Lewis Hamilton took his 100th Grand Prix victory in a Russian Grand Prix that started in dry conditions and ended under rain, the Mercedes driver making a late switch to intermediate tyres to take the lead when pole-sitter Lando Norris agonisingly slid out of the lead with just two laps left. Max Verstappen made it from P20 to P2, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took third having started second.
Grid penalties were the talk of the town on Sunday morning with Valtteri Bottas the latest to take the hit, Mercedes putting a new power unit into his car to see him start 16th with the knowledge that Max Verstappen would start 20th (having taken a new Honda engine earlier in the weekend) and Charles Leclerc 19th with a new Ferrari unit.
As for tyres, there was a mix of mediums and hards on the grid with the first five drivers – Norris on pole, Sainz second, Russell third, Hamilton fourth and Ricciardo in P5 – on mediums, and only Fernando Alonso starting sixth, Sergio Perez (P8), Pierre Gasly (P11), Bottas, Antonio Giovinazzi (P17), Leclerc and Verstappen starting on the hard compounds.
Although he fell to seventh at the start, Hamilton’s pace was competitive on his medium tyres and he pitted on Lap 27 for hards, before Norris – who had scored a sensational first pole on Saturday and duelled with Sainz early in the race – and once the pitstop sequences had finished by Lap 38 it was Norris leading a rapid Hamilton. The pair were just one second part in the closing stages. And then the rain hit.
FORMULA 1 VTB RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX 2021
|1 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes||1:30:41.001||25|
|2 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing||+53.271s||18|
|3 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari||+62.475s||15|
|4 Daniel RICCIARDO McLaren||+65.607s||12|
|5 Valtteri BOTTAS Mercedes||+67.533s||10|
Lead pair Hamilton and Norris stayed out after others pitted for inters and it was the Mercedes man who made the decision to pit first, switching with three laps left – as Norris stayed out, a first ever F1 victory almost within touching distance. The McLaren driver did his best to keep the lead but, with the rain getting heavier by the second, he eventually slid off the track and Hamilton passed him for P1.
Norris eventually finished seventh having pitted at the very end, and escaped with a reprimand after crossing the pit entry line twice on his way in.
Verstappen, from 20th on the grid, finished an incredible second after switching from hards to mediums midway through the race and cruising through the field. And it was Ferrari’s Sainz who took the final podium place – having briefly led over Norris – with an early switch to hards from mediums.
Valtteri Bottas started 16th but took fifth having pitted for mediums just after Verstappen, while Fernando Alonso started sixth and finished there with a long first stint on hard tyres. Kimi Raikkonen kept his cool to make up places in the late wet conditions and finished eighth – leaving Sergio Perez and George Russell to take the final points for Red Bull and Williams, respectively.
Norris came away with Driver of the Day honours, but the pain of having a maiden Grand Prix victory wrenched away from him in the final laps with the rain falling at Sochi, in what must go down as the most entertaining and dramatic Russian Grand Prix to date.