F1 2021 Russian Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton takes win ahead of Max Verstappen in a dramatic wet finish in Sochi
Lewis Hamilton has taken his 100th Grand Prix win at the Russian Grand Prix after a dramatic wet finish saw leader Lando Norris spinning off the track with two laps to go.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was able to fight to the front from the back of the grid to finish in P2 ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
All Important Start
For the front four of Norris, Sainz, George Russell and Hamilton all eyes were on who would exit Turn 2 in the lead with the long straight offering the perfect slipstream opportunity for those who could take advantage.
Norris started strong off the line along with the Williams of Russell but they were quickly under pressure from Sainz, threading his way between the pair and taking the lead out of Turn 2 by the sixth lap he had stretched out a 1.9s to Norris behind.
Hamilton had a tough start with Daniel Ricciardo getting past along with Fernando Alonso in front before the end of the first lap.
It wasn’t long before Hamilton started to fight back after a difficult start and was able to get passed the Alpine of Alonso but it took the seven-time world Champion a few more laps to make it passed Daniel Ricciardo with Sergio Perez slowly making up ground behind.
The early undercut
Aston Martin were the first to gamble with the early undercut, pitting Lance Stroll from P4 for the hard tyres. Triggering Williams to make the same decision a lap later, but Russell came out of the pits behind Stroll.
Despite pulling out an early lead by Lap 10 Norris had closed within DRS range of his former teammate – Sainz – in the Scuderia Ferrari. The McLaren driver passed on the run into Turn 12 on Lap 14.
The pass triggered Ferrari to pit for the hard tyres but Norris continued, making him more vulnerable to the undercut from Sainz. It became evident as the laps progressed that the early pit stop would not be as advantageous as first thought and McLaren had made the right call.
Mercedes made the same decision as McLaren to stay out on track as others pitted for the Hard tyres. Hamilton, struggling to get ahead of Ricciardo, was not able to find any clear air to make up time on Stroll and Russell who had already pitted and making up time on Mercedes for a short time.
Hamilton had Perez in his mirrors, but he was still unable to make it passed Ricciardo ahead. McLaren pitted Ricciardo first but a problem on the stop meant that the release light did not go green, adding crucial seconds onto the stop.
The threat of rain however was still growing as the race approached the halfway point and Norris was stretching out his lead as the McLaren team tried to find a gap to pit but Hamilton, also yet to pit, was finding some pace behind.
Norris pitting on Lap 29, a lap later than Hamilton, released him in P4 with Leclerc, Alonso, and Perez ahead all yet to pit. Hamilton also on fresh hard tyres, passed Pierre Gasly into clear air and started to close the gap to Norris.
Max Verstappen, starting at the back of the grid taking an engine penalty, battled his way into the points using his fresh hard tyres to close down on a possible podium finish in the second half of the race.
As the first stint progressed the championship leader was charging through the field, sweeping easily up the inside of Turn 12 on Valtteri Bottas, giving RedBull early confidence that Verstappen could finish at least in the points.
Verstappen was clearly hungry for a points finish, making his way through the field, unlike Bottas in the Mercedes.
RedBull’s chances opened up as Perez was able to extend his first stint on the medium tyres, but his efforts were ruined by a slow stop of 8.9s, pushing him out of podium contention and finishing P4.
Save the rain until last
As the closing laps approached, the Grand Prix was still all to play for with Hamilton closing the gap to Norris in the McLaren in P1. The Ferrari of Sainz seemingly was comfortably heading for a P3 finish but the threat of rain still loomed over the track.
Spots of rain began to fall by Lap 44, rolling in from the Black Sea, Norris went wide but was able to hang on in the damp conditions with Hamilton clinging onto the rear of the McLaren.
Into the pits went Russell, Bottas, Raikkonen and Nikitia Mazepin first with others following suit a lap later. But the front runners opted to stay out, squirming around on the worsening track conditions.
Hamilton meanwhile pitted for intermediates; giving him a 25 second gap to Norris with three laps to go.
Meanwhile, the two Aston Martin teammates came together in a clumsy move. Stroll went spinning two laps later but was able to keep running, despite being sent out of the points.
As Hamilton closed down on the Intermediate tyres Norris went spinning off the track as the conditions worsened, leaving him no option but to pit, handing the win to Hamilton and P2 to Verstappen.
Norris being sent from P1 to P7 within 1 lap, along with crossing the solid white line of the pitlane to put him at risk of picking up a penalty from the race stewards after the race.
Perez and Leclerc also lost out by not switching to Inters earlier but Sainz was able to regain the final podium position.
More to Follow.