Lewis Hamilton won a simply astonishing Russian GP after long-time race leader Lando Norris suffered late heartbreak by spinning his McLaren off in heavy rain, with Max Verstappen benefitting to complete his comeback from the back of the grid to an unlikely second.
Following a dramatic and soaking wet finale, Hamilton took both the championship lead and his 100th Formula 1 victory – but the Sochi race was destined for his young British compatriot who was so close to his very first triumph.
Pole-sitter Norris was heading towards that maiden F1 win after re-overtaking Carlos Sainz and then leading the majority of the race, even keeping his cool as Hamilton came charging through in the Mercedes after a difficult start of his own.
But as rain started falling with just eight laps to go, then getting increasingly heavier, Norris opted to stay on his slick tyres while Hamilton and the majority of the field changed for intermediates.
The decision turned out to be catastrophic as he could not control his McLaren in the conditions, spinning off into the barriers on Lap 51 of 53. Hamilton, who also wanted to stay out before being overruled by Mercedes, was then there to capitalise.
“I’m unhappy, devastated in a way,” said a tearful Norris after the race. “It was my decision, I thought it was the way to go.”
“Lando did such an amazing job, he had incredible pace,” added Hamilton, who recovered after dropping from fourth to seventh on the first lap.
“It would’ve been tough to get past Lando unless we came up to some traffic or he made a mistake… so then the rain came and it was very opportunistic.”
Hamilton claimed victory, although Verstappen was arguably the big winner as the Dutchman, who was running seventh before the rain as his early charge through the field from the back faded, changed tyres earlier than many others and finished second.
Sainz completed the podium, finishing ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, another driver to benefit from the rain, and Fernando Alonso.
Norris fell to seventh, although mercifully he avoided a penalty for crossing the white line when finally entering the pits for the wet tyres.
Russian GP Race Result
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
5) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
6) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
7) Lando Norris, McLaren
8) Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
9) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
10) George Russell, Williams
Hamilton takes 100th win, Verstappen limits damage
Hamilton and Verstappen also had rollercoaster afternoons but, quite incredibly, ended up sharing the top two positions.
From Hamilton’s side, he had a bit of a nightmare start from fourth – a grid position enforced after his two crashes in qualifying – dropping behind Ricciardo, Lance Stroll and Alonso in the opening stages.
He cleared Alonso before Stroll’s pit-stop, but was then stuck behind Ricciardo, as Norris extended his lead.
Fortune came Hamilton’s way after Ricciardo’s slow pit-stop, which allowed him to run longer and still emerge on track ahead of the McLaren after pitting.
He was then free to chase down Norris, and was around a second-per-lap faster than the McLaren – but couldn’t get past a car that was quick on the straights. The rain offered him solace, with Hamilton admitting he didn’t think he would have passed Norris without it.
He praised Mercedes for their pit-stop decision, particularly as he, like Norris, didn’t want to come in. His record-extending 100th win was certainly one of his most dramatic.
Verstappen, meanwhile, was only aiming for a top-five finish but ends up with an amazing second.
He made a flying start to the race, making ground from 20th and also overtaking Bottas, but became bogged down during his second stint, even overtaken by Fernando Alonso in the Alpine.
Unlike Hamilton, Verstappen made the decision himself to pit for intermediates – and what a call it was.
“To come from last with two penalties to second, that’s mega damage limitation,” said Hamilton.
The season now rolls onto the Turkish GP on October 8, the first of seven races to close 2021. With just two points splitting the title protagonists, this is going to be some conclusion.
Credit: Sky Sports