The rain