Lewis Hamilton was handed victory in the Russian Grand Prix after a virtual safety car cost Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc the lead.
Hamilton’s first win in four grands prix inched him closer to a sixth world title and came after Ferrari’s chances of victory fell apart following a controversy over Leclerc’s team-mate Sebastian Vettel disobeying team orders.
Ferrari’s pre-race plan was for Leclerc to tow Vettel down into the first corner to remove the risk of Hamilton, starting second, taking the lead.
Leclerc played his side of the bargain, but once Vettel was in the lead, he refused a demand to let his team-mate back past him. After a series of conversations over the radio, Ferrari decided to do the swap later and Leclerc recovered first place when he was pitted four laps earlier and allowed to benefit from fresher tyres.
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But Vettel’s engine developed a problem in its hybrid system on his first lap out of the pits and when he was told to park the car, that led to the virtual safety car being deployed.
It was bad timing for Ferrari, because it meant Hamilton, who had been promoted into the lead by Ferrari’s pit stops, could stop under the VSC and lose far less time than under racing conditions, allowing him to keep the lead.
Leclerc then lost second place as well when George Russell crashed with an apparent braking problem just as the VSC was ending, bringing out the safety car.
Ferrari decided to pit Leclerc again to swap his medium tyres for softs, the same as the Mercedes drivers, and that dropped him to third behind Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Try as he might, Leclerc could not quite get close enough to attack Bottas, and Mercedes were able to deliver their first one-two since the British Grand Prix back in mid-July. Hamilton scored an extra point for fastest lap and his championship lead is now at 73 points. Mathematically, he cannot win the title at the next race in Japan – but he could well do it the race after that in Mexico.
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