SOCHI, Russia – Valtteri Bottas denied Lewis Hamilton a chance to tie Michael Schumacher atop the Formula One win list with a stirring victory in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.
Bottas’ second victory at Sochi Autodrom came as Hamilton was seeking his 91st F-1 triumph, and after Hamilton qualified on the pole Saturday it seemed as though that outcome was a foregone conclusion for the six-time world champion.
Hamilton stormed to the lead in the opening corner and fended off an outside attack from Bottas, who snatched second from Max Verstappen off the start, in turn two to hold serve.
But quickly, rumblings of a potential problem began to circulate, as the F-1 stewards put Hamilton under investigation for an infringement of the pre-race regulations.
After it was ruled that Hamilton performed a pair of “practice starts” on his reconnaissance laps to the grid – something not allowed per race director Michael Masi’s event notes – he was assessed two five-second time penalties as a result before 10 laps were completed.
Hamilton was called in to pit by the Mercedes team at the end of lap 16, serving his time penalty as a hold in the pit box at that point, while Bottas inherited command of the race.
From there, Hamilton was forced to rally through the field after coming back into the fray in 11th, while Bottas pitted for his lone stop on lap 27 and cruised to the checkers after that.
Sunday marked Bottas’ ninth career F-1 win and second of the season, as well as his first time atop the podium since the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix in July.
“I obviously tried to get around Lewis there at the beginning, because I knew the start was going to be the best opportunity,” said Bottas, who trimmed Hamilton’s championship advantage by 11 points. “But actually, it was a bit compromised, because there was like a massive bee or something that hit my visor as I was braking.
“I couldn’t really see when I should brake. So that’s why I went too deep,” Bottas continued. “But I knew it was going be a long race after that and, with the medium tire, I had opportunities. Obviously Lewis had the penalties, and once I was in clean air I felt the pace was pretty awesome and I could really control everything.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen kept Bottas honest during different stages of the race, but eventually finished as the runner-up, 7.729 seconds adrift of the winner.
Hamilton came back to complete the podium in third, ahead of Racing Point’s Sergio Perez and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo.
The rest of the points-paying positions included Ferrari’s
A collision between Leclerc and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll on the opening lap ended Stroll’s Russian Grand Prix after just three corners, with the young Canadian crashing into the barrier.
That led to an opening-lap safety car period, the lone full slowdown of the race. An extremely brief virtual safety car was called with 11 laps left for debris in turns two and three, but it didn’t have a major effect on any of the top finishing positions.
Stroll was quick to criticize Leclerc afterward for the Ferrari driver’s role in the crash.
“Very sloppy from his part and I gave him all the room,” said Stroll of Leclerc. “I’m quite surprised that he didn’t get a penalty. I gave him plenty of room I did the whole corner on the outside and he just tagged my right rear.
“I gave him all the room I could and it was unlucky but he could have avoided it. He didn’t have to run so wide into me, so I think it’s kind of ridiculous that he didn’t get a penalty.”
Leaving Russia, Hamilton maintains a 44-point lead over Bottas in the title chase.
The Formula One season continues Oct. 9-11 with the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton,