Bottas Denied By Mercedes Team Orders As Hamilton Wins
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
The Mercedes team headed to this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom on the Black Sea in confident mood, having won there for the previous four years and with their lead driver Lewis Hamilton 40 points ahead of his closest rival, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Their optimism proved to be justified as Mercedes dominated events on track, but their success was very much soured by controversy after the team told the leading Valtteri Bottas to move over and let his team-mate Hamilton through to take a hollow victory.
The weather had been warm but overcast for Friday’s opening free practice session and Vettel topped the timesheets just ahead of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and the Mercedes cars of Hamilton and Bottas.
Come second practice though it was a case of two by two amongst the leading three teams as the Mercedes duo were fastest, followed by the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo and the Ferraris of Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen. Mercedes’ clear superiority was reinforced in Saturday’s final practice period as Hamilton and Bottas again comfortably outpaced the rest of the field.
In the subsequent all-important qualifying hour the Mercedes pair were again the quickest, but it was Bottas who claimed pole position with a new track record after Hamilton made a mistake and ran off the circuit in the second sector during his final effort. Vettel and Räikkönen claimed the second row for the following day’s race, whilst various power unit and gearbox change penalties meant McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, Ricciardo, Verstappen and the other Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley would start from the final six slots on the grid.
The opening lap of the Grand Prix was typically frenetic as the pack jostled to gain an early advantage, but as the dust settled the top four on the grid had managed to maintain station, with Bottas leading.
Red Bull’s Dutch charger Verstappen, celebrating his 21st birthday, was a man on a mission though and by lap eight had progressed from 19th on the grid to a highly impressive fifth position, driving superbly.
Bottas was the first of the leading quartet to make his only pit stop of the race, switching from ultra soft to soft specification tyres at the end of lap 12. Second placed Hamilton and then Vettel quickly responded, moving onto the same soft rubber, but the German rejoined the track slightly ahead of Hamilton before the latter powered back in front of his main rival two tours later.
The second Ferrari, pedalled by the veteran Finn Räikkönen, then also switched to soft tyres, rejoining in fifth position. This promoted Verstappen, who had yet to stop, to the lead of the race.
As the Grand Prix progressed Verstappen continued to remain out front, followed by Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel, but the controversy arose on lap 26 when Mercedes ordered Bottas to slow and let Hamilton past, an instruction which the Finn was understandably not at all happy with, but he duly complied.
When Verstappen eventually made his only pit stop on lap 43 Hamilton led from a frustrated Bottas, who in turn headed the Ferrari duo who didn’t have the pace to threaten the pair of silver Mercedes cars. As the chequered flag neared Bottas was told over the radio to maintain position behind his team-mate and so to make a point he proceeded to set the fastest lap of the race whilst dutifully remaining to the rear of Hamilton.
So it was Hamilton who led Bottas, Vettel and Räikkönen across the finish line, with the Red Bull duo completing the top sextet. Young Sauber driver Charles Leclerc, bound for Ferrari next year, deserved a special mention after finishing a highly creditable seventh and the best of the rest behind the top three outfits.
On the slowing down lap a sheepish Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff apologised personally to Bottas over the radio and the post race celebrations were understandably muted. Hamilton was very subdued and confirmed in the post race press conference “This was not the way I wanted to win the race” although happy to take the additional points for the victory rather than second place.
Hamilton’s controversial victory extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship to 50 points with five Grand Prix remaining and Mercedes increased their advantage over Ferrari on the Constructors’ front.
Straight after the race the F1 circus was busy packing its bags, ready to move on to Japan for the next Grand Prix in just one week’s time. The venue will be the famous figure of eight circuit at Suzuka, a track which really sorts the men from the boys and which all the drivers love. Bring it on.
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1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr27m32.054s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +2.545s
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +7.487s
4 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +16.543s
5 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +31.016s
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +1m20.451s
7 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) +1m38.390s
8 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
9 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Lapped
10 Sergio Perez (Force India) Lapped
11 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
12 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Lapped
13 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
14 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Lapped
15 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
16 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Lapped
17 Carlos Sainz (Renault) Lapped
18 Sergey Sirotkin Williams) Lapped
19 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Retired
20 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Retired
2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 16 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Lewis Hamilton 306
2 Sebastian Vettel 256
3 Valtteri Bottas 189
2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 16 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Mercedes 495
2 Ferrari 442
3 Red Bull 292
Bottas Denied By Mercedes Team Orders As Hamilton Wins, 30th September 2018, 17:15 PM