Lewis Hamilton’s quest for the all-time record of Formula 1 wins was put on hold when he was hit with penalties at the Russian Grand Prix.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas dominated after the world champion was given a 10-second penalty for doing two illegal practice starts.
Hamilton’s transgressions put him on the verge of a one-race ban because of accumulated licence penalty points.
Bottas’ win means he cuts Hamilton’s championship lead to 44 points.
Hamilton and the Mercedes team made the victory easy for Bottas with their collective failure to know the rules on practice starts before the race, but the Finn might have won anyway.
He was on the better strategy – starting on the medium tyres while Hamilton was on softs after a chaotic qualifying session for the Briton – and was tracking Hamilton in the early laps waiting for the race to play out.
But two five-second penalties, each for practice starts in the wrong place on the reconnaissance laps before the cars go to the grid, took Hamilton out of the equation.
What mistake did Mercedes make?
Hamilton asked his engineer Peter Bonnington as he left the pits before the race if he could practise his start from further down the pit lane than the designated area immediately at the exit.
Bonnington confirmed that he could, and Hamilton drove down to the end of the pit lane, just before it rejoins the track.
When told of the penalty, Hamilton complained: “Where is that in the rules?”
But his actions contravened the requirements to do practice starts in the designated place, not to stop in the fast lane of the pit lane, and not to use constant throttle and speed in the pit exit at this part of the pre-race procedure.
It was the second time in three races that Mercedes have fallen foul of race instructions – after he pitted when the pit lane was closed at the Italian Grand Prix, costing him victory.
Hamilton now has 10 penalty points – and 12 in a calendar year means an automatic race ban. He will have to be very careful not to transgress again before the first of those points drop off his licence in mid-November.
An easy win for Bottas
The mistakes by Mercedes opened the door for one of Bottas’ easiest wins, and one of the season’s most soporific races.
Bottas challenged Hamilton at the start, just failing to overtake his team-mate around the outside of the first corner after drafting him down the straight.
He said he had a “massive bee” on his visor on the run to Turn Two, which made it hard for him to pick his braking point, and he ran a little too deep, allowing Hamilton to hold him off.
After that, Mercedes had such a pace advantage that Bottas was able to edge well clear of Verstappen and then hold the Red Bull at whatever comfortable distance he chose for the entire race. He then secured fastest lap at the end too.
Having served his penalty, Hamilton was in third place once the other drivers had pitted and he was in an equally comfortable third place – his older tyres meant he could not challenge Verstappen for second, having stopped nine laps earlier.
Behind the top three, Racing Point’s Sergio Perez and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo had equally lonely races, the Australian having sufficient pace to overcome a five-second penalty for failing to comply with rules regarding how to rejoin the track when a car runs wide at Turn Two.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc made excellent use of a long first stint on the medium tyres to vault up from 11th on the grid to finish sixth, ahead of the second Renault of Esteban Ocon, the Alpha Tauris of Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon’s Red Bull.
It was a bad day for McLaren – Carlos Sainz crashed on the first lap when he misjudged the run-off area at Turn Two at the start and smashed into the wall when attempting to rejoin the track, while Lando Norris had car problems from the first lap and could manage only 15th place.
Driver of the day
What happens next?
The Eifel Grand Prix on 11 October as the Nurburging returns to the F1 calendar for the first time since 2013. The 24-hour touring car race there this weekend has been hit with miserable wet and wintery conditions in the Eifel mountains. Will F1 face the same?
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What they said
Valtteri Bottas: “Once I was in clean air I felt that the pace was pretty awesome and that I could control everything. Never give up. It’s a good day. It’s nice to get another win as it’s been a while and I now need to keep the momentum going.”
Max Verstappen: “After the restart we were a little slower on the medium, I was having problems with the balance. Once we were on the hard tyre we were a bit more competitive. I was just trying to do my own race today. I think we managed it well. I am very happy with second especially after two DNFs.”
Lewis Hamilton: “First I want to say a big thank you to the fans that came this weekend, it’s not been a great day but it is what it is. It doesn’t matter, it’s done now so I’ll take the points and move on but congratulations go to Valtteri.”