Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas made it a perfect race for Mercedes as they finished 1-2 at the Russian Grand Prix. Charles Leclerc finished third after losing out with unlucky safety car timing.
When the lights went out, Ferrari truly pulled away from the competition, and with the long run to the first corner, Vettel made perfect use of the draft behind Leclerc to take first position.
Behind the two Ferraris, Sainz also enjoyed an impressive getaway, at briefly got ahead of Hamilton, but as the latter had the inside to Turn 2, he slotted into third, followed by Sainz, Bottas, Norris, Perez, Verstappen, Hulkenberg and Magnussen.
Further behind, it was all very tight through that 90° right hander, with bumping all over the place. It caused Ricciardo to have a puncture, and Grosjean to be launched into the air and into the barriers. The Frenchman's race was therefore finished very early while a safety car was brought on track to clean up the mess.
On lap 3, all were free to race again. The first laps didn't provide a lot of action, but when Bottas passed Sainz for 4th on lap 5, the track came alive. Verstappen soon also managed to get past Perez, leaving the Force India driver immediately vulnerable to Hulkenberg.
At the front, Ferrari engaged in a discussion with both its drivers, repeatedly asking Vettel to let Leclerc pass. Leclerc meanwhile didn't really say a lot beyond "I accept and I understand", and two laps later, after Vettel put in a few fastest laps, the team decided "Charles, we do it a bit later in the race. We don't want to push now".
Verstappen meanwhile went on to pass both McLarens, putting himself in 5th position by lap 17, 18s down the road of Bottas.
One lap later, Hulkenberg was the first of the soft tyre runners to stop, and surprisingly change to mediums. Pirelli had recommended this as the appropriate time to switch to hard until the end. At the same time, Hamilton was told that the team were targeting to extend the targeted first stint by 15 laps, indicating the mediums were indeed lasting very well.
On lap 22, Leclerc pitted and changed to new mediums as well. He went on to record 3 fastest laps before Vettel was called in. In some way, this feels like a cheeky method of Ferrari to swap their cars, as Vettel returned to the track about a second behind his team mate.
Half a lap later however, Vettel reports he has no more ERS-K, and as a result parked his car. The following virtual safety car triggered numerous pitstops, including those for Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen.
When they returned to the track, Hamilton kept the lead, followed by Leclerc, Bottas, Verstappen, Albon, Sainz, Magnussen, Norris, Perez and Stroll.
When the green flag was waved, Russell immediately veered off the track, completely locking up the inner front wheel.
Needless to report, this forced another safety car, but this time, with the safety car on the track, meaning all gaps were to be reduced to virtually nothing. Kubica retired moments later in the pits as well, making for the first double DNF for Williams this season.
This event triggered even more stops, with Albon making his first and only stop, changing from hard to new soft tyres, and returning to the track in 10th. Leclerc also pitted, changing back to soft tyres.
Verstappen, Sainz, Magnussen, Norris and Perez behind the top three were all on medium, with Stroll and Albon completing the top 10 at the time running on softs.
The safety car left the track to get the race going again in lap 32, and Bottas immediately felt the pressure from Leclerc, as the Ferrari driver came threateningly close to an overtake, despite having no DRS yet in the first lap after the SC period.
While Leclerc was stuck and didn't find an immediate possibility to get past Bottas in the next few laps, Albon made rapid progress and moved past Norris and Perez before seeking his way towards Magnussen - who he'd pass on lap 42. Hulkenberg on the other hand moved up into a points-scoring position by passing Stroll.
Albon went on to finish 5th by passing Sainz, making for a solid 4th and 5th place finish for Red Bull Racing. Leclerc failed to make his way past Bottas, so the pole sitter finished 3rd, behind a Mercedes 1-2.
|4||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||53||+14.210s||12|
|5||23||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing Honda||53||+38.348s||10|
|6||55||Carlos Sainz||McLaren Renault||53||+45.889s||8|
|7||11||Sergio Perez||Racing Point Bwt Mercedes||53||+48.728s||6|
|8||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Renault||53||+57.749s||4|
|9||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||53||+58.779s||2|
|11||18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point Bwt Mercedes||53||+60.821s||0|
|12||26||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||53||+62.496s||0|
|13||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||53||+68.910s||0|
|14||10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||53||+70.076s||0|
|15||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||53||+73.346s||0|
|NC||88||Robert Kubica||Williams Mercedes||28||DNF||0|
|NC||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||27||DNF||0|
|NC||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||0||DNF||0|