Lewis Hamilton has claimed his ton of grand prix victories after a dramatic wet-weather conclusion to the Russian Grand Prix.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
Hamilton was sparring with polesitter Lando Norris for the lead late in the race when rain struck the beachside former Olympic precinct with six laps remaining.
Bother Britons were blinded by their battle and refused to switch to wet-weather rubber even as the rest of the field stopped for fresh tyres, but it was Mercedes that managed to cut through to Hamilton earliest, convincing him to at the end of lap 49 or 53.
McLaren left the decision up to Norris, who believed the conditions were still manageable on slicks.
The younger Briton may well have been correct as Hamilton came into the pits, but the rain rapidly intensified, drenching half of the circuit. His slick rubber couldn’t deal with the sudden appearance of standing water, and he spun off the track at turn five as he wrestled with the car in the low-grip conditions.
He was forced to tiptoe back to pit lane, not only conceding the lead to Hamilton but dropping to seventh in the final classification in a reward unrepresentative of the first 49 laps of his afternoon.
Hamilton was released into the lead, and with the right tyre on at the right time, the Briton had no trouble taking the chequered flag for his first win since July and his career 100th victory.
“It’s taken a long time to get to 100,” he said. “I wasn’t even sure whether or not it would come.
“The team made a great call right at the end. I didn’t want to let Lando go but I didn’t know what the weather was doing.
“Lando did such an amazing job. He had incredible pace.”
More important than his victory ton was his return to the top of the title table, but he takes control of the championship by only two points thanks to a miraculous second-place finish for rival Max Verstappen after the Dutchman started last.
Verstappen served a back-of-grid penalty for an unscheduled engine change this weekend, and though he made strong early progress, his recovery plateaued at seventh, and his strategy left him liable to slide backwards in the dying stages of the race.
But instead of losing places, the rain gave him an opportunity to not only bank his progress but make substantial gains with an earlier switch to wet-weather rubber than most of the midfield, thereby limiting beyond his expectations the damage done to his championship hopes.
“it was pretty tricky on the in lap to make the call to go to inters,” Verstappen said. “To come from last to second it very, very good.
“Luckily the rain helped us to make that last jump … when I woke up this morning I definitely didn’t expect this result.”
Carlos Sainz completed the podium after having led the race in the early stages with a perfectly judged start. Like Verstappen, the Spaniard’s strategy was likely to leave him liable to lose places late, but a well-timed stop for intermediate tyres secured him his fifth F1 podium.
“We did exactly the right call at the right time,” he said. “A really strong race in general.”
Daniel Ricciardo used a similar strategy to fourth, but Valtteri Bottas was the biggest winner from the deluge with sixth place, having been an uncompetitive 14th before the weather arrived.
The Finn had qualified in the top 10, but Mercedes decided overnight to give him a new power unit, earning him a penalty that sent him to near the back of the grid in what appeared to be a cynical attempt to hinder Verstappen’s recovery.
But Bottas wasn’t a match for Verstappen, who slipped past after only six laps, and the second Mercedes car couldn’t cut through the midfield with enough pace to earn points without the change in climatic conditions.
Fernando Alonso finished sixth ahead of Norris and Kimi Raikkonen. Sergio Perez was battling for a podium finish before the downpour, and a badly timed tyre swap dropped him to ninth, and George Russell completed the top 10 for Williams.