Valtteri Bottas claimed his maiden Formula 1 victory at the Russian Grand Prix narrowly seeing off a fast finishing Sebastian Vettel.
Bottas’ first win in 80 races has thrown the title race wide open. The Finn is now only 10 points adrift of Hamilton with Vettel a further 13 points ahead.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen took the last podium spot but a struggling Lewis Hamilton could only manage fourth and ended 36.320 seconds behind his team-mate.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen overcame mechanical issues that threatened his involvement in the race to take fifth while Force India gathered a bundle of points finishing Perez in sixth and Ocon in seventh.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Williams’s Felipe Massa, and Torro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz secured the remaining points albeit more than a lap off the pace.
Good start sets up Bottas
Bottas got a superb getaway off the grid coming alongside Vettel through the opening straight and gentle Turn 1 before out-braking the German to take the lead into the Turn 2 90-degree right-hander.
The Mercedes driver quickly opened a small gap on the chasing Ferrari’s before a safety car caused by a collision between Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Haas’s Romain Grosjean. It ended a miserable weekend for Palmer who already kept his pit crew busy with a chassis replacement, engine change and then a crash in qualifying.
When the safety car returned to the pits, Bottas caught the rest of the pack napping and developed a solid 5 second lead by lap 19.
That lead was gradually reduced as Bottas was forced to negotiate back markers before his only pit stop on lap 27.
Vettel ran a different strategy and held off on his pit stop to lap 34 in the hope of using fresher tyres towards the end of the race to overtake the Mercedes.
But a slow pit stop – caused by the front left wheel sticking – meant Vettel returned still 5 seconds behind but the new tyres helped the German to quickly cut down the gap.
With only laps remaining, Vettel was less than a second down but Bottas, with the assistance of DRS because he was also dealing with traffic, held on to claim his first Formula 1 victory.
“It’s been quite a while, more than 80 races, but worth the wait, well worth the learning curve.”
“This strange opportunity came to me over the winter and I have to thank the team for making this possible.”
“Very odd weekend” for Hamilton
This will be a race to forget for Lewis Hamilton who has been out of sorts from the moment the cars took to the track in FP1.
Hamilton qualified 0.478 seconds behind Bottas following troubles with his brakes and uneven tyre temperature. He was also hampered during the race with overheating – a problem that also affected Bottas but the clean air out front allowed him to control the problem easier.
Still, the win for Bottas limited the damage to Hamilton who could potentially have faced a 20 point gap had Vettel won the race.
“It’s great we are ahead of the Ferraris,” said Hamilton. “It has stopped Sebastian pulling away too far.”
“I don’t remember the last time we had that [overheating],”
“It meant I was out of the race from the get-go.”
“I think I had the pace to fight with Kimi but the car was just overheating the whole the time. I’m sure we will go back to the drawing board and figure it out.”
New low at McLaren
McLaren’s dismal start to the season only continued during the Russian Grand Prix with Alonso forced to abandon his car during the formation lap with an ERS problem.
The Spaniard will soon be going to the USA for his first test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before his debut at the Indy 500 next month but in the meantime there was nothing that could his disappointment.
“Obviously frustrating – fourth race of the championship, four DNFs, this time we did not even make the start. That’s sad but nothing we can do now.”
“There is nothing we can do from a driver’s point of view. We drive as fast as we can, we help the team as much as we can, we prepare for the race with fitness and our engineers and then we come here and it switches off.”