It was a race lead by a driver that started at the rear of field however it was a late pit stop for him that handed the win to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. The win moves Hamilton to fifty points clear of Sebastian Vettel who would finish third behind a disappointed Valtteri Bottas.
Red Bull may have occupied the rear of grid but Max Verstappen very quickly told the world that he wasn’t happy with that. By the fifth lap he had gone from 19th to 7th, a truly astonishing drive from the young driver that also celebrated his 21st birthday on raceday. Ricciardo also made some inroads quickly, albeit not at the same pace as his younger team mate. Verstappen would later be the driver that lead the race for the most laps and a pit stop with just ten laps to go robbed him of what may have been a truly spectacular win.
It was also a disappointing race for the junior Red Bull cars, with both Toro Rosso cars failing on the fourth lap. Both Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly spun and ended their races with each car having brake issues from the start line.
Tires and pit strategy became crucial on lap 15 with Bottas in a lap or two before, then first Sebastian Vettel came in on lap 14, with Lewis Hamilton on 15. Hamilton re-entered a fraction of a second behind Vettel before a pass on lap 16 at turn 4 saw him claw back fourth behind Raikkonen (yet to stop), Verstappen, and Bottas.
Somehow, though, Verstappen was in the lead from lap 20 and managing the soft tires immaculately. Ricciardo had moved up to sixth and both cars were yet to complete a pit stop.
Team orders came into play with Bottas being told to move aside and let Hamilton though. This was to provide a buffer between Hamilton and Vettel as it was felt that Hamilton’s soft tires were blistering. Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez received the same but neither were able to get past Kevin Magnussen.
Ricciardo pitted on lap 40 and received a new nose cone plus ultrasofts. Verstappen still hadn’t come in for a stop. Verstappen’s tires were starting to fade badly and Hamilton was now staring at the lead. Verstappen finally came in with an amazing 43 laps completed on the softs. Verstappen came back into the race in fifth. The gap between Hamilton and first to Vettel in third here was under four seconds.
The race would ultimately show that the soft tires were the better choice, as the change to the ultra- and hypersofts late in the race for Red Bull proved fruitless, and the speed shown by Hamilton on softs with close to forty laps completed on them showed the strength of this rubber at Sochi.
The win for Hamilton effectively seals the 2018 F1 championship for him, with calculations seeming to show that he needs to finish just third in the remaining races to wear the crown.
The pit lane interview with Hamilton at the race end showed Hamilton in a mood of humility. He freely acknowledged that Bottas may have been the driver that should have won but tacitly reminded listeners that the sport was a team sport. Even Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel admitted that the team orders situation was, in fact, the right call.
“I think in the position they were in it was a no-brainer what they did today so maybe not all the questions are justified,” said Vettel. “For us, obviously we tried our maximum. I think there was a slim chance to finish ahead of Lewis.
Formula 1 heads to Japan this weekend for the 2018 Honda Japanese F1 Grand Prix at Suzuka.