Lewis Hamilton has won an accident-prone Russian Grand Prix after pole-sitter Nico Rosberg retired from the lead with a throttle problem.
Hamilton followed his teammate off the line, but it took just five laps for Rosberg to report a sticky throttle.
On lap seven the German conceded the lead, at which point he slowed to a crawl and returned to his pit box; his problem unrecoverable, his title hopes all but over.
“It’s not nice when there’s a problem with the throttle pedal,” said Rosberg. “That’s a bit of a worry because it was coming more in my direction in the end, so I had to lift my leg to come off throttle — but then I can’t steer any more because my knee hits the wheel.”
Rosberg now trails Hamilton by 73 points with 100 points across four races remaining.
Hamilton need outscore his Mercedes counterpart by three points to put the German out of contention, and outscore Vettel by 10 points to win the title at the next round in Austin.
“I’m just disappointed with the day, I’ll think about the rest afterwards,” Rosberg said, visibility distraught.
“I never write anything off, and picking up is never a problem either.”
Hamilton, confident in his title position, lamented the opportunity to race his teammate for position.
“I was excited because we were quite close together,” he said. “It’s a shame for the team to have lost one of the cars and not have a race.
“When I knew Sebastian was behind, I wished he was right with me.”
Hamilton’s victory, assured through flawless driving after inheriting the lead, was enough for Mercedes to win the constructors title after Kimi Raikkonen was demoted from fifth over the line to eighth with a penalty for punting Valtteri Bottas off the track on the final lap.
Räikkönen and Bottas were duelling for third in the final stint of the race, but on the final lap the Ferrari driver speared into the side of the Williams, forcing the younger Finn into retirement while Kimi limped home in P5.
The stewards almost immediately announced they were investigating the collision, with a decision coming almost two hours after the race.
Vettel finished second after having passed Räikkönen at the beginning of the second stint on lap 17 before, 10 laps later, inheriting second when Bottas made his first stop.
Vettel’s pace kept the field at arm’s length, leaving Perez, Bottas, Ricciardo, and Räikkönen to fight for the final podium place.
Perez sat in third and Ricciardo in fourth once the frontrunners’ pit stop strategies shook out having stopped on lap 12 when a safety car was deployed after Romain Grosjean dramatically crashed his Lotus while following Jenson Button.
Poorly-timed pit stops later in the race by Bottas and Räikkönen left them to battle their ways through the field to find Ricciardo following Perez, both with tyres heavily worn by their ambitious pit strategies.
Ricciardo was forced to retire, however, with a suspected suspension problem, leaving Bottas and Räikkönen to swamp Perez on the penultimate lap — but Räikkönen’s ill-judged last-lap move handed the Mexican his first podium since the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix.
“One lap before the end it seemed like everything went away from us,” reflected Perez. “At that point I was really unhappy with myself.
“Many things come to your mind until the last lap. I thought, ‘I gave it my all, there’s no more I can do’. I’d done plenty of laps with my tyres, so I had massive degradation.
“In the last lap when it came, it was just amazing. It’s very nice to give my second podium to this team.
“It just feels great to be back with these boys.”
Felipe Massa finished a miraculous fourth after starting from fifteenth on the grid, the Brazilian bringing home 12 points that would prove the team’s only consolation from the race.
Kimi Räikkönen’s penalty meant the home crowd hero finished fifth from eleventh on the grid.
The Russian was initially ahead of teammate Ricciardo and running in seventh, but pitted after the safety car — the most fruitful strategies being those that took advantage of the safety car window — with late-race retirements promoting him into P5.
Felipe Nasr led Pastor Maldonado in sixth and seventh, ahead of McLaren duo Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.
Alonso, however, copped a five-second penalty for exceeding track limits, dropping him to eleventh and stripping McLaren of it’s double points finish.
Max Verstappen was promoted into the points after finishing in P11 over the line, ahead of the twelfth-classified Bottas and backmarkers Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens.
Carlos Sainz retired with a brake failure after spending the night in hospital for observation due to his mammoth crash in free practice three on Saturday morning.
Romain Grosjean retired after a massive accident, seemingly due to a dramatic aerodynamic failure while following Jenson Button.
Nico Rosberg’s car was retired with his well-publicised throttle problem, while Nico Hülkenberg and Marcus Ericsson became entangled in a first-lap collision.