting with each other and he ran wide.

    “But we need to understand. The last four races have been nightmares and we need to figure out what’s going wrong and where, clean up and understand things.

    “I think out of the last races, only at Spa did we have actual speed. The rest has been more or less fighting with it.”

    Raikkonen finished seventh in Belgium during a strong weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, but since then he has failed to score any points.

  4. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc says “trust is still here” with teammate Sebastian Vettel. Motorsport.com has the full details.

    Charles Leclerc says he retains full faith in his Formula 1 teammate Sebastian Vettel and stresses they “need to trust each other” following the controversy at Russian Grand Prix.

    Vettel, who qualified third behind pole-sitter Leclerc, had slipstreamed the Monegasque at the start and got past him with little resistance at Turn 2, taking over in the lead of the race.

    Conversations between Leclerc and the team indicated this was part of a pre-race agreement, and Vettel was ordered to hand the lead back to Leclerc, but the German defied the instructions, beginning to build a gap after indicating that Leclerc hadn’t been close enough.

    Ferrari got Leclerc back into the lead by pitting Vettel, who then suffered a failure that led to a virtual safety car that was instrumental in Leclerc finishing only third behind Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

    Asked after the race by Motorsport.com whether he still had faith in Vettel to honour pre-race agreements following his apparent team order refusal in the opening stint, Leclerc said: “Yeah, I think the trust doesn’t change and I think we need to trust each other, Seb and myself.

    “I think it’s hugely important for the benefit of the team in some situation, to know that you can count on the other car and vice versa.

    “So, yeah, I think it’s very important, but yes, the trust is still here. ”

    Before the swap had happened in the pitstop phase, Leclerc repeatedly stressed to Ferrari on the radio that he “respected” the agreement, and asked the team to manage the situation.

    “I think everything was respected,” he explained after the race.

    “At the start, I obviously went to the left to give Seb the slipstream, I knew he would overtake, and anyway we knew that, then we just had to do the swap back and we did it at the pitstop later on in the race.”

    Pressed on whether the agreement was for him to keep to the left side on the run-up to Turn 2 and not fight Vettel into the right-hander, he said: “If there was Lewis and Seb side by side, I obviously had to advantage Seb and not Lewis, which is normal. So, that was what was agreed.”

    Leclerc subsequently offered his explanation for why Vettel may have ignored the orders, describing it as a “quite tricky situation”.

    “There was a safety car straight away, so then it was quite difficult, I tried to stay as close as I possibly could, for two or three laps, but then it was very difficult to follow – especially first and second sector, the tyres overheated, and then I dropped back a little bit.

    “But then I was, as I said on the radio, I had 100 percent trust in the team to do it themselves as it was agreed before the race, and that’s what they did at the pitstop.”

  5. Sebastian Vettel feels he stuck to the pre-race agreement made by Ferrari ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, despite failing to acquiesce to an order to let Charles Leclerc by.

    Vettel, who had started third, grabbed a slipstream off poleman Leclerc at the start and passed him into Turn 2, going on to lead the race until his sole pitstop.

    Conversations between the Ferrari pitwall and Leclerc indicated the Monegasque deliberately towed Vettel and allowed him through – which was corroborated by team principal Mattia Binotto after the race.

    However, while Leclerc had been expecting the positions to be swapped back right away, and Ferrari duly ordered Vettel to do so, the German did not yield.

    Vettel instead told Ferrari it should tell Leclerc “to close up”, and extended his advantage over the Monegasque from around a second and a half to four seconds over the subsequent laps.

    Vettel – who would retire with an engine issue after his pitstop – refused to be drawn into the specifics of the pre-race agreement when speaking to TV crews afterwards, but said: “I think I stuck to the agreement.

    “Obviously it was a big shame because I think we had a good chance today to finish first and second.”

    When again quizzed on his view of the pre-race agreement after it had been explained by Binotto in Ferrari’s subsequent media session, Vettel said: “I think on my side it’s best if I don’t say anything. I think Mattia gave an explanation which is valid, so [let’s] leave it there.”

    Binotto subsequently said that he felt neither driver had been in breach of the pre-race agreement.

    Ferrari had pitted Leclerc earlier than Vettel, and the Monegasque’s laps on fresh mediums allowed him to cycle back ahead of his teammate once Vettel had been called into the pits, too.

