Lewis Hamilton got a strategic assist from Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas en route to winning the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom on Sunday.
After starting alongside pole-sitter Bottas on the front row, the pair found themselves challenging Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for the lead midway through the race. Verstappen had inherited first place having yet to pit at the point.
On lap 25, with a charging Sebastian Vettel honing in on Hamilton and with Hamilton’s rear tyres beginning to blister, Mercedes team officials directed Bottas to let Hamilton past, therefore allowing him to build a gap ahead of Vettel.
With only 11 laps, to go, Verstappen eventually pitted, gifting Hamilton the lead. Bottas, who had won in Russia last season, had asked his team if the positions would be reversed, but was told to stay in second place and give Hamilton the win.
The result earned Hamilton his 70th career victory in Formula 1 and 49th for Mercedes. Bottas was the runner-up 2.545 seconds behind, while Vettel eventually claimed the final podium step 7.487s back.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was fourth 16.543s adrift, while Verstappen, who was celebrating his 21st birthday, had arguably the best performance of the race finishing in fifth 31.016 from first place, despite starting all the way back in 19th.
Daniel Ricciardo, also of Red Bull, was sixth and Charles Leclerc of Sauber seventh. The points winners were rounded out by Kevin Magnussen of Haas in eighth, and the Force India pair of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez in ninth and 10th, respectively.
Raikkonen’s classification in fourth was the 200th time in his career that he finished in the points, joining only Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso as the only trio to do so.
After the race, Hamilton commented: “Valtteri was an incredible gentleman today. Honestly, it’s the strangest day I can remember having in the sport in my career. I remember, we have crossed this situation and discussion before. It’s always felt super uncomfortable, I was like ’Look, I want to win the right way’, that’s always how it is for me. I would say ’Look, as racing drivers we exist to win, and if you tell us we can’t win, it’s like you are taking our air away, our life away’. It’s that deep. I would never wish it upon anyone else and would never ask for it, ever. I made sure when we were in a meeting before, I was like ’Just so you know, I’ve never gone to Toto and those guys, this is not how I want to win’.
“Obviously, the team took the decision when they saw that my tyres were blistered and Vettel was charging from behind. There are stronger heads in the team who are like ’We have to win, it’s all about the win. We have got to win both Championships, we don’t care who finishes ahead’.
“I think ultimately, it’s really important right this second to first acknowledge Valtteri, because as I said he was just the ultimate gentleman. It is very weird to feel down but we’ve also got to feel grateful to the guys back at the factory. So many people are working flat-out to make sure we have a 1-2 like this, the team have just done an incredible job this weekend.
“We have to really embrace the moment still, but it’s definitely a victory on my list of wins that I am least proud of.”
The Formula 1 season returns this very next weekend with the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on October 7.