Rosberg wins as Hamilton recovers to second in Russia
Nico Rosberg scored a controlled fourth victory from four races at the Russian Grand Prix in front of a crowd of 60,000 at the Sochi Autodrom, as Sebastian Vettel was dumped out of the race at the start following a collision with local hero Daniil Kvyat.
Starting from pole the championship leader led into Turn 2 but behind him there was drama as Vettel, who had started seventh, was hit from behind by Kvyat who had been eighth on the grid. The collision bounced Vettel sideways where he collided with the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, who had started from P5.
All three managed to continue but within moments Kvyat again ran into the back of Vettel as the pair went into Turn 3. This time Vettel was pitched into the barrier and Kvyat lost his front wing.
The Safety Car was deployed and while a furious Vettel was left to make his way back to the paddock at the controls of scooter, Red Bull pitted both its drivers, with Kvyat taking a new nose cone and with both being put on medium tyres.
The strategic gambit was in vain, however. Kvyat was handed a 10-second stop/go penalty for causing a collision and failed to recover. Ricciardo, meanwhile, struggled for pace and battled a damaged. He would eventually shed his medium tyres on lap 29, though the improved pace would only take him to P11 at the flag.
Afterwards Vettel was critical of the young Russian’s start.
“Today it’s fairly obvious, he did a mistake again. It doesn’t help me now because I’m not in the car,” Vettel said. “In the end we’re here to race. Massively pumped up. Had a super start, made progress into the second corner and got hit, then a second hit, which destroyed our race.”
The early chaos did benefit some, however. Lewis Hamilton, 10th on the grid after power unit trouble in qualifying, made a good start and avoided the incident to climb to fifth place behind by the time the Safety Car was deployed.
When racing resumed Hamilton went on a charge and passed Williams’ Felipe Massa and third-placed Kimi Raikkonen to take P3 behind Valtteri Bottas in the other Williams.
The Finn defended bravely, however, and as Hamilton and Raikkonen remained bottled up behind the Williams, Rosberg established a solid gap at the front and by lap 15 the German was 9.2 seconds ahead of Bottas.
Bittas pitted on the next lap, freeing up Hamilton and Raikkonen. Hamilton made his own stop for soft tyres on the next lap and though Bottas was able to keep the champion at bay when the Mercedes man emerged from pit lane alongside him, he could do nothing on lap 19 when Hamilton used his greater pace and DRS to muscle past down the inside of Turn 2.
Controlling matters at the front, Rosberg eked out a long stint of 21 laps on his starting supersofts before pitting for softs on lap 21.
He emerged with a healthy gap of 12 seconds back to second-placed Hamilton, but midway through the final stint Hamilton began to push, eventually narrowing the gap to 7.7s.
Any hopes Hamilton had of a late assault were undone, however, when his pit wall informed him that his car had a water pressure issue. The champion back off and from running up to six tenths of a second quicker than Rosberg, Hamilton suddenly dropped to a second off the German’s pace.
The race was over as a contest. Rosberg controlled matters as Hamilton nursed his Mercedes to the flag and Raikkonen cruised to a lonely third.
“I knew the gap to Lewis and it was just through the traffic,” said Rosberg afterwards. “I was feeling really comfortable today, especially at the end of the race, in the last 15 [laps] I opened the gas and pushed a little bit more because I knew it was safe to push and definitely get to the end of the race with that set of tyres. It was working really well. The whole weekend. Even in qualifying. Seldom had such an awesome car. So, special weekend.”
Behind the podium positions, Bottas finished fourth for Williams ahead of team-mate Massa, while Fernando Alonso took an excellent sixth place and eight points for McLaren.
Kevin Magnussen took Renault’s first points of the season with seventh place, ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjena and Force India’s Sergio Perez. McLaren’s positive day was enhanced by Jenson Button taking the final point in tenth place.