    Asked whether he would’ve been open to letting Leclerc through had he remained ahead through to the end of the race, Vettel said: “Well, obviously, I don’t know what happened, I wasn’t really aware when Charles was going to pit, because obviously you do your own race.

    “I was aware of the fact I was quite a bit down the road. And obviously the last laps before the pitstop I was struggling more and more with the tyres. So I realised that obviously it would be time to pit.

    “When I got out, obviously I found myself behind, then I had a problem and so on – and obviously the bigger downside was the fact that we had to retire.

    “It didn’t come to that stage [where I’d have to consider a late-race swap], so it’s a bit pointless [to discuss now].”

    Source: Motorsport.com

  6. Mattia Binotto details Ferrari’s pre-Russian Grand Prix “deal”. Motorsport.com has the full story.

    Ferrari Formula 1 team boss Mattia Binotto has given a detailed explanation of the “deal” made with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc over the start of the Russian GP.

    Binotto confirmed that, based on what has happened in previous Sochi races, the team put its energies into finding a way to ensure that its cars were first and second at the end of the first lap, given that they were starting first and third, with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton in between.

    “Looking at the past races in Russia we know that it’s important to be ahead at the first lap, because normally if you start first, you may finish first,” said Binotto.

    “As a team obviously the victory was key, so we decided that the most important thing for us was to be first and second at the first lap, because by being first and second we would have somehow control and manage the pace and control the positions.

    “Which is what was happening, because being first and second as a matter of fact we were controlling the race, and without any reliability issues certainly we would have kept positions after the pitstops.”

    Binotto said Leclerc had agreed to not defend his lead from Vettel on the long run down to Turn 2.

    “Being first and second was the first objective. How can you do that when you start first and third? Certainly protecting the first position as well as making sure you gain a position and being second.

    “We agreed together that the best way was not to give any slipstream to Hamilton first, because giving a slipstream to Hamilton would have given him some advantage, or at least some possibility, and therefore Charles would have given the slipstream to Seb.

    “That was what we agreed, and discussed – [that] by giving the slipstream to Seb and not defending the position would have given an advantage to Seb, which later on in the race we would give back [to Leclerc] by swapping the cars. So that was the deal.

    “I think what happened was exactly what was explained, they got a good start, both drivers, they both made a similar start, they were on the soft tyres, we got a good speed, Charles stayed on the left, Sebastian jumped very soon Hamilton, and was naturally, I would say, in the slipstream of Charles.”

    Leclerc made it clear on the radio that he wanted to be let past, and Vettel was given the order. But Vettel did not follow it, indicating Leclerc was too far back – and Binotto has now insisted that the team did not necessarily bank on an early swap of positions.

    “Obviously looking at the video, looking at the start, the start went as planned, and therefore we thought it was right to ask Seb to swap positions. Eventually the two drivers may have different opinions by driving the car, but that’s something which we may discuss with them.

    “We initially asked Seb to give the position back, but fair enough to say at that stage of the race maybe Charles was not close enough, and we would have lost some time on track. Later on Seb was quite fast and gained some track advantage on Charles.”

    Pitstop strategy wasn’t aimed at swapping positions – Binotto

    Ferrari brought Leclerc into the pits first, and kept Vettel out for several laps with his teammate lapping faster on fresh mediums. Therefore, once Vettel came in for his stop, he wound up surrendering the lead.

    Binotto said tyre wear triggered Leclerc’s pitstop: “We knew that, let me say, we could have decided to do it later on. The undercut [against Vettel] was not for the reason for giving back the position to Charles, the undercut was because Charles stopped because he had worn tyres – left rear was starting to be worn, so it was the right moment for him to pit.

    “We knew as well that if we stopped both our cars there we would have been vulnerable on safety cars, by leaving the lead to Hamilton. We tried to stay out as much as we could with Seb, simply to protect in case of safety cars at that period of the race.

    “Then again, Seb’s tyres were worn, he called for it, it was the right moment to pit, he pitted and as a matter of fact Charles was ahead, Seb was behind, but the race was still not over, and there would have been plenty of opportunity to decide then what would have been the best option later on.”

    Asked by Motorsport.com if he meant that Vettel would have been allowed to race and pass Leclerc, Binotto said: “I think yeah.”

    That became academic when Vettel was forced to pull over and stop with a hybrid issue, triggering the VSC that allowed Hamilton to pit and get into the lead.

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