Lewis Hamilton Wins Russian Grand Prix Using Team Orders, Extends Championship Lead
Mercedes employed the strategy to swap its drivers' positions, guaranteeing awkward garage talks after.
Lewis Hamilton took a controversial Russian Grand Prix win via the use of team orders issued by Mercedes management.
Despite repaved grid slots that favored the Mercedes front row, it was Scuderia Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel that got the best getaway of the frontrunners, the German challenging Hamilton down the straight as the two chased Valtteri Bottas into the first corner. Using Bottas' slipstream, Hamilton pulled back ahead, and the three filed into order through a long Turn 2. By the end of the first lap—without a safety car for the first time in years—Bottas whipped up a 1.3-second gap, and 19th-start Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen was already up to 13th, barging past his midfield competition.
After trading places with Force India's Esteban Ocon on the first lap, turning a P7 start into a P6 position, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc caught Haas' Kevin Magnussen at the start of the second lap, handling the aggressive Dane with a balls-to-the-wall flat-out overtake around the outside of Turn 2. On the following lap, Verstappen shut down Marcus Ericsson to get into the points, finishing the lap ninth ahead of Romain Grosjean.
Both Toro Rosso-Hondas retired on Lap 6, each driver suffering a spin. Pierre Gasly's retirement was confirmed later to be brake-related, and though Brendon Hartley's reason for retirement went unmentioned, pundit Will Buxton later reported near-simultaneous brake failures. As Gasly and Hartley extricated themselves from their STR13s, Verstappen too overtook Magnussen, who reported a toasty cockpit over team radio. Verstappen reeled in Leclerc by the end of Lap 8bto reach a top-five finishing position, but his teammate Daniel Ricciardo lagged behind, only arriving in the points a lap later.
Bottas kicked off the frontrunners' pit battle, stopping for soft tires after 12 laps, Vettel responding for the same tires on the following lap, and then Hamilton after 14 laps. Hamilton exited the pits less than a car's length behind Vettel, succumbing to the Ferrari into turn one at the start of Lap 15. He would attempt a pass on Vettel a lap afterward, but erratic moves later decided by stewards not to be a double defense forced him to either hit the wall or abort. The Brit reported his thoughts on the move via radio, but completed his pass two corners later.
Kimi Räikkönen stopped after 18 laps for soft tires, and came out a distant fifth in the chasm between Vettel and Ricciardo, now running sixth. This yielded the race lead to Verstappen, who would control the race's pace for another 25 laps. During Verstappen's stint in the lead, Mercedes ordered Bottas to give his position to Hamilton, the pit wall stating it would explain after the race. Hamilton approached Verstappen's lead on Lap 42, making a swipe into the first corner, but ultimately dropping far back as the lap continued. Verstappen stopped after Lap 43 for ultrasofts.
Despite tires that were expected to be at least 2.5 seconds per lap faster, both Verstappen and Ricciardo (also on ultrasofts) struggled to find pace and failed to close the gap to Räikkönen. Mercedes sealed the race's result with a lap to go, confirming to Bottas via radio that positions would not swap back. The Silver Arrows would finish an unceremonious one-two, Vettel completing the podium. Verstappen won the most votes for Driver of the Day for his spectacular early-race performance, a solid birthday present for the Dutchman, who turned 21 on Sunday.