Lewis Hamilton secured his first win in four races when he ended Ferrari’s winning streak with victory in a gripping Russian GP on Sunday.
The five-time world champion came home ahead of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes took advantage of Ferrari’s tactical problems.
Sebastian Vettel, who led for a third of the race, suffered a mechanical issue and was forced to retire, handing Mercedes a chance to increase their six-race unbeaten race in Sochi.
Charles Leclerc came home in third after starting from pole and losing his advantage to Vettel on the opening lap.
Here’s a look at the key talking points from Russia:
HAMILTON SOARS IN SOCHI
Last week in Singapore marked the second time since the end of 2013 that Hamilton went three races without a win.
Ferrari have been the team to beat since the summer break, but Sochi is a venue that has favoured Mercedes over the past five years.
And after struggling for pace early on, Vettel’s retirement on lap 26 played into the Briton’s hands, and he took control after pitting under the virtual safety car.
With Bottas keeping Leclerc behind as much as possible and negating his younger tyres, it was difficult for the Ferrari man to mount an attack.
From there, Hamilton’s lead never looked threatened, and he returned to the winners’ enclosure in style, scoring his fifth victory at the Sochi Autodrome.
Now, siting 73 points clear, it looks inevitable that the 34-year-old will seal his sixth world championship.
DISAPPOINTING FOR VETTEL
Facing a powerful Leclerc, F1 fans around the world finally saw that street fighter figure in Vettel on Sunday.
The 32-year-old stamped his authority early on and began to show his experience and pace around the Sochi track.
Starting third on the grid, he got the jump on Hamilton and was allowed a handy slipstream from Leclerc as per the team strategy. He led for the opening six laps before being asked to let his team-mate pass.
He ignored team orders and said Leclerc would have to catch him first. At one point, he was nearly four seconds ahead of the Monaco man. The Ferrari team deferred their plan and told Leclerc they would make it happen later in the race instead.
With Vettel’s tyres degrading, Ferrari kept him out too long instead of pitting him straight after Leclerc on lap 22. His pit stop on lap 26 was 0.5 seconds slower than Leclerc’s time of 2.5 seconds.
Surprisingly, just two laps later, the German was forced to retire with power failure.
As disappointing as it was for Vettel, Ferrari’s decision to effectively shaft the four-time world champion’s strategy messed up Leclerc’s race, handing victory to Mercedes.
It’s no blame to any of the drivers but Ferrari have to ask themselves questions about their strategy.
The 21-year-old was modest when interviewed on the podium after the race, but deep down, he must have been incensed to not have converted his fourth successive pole into victory.
Starting from the front of the grid, Leclerc conceded first place to Vettel on the opening lap but when his team-mate was asked to return the favour later on, he made no effort to adhere to instructions. The order came six laps in though and that’s far too early as the Italian marque had a nice buffer to the Mercedes and were still pulling away.
Apart from one or two minor strops over the radio, Leclerc looked confident, motivated and had the strategic advantage for parts of the race.
Vettel’s retirement unfortunately played against his strategy and he was unable to pile the pressure on Bottas and take second or even pass the Finn for a late burst at Hamilton.
With Japan in two weeks time, Leclerc will be eager to bounce back with his third win of the season.
It was a sensational performance from Carlos Sainz to finish sixth – his ninth points finish of the season.
Starting from fifth, he didn’t put a foot wrong and stayed out of trouble for much of the race.
Although he would have been happier to secure fifth ahead of Alexander Albon, the confidence he showed during the race was remarkable.
It was a formidable result for the 25-year-old, who is looking like he is really enjoying life at McLaren and competing against friend and team-mate Lando Norris.
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