F1: Slippery conditions cause chaos at the Russian GP
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Lewis Hamilton has won the Russian Grand Prix after wet weather wreaked havoc in the final few laps.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was leading the race and appeared on track to win his first Grand Prix when rain started to fall on the track in Sochi with six laps to go.
Many drivers decided to pit and change to intermediate wet weather tyres but Norris opted to stay out in front and try to maintain a lead, while Hamilton was charging him down with fresh tyres.
Norris was struggling to keep control of his car on the slippery track and after swerving in the rain, he went wide off the track.
With no tyre traction whatsoever, the young Brit eventually pitted with two laps to go but the damage was done, as he slipped down to finish seventh after starting the day on pole position — the first time he’s ever been at the front of the grid after qualifying.
It was a heartbreaking way for Norris to finish and many fans were gutted the rain falling on the last few laps robbed the rising star of the chance to stand on top of the podium.
Mercedes’ decision to call Hamilton into the pits and change tyres proved pivotal in helping him pass Norris on the penultimate lap.
Norris said he was “devastated” he couldn’t go on to win but stood by his call not to take a pit stop and change tyres when his team was urging him to do so.
“I’m unhappy, devastated in a way,” he said.
“We made a call to stay out and we stand by that. It was the wrong one at the end of the day but I made the decision just as much as the team. It was more that they thought I should box and I decided to stay out.
“It was my decision, I thought it was the way to go.”
When asked if the turn of events had dented his confidence, Norris responded: “I don’t think it changes too much. I had the confidence beforehand that I was capable of doing it (leading a race) and I’ve felt capable of doing that for a while.
“So I don’t think that’s really changed. It’s just a bit of heartbreak.
“I felt like I did everything I could, even when it got a bit tricky at the end. I made a couple of mistakes but still kept Lewis behind and managed to pull away a little bit.”
While Mercedes expected the rain to get heavier and called Hamilton into the pits at the perfect time, McLaren thought Norris might be able to manage in the wet and hold on for the win.
The decision to keep Norris out on the track with his old tyres ultimately cost him the victory.
“The laps I was out before Lewis boxed was perfectly fine for the tyres I was on and I got told the rain was going to stay the same amount. Had it stayed the same amount we had the right decision, but it obviously got a lot wetter than we as a team expected,” he said.
“When it’s only two laps to go, when there are 20 to go you’re maybe not as aggressive with decisions. We did what we thought was right, which I’m happy with. It was wrong at the end of the day but everything until then the guys did an excellent job. I’m happy with everything apart from that one decision which we’ll review and try not to make again.”
Hamilton became the first driver ever to win 100 F1 races and the victory sees him regain the lead in the drivers’ championship by just two points.
His rival Max Verstappen pulled off a miracle to finish second after starting dead last as a penalty for replacing the power unit in his Red Bull. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz finished third while Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo drove a superb race to finish fourth and overcome a slow pit stop.
“We definitely take that one!” Verstappen said over team radio. “To come from last to second is very very good,” he added after the race.
“The rain helped us to make that last jump.
“With the penalty we had, to only lose one spot basically is definitely not too bad. When I woke up this morning I definitely didn’t expect this result.”
“Max must’ve done a really great job to come up to second from last. We’ve got our work cut out,” Hamilton said.
The seven-time world champion was delighted to have reached the milestone of 100 Grand Prix victories, but acknowledged he was lucky the rain caused carnage and allowed him to get past Norris.
“What a race the weather provided. It’s taken a long time to get to 100 and I wasn’t sure it would come,” Hamilton said.
“Lando did such an amazing job, he had incredible pace and is doing such a great job for McLaren. It was bittersweet to see my old team ahead and they’re doing fantastically.
“The team made a great call right at the end. I didn’t want to let Lando go and I didn’t know what the weather was doing. I’m incredibly grateful to all these men and women here and back at the factory.
“It would’ve been tough to get past Lando unless we came up to some traffic or he made a mistake, which he hasn’t been doing, so then the rain came and it was very opportunistic.”
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas did very well to finish fifth after he struggled early in the race after also starting from the back of the grid.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez could only manage ninth, meaning Mercedes extends its lead in the constructors’ standings to 33 points.
Russian Grand Prix result
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
5) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
6) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
7) Lando Norris, McLaren
8) Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
9) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
10) George Russell, Williams