F1 Blast from the Past: Hamilton closes in on third title at Sochi
Formula 1 made its second visit to the Sochi Autodrom for the fifteenth round of the 2015 season.
Lewis Hamilton led the Driver’s World Championship by 48 points coming into Russia following his victory in
Suzuka two weeks earlier. His teammate Nico Rosberg, however, continued his recent qualifying form by taking his second pole position in a row ahead of Hamilton.
Valtteri Bottas had been the star in Sochi in 2014, and looked impressive again with third on the grid ahead of the two Ferrari’s of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. The two Force India’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez lined up behind the Prancing Horses.
The major talking point on Saturday was the massive 46g crash sustained by Carlos Sainz Jr. in the Toro Rosso in the morning practice session. Miraculously, the Spaniard was unhurt and although he would have start from the back of the grid after missing qualifying, he was declared fit to race.
Race day was overcast but dry as 53 laps of Sochi got underway. Rosberg maintained the lead from Hamilton and Bottas, as Raikkonen got ahead of Vettel. As the field negotiated the first two corners, Nico Hulkenberg spun on cold tyres and collected both Max Verstappen and Marcus Ericsson.
Hulkenberg and Ericsson were out on the spot but Verstappen was able to continue, although the young Dutchman had to crawl back to the pits with a puncture.
After a brief Safety Car period, the race resumed on lap three. Bottas, having lost a position to Raikkonen on the opening lap, regained third place. On lap seven, Hamilton took advantage of Rosberg running wide into turn two and took the lead, however all was not well with the German’s car.
A problem with the throttle was unable to be remedied by the team and Rosberg retired for the only the second time in 2015.
On Lap 12, Romain Grosjean was running 13th in the Lotus when the Frenchman lost control in turn three and had a heavy shunt into the barriers. Thankfully, Grosjean was uninjured but with debris from the wrecked Lotus strewn across the track the Safety Car made a second appearance.
With the race still in its early stages, most of the front runners opted to stay out, but Force India and Red Bull decided on a different strategy. Perez and Riccardo both made a pit-stop and re-joined ninth and tenth, respectively.
Pit-stops change everything
Valtteri Bottas became the first of the leading runners to pit at the end of Lap 27. The Williams pit crew performed a good turnaround, but the Finn emerged in traffic and that allowed Vettel to leapfrog him after the German made his stop on Lap 31.
Raikkonen couldn’t quite get ahead of his compatriot though, and re-joined after his stop behind the Williams. Perez and Riccardo were both preserving their old tyres, but had Bottas and Raikkonen both closing them down, Bottas successfully moved ahead of Riccardo on Lap 45. Raikkonen found the Red Bull harder to pass, eventually finding his way through on Lap 49.
Worse was to come for Riccardo though, as suspension failure resulted in the Australian’s third retirement of the year.
At the front, Hamilton and Vettel were secure in first and second, but Perez in third on old tyres could not hold off a charging Bottas and Raikkonen for much longer.
Frantic final laps
With two laps to go, Bottas seized his opportunity and moved into third, with Raikkonen also getting ahead as the Mexican was offline. With just one lap to go Raikkonen made an optimistic move on Bottas, the two collided and Bottas
was into the barriers, Raikkonen continued but with heavily-damaged front-left suspension.
Force India were suitably pleased as this collision, as it promoted Perez back up to third.
But it was Lewis Hamilton’s day, untroubled at the front to take his ninth victory of the year.
Sebastian Vettel’s second place pushed him into the runner-up spot in the championship, albeit some 66
points behind Hamilton. The ecstatic Perez was third with Massa salvaging something for Williams in
Raikkonen crossed the line fifth, but was demoted to eighth after a 30-second penalty for the incident with Bottas. Local hero Daniil Kvyat inherited fifth place ahead of Felipe Nasr in an excellent sixth for Sauber. Pastor Maldonado had a competitive race in the Lotus finishing seventh.
While at McLaren-Honda, a double points finish was lost when Fernando Alonso lost 10 th place thanks to a time penalty for exceeding track limits. Max Verstappen took the final point after a good recovery drive.
For Lewis Hamilton, however, a third title was virtually in the bag, while Mercedes secured their second consecutive constructors crown.
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