Sochi, Russia: Lewis Hamilton has a fifth Formula One world championship title in his own hands after Mercedes team orders helped him win the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday with rival Sebastian Vettel third. Hamilton took his 70th career win as Mercedes maintained their perfect record at the Olympic Park in Sochi after he eased ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas on the 25th of 53 race laps. Until then, Bottas had led from pole but he had to settle for second with Ferrari’s Vettel completing the podium in third.
Hamilton remains on course for a fifth world title having extended his advantage over Vettel to 50 points with just five races remaining. He requires four third-place finishes and one second-place, or better, to secure the crown.
Mercedes had won all four previous Sochi races, including from Hamilton in 2014 and 2015, but it was Bottas who looked set to repeat this maiden win from last season.
However, with Vettel closing up on Hamilton’s Mercedes, he was ordered to let his colleague pass.
“We had a risk with Lewis who has a small [tyre] blister,” Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles told the annoyed Finn on team radio. “I had to do this to make sure we secure this.”
At this point, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, on his 21st birthday, was leading having not pitted. He had charged through the field from 19th having started at the back due to grid penalties.
“A difficult day,” Bottas said straight after the race, having been consoled by Hamilton. “A good result as a team but personally as everyone saw it was quite difficult.
“Lewis is fighting for the championship so we always have a plan, but it is what it is.”
When Verstappen eventually changed his tyres, Hamilton had little trouble in seeing out the win from lap 43, eventually finishing 2.545 seconds ahead of Bottas for his fifth victory in the last six.
“It’s actually quite a difficult day,” said Hamilton. “Valtteri did a fantastic job all weekend and was an absolute gentleman to let me by.
“I can understand how difficult it was for him but he did a brilliant job today.”
Hamilton leads Vettel 306 points to 256 in the standings while Bottas, despite his disappointment, moves up to third ahead of second Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen.
Vettel, whose Ferrari lacked the pace of the Mercedes almost all weekend, was third. The German had briefly edged ahead of Hamilton at the pit stops on laps 14-15, but the Mercedes promptly overtook, displaying the clear disparity in power.
And Vettel was also lucky not to be sanctioned for defending twice against Hamilton in fending off the initial attack. “It was tricky — they worked very well together,” Vettel said. “I tried to put pressure on Valtteri but couldn’t get close enough.
“It was a good race... but not the result we wanted.”
Raikkonen was fourth having held off Verstappen’s late push. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull), Charles Leclerc (Sauber), Kevin Magnussen(Haas), Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez (both Force India) completed the points.
Romain Grosjean (Haas), Nico Huelkenberg (Renault), Marcus Ericsson (Sauber), Fernando Alonso (McLaren), Lance Stroll (Williams), Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren), Carlos Sainz (Renault) and Sergey Sirotkin(Williams) finished without scoring.
The Toro Rossos of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley were retire dearly, at the same time, with the team saying they had to investigate car issues.
The next race is the Japanese Grand Prix on October 7. — dpa