Lewis Hamilton won Sunday’s dramatic Russian Grand Prix for Mercedes, ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, and a spirited Sergio Perez who came home third, to score Force India’s third ever podium.
The Mexican was fortunate to finish where he did, after a late charge from Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen. Both passed Perez with just one lap to go, but half-way round the final lap, Kimi tried to pass his fellow countryman, but ended up pitching him into the barrier, re-promoting Perez to third.
Raikkonen was given a 30-second penalty after the race, and that meant that Mercedes out-scored Ferrari by 3 points – exactly the right amount to secure their second consecutive Constructors’ championship.
The weekend got underway on Friday afternoon, but was oddly delayed by a diesel spillage on the track, which was then sprayed with water in an attempt to clear it, but it only worsened the situation. The oddly-damp track saw very little running in Practice 1, and the second session of the day was even worse, with a rain shower coating the track, and the new tarmac failing to drain properly.
After a pointless day of very little running on Friday, Saturday’s Practice 3 was cut short as well, after Carlos Sainz suffered hefty crash when his rear brakes locked and he crashed into a wall, then slid underneath a foam barrier. Luckily, the Spaniard was unhurt, and he ironically ended up with the most number of laps for anyone over the three days, with just 19.
He was transported to hospital, but tweeted a picture of himself looking fine from his bed, and was cleared to race the following day, starting 20th on the grid.
With the Mercedes duo securing the team’s 30th front row lock out, the start was dominated by the battle between the silver cars. Hamilton got alongside and momentarily ahead of Rosberg, but he was on the outside of the first corner, so Rosberg kept the lead.
However, while things were falling in to place for one Nico, it fell apart for another.
Hulkenberg qualified an excellent sixth, but when he rounded turn one he spun. His car blocked part of the track, and an unfortunate Marcus Ericsson collected him, eliminating both cars on the spot.
Max Verstappen also clipped Hulkenberg’s stationary Force India and picked up a puncture. He pitted at the end of the first lap, along with Grosjean, who damaged his front wing in the carnage.
With so much debris, the Safety car was inevitable, and it was brought out instantly, but oddly, nobody opted to pit for tyres.
After three laps, the Safety Car came back in, and Hamilton set about chasing Rosberg, but he didn’t have to do much work. Lo and behold, Rosberg’s car ran in to difficulties, with his throttle pedal stuck open. This meant that even while he was braking, his car was trying to accelerate, and though he tried to manage the situation, it was too difficult, and he retired on Lap 8, shortly after Hamilton passed him.
The next retirement was much more dramatic. Newly-announced Haas driver for 2016 Romain Grosjean was following Jenson Button through the impossibly long turn 3, but ran wide on the discarded bits of tyre debris known as ‘marbles’, and he spun, crashing heavily into the barrier.
He was completely unhurt, thankfully, but the car – and indeed barrier – were obliterated, leading to the strange sight of marshals repairing it with duct tape. After another four laps, the racing resumed.
Sergio Perez had fitted the harder Prime tyre during this Safety Car Period, and his team intended to go to the end of the race on them in a super-agressive strategy that would end up paying dividends later on.
The action died down in the middle of the race, but returned on Lap 38 when Kimi Raikkonen tried to negotiate Valtteri Bottas. The Ferrari dived down Bottas’ inside, but Bottas went right back past him; the desperation from the 2007 World Champion would boil over later in the race.
Carlos Sainz recovered from his huge crash on Saturday morning, but on Lap 46, his brakes, which had been overheating, exploded, and he spun harmlessly at first, but further down the road spun into the very same barrier he was buried under 24 hours previously.
A piece of his rear wing fell off, and a foolish marshal ran on to the track to retrieve it without yellow flags being shown, and was not far away from being hit by Sebastian Vettel, who dubbed him ‘a brave Russian’.
Two laps on from the Toro Rosso driver’s retirement, a former Toro Rosso driver, Daniel Ricciardo, pulled off the race track with damage to his suspension, after running in sixth place. It did however, promote his team mate and the only Russian racer on the grid Daniil Kvyat up to sixth.
Ricciardo had been on the back of Raikkonen and Bottas, who were in turn gaining on Sergio Perez, whose 41-lap stint on the hard tyres was beginning to show signs of extreme wear. The Mexican had taken the soft compound tyres from Lap 12 to Lap 52, when finally he ran out of grip completely, and was passed by Bottas at turn 12, and then Raikkonen at turn 13.
With a podium in his sights – a rarity in 2015 – Raikkonen went for the pass on Valtteri Bottas at turn 3, but came from too far away, locked up and hit the side of Bottas, sending him in to the wall, and breaking Raikkonen’s front-left suspension. This meant that Perez was able to regain third place and pick up a sublime podium for Force India, who have only made the rostrum three time since their debut in 2008.
Hamilton had been forgotten about once Rosberg retired, and coasted to his ninth win in 2015, and 42nd overall, taking him past Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41, and drawing him level with Sebastian Vettel.
Raikkonen went on to finish fifth on the road, but was later demoted to eighth after receiving a 30-second penalty after the race.
Fernando Alonso originally finished in tenth place, but was dropped to 11th after a five-second penalty was added for ignoring track limits.
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
3) Sergio Perez, Force India
4) Felipe Massa, Williams
5) Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull
6) Felipe Nasr, Sauber
7) Pastor Maldonado, Lotus
8) Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari (with 30 second penalty)
9) Jenson Button, McLaren
10) Max Verstappen
11) Fernando Alonso
12) Valtteri Bottas, Williams*
13) Roberto Merhi, Manor (+1 Lap)
14) Will Stevens, Manor (+2 Laps)
15) Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull*
* Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo did not finish the race, but were still classified as the finished over 90% of the race distance.
Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Lap 53 (Collision)
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Lap 48 (Suspension)
Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, Lap 46 (Brake failure)
Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Lap 12 (Spun off)
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Lap 8 (Throttle)
Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, Lap 1 (Collision)
Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Lap 1 (Collision)
The next race takes place in two weeks’ time at the formidable Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on 25 October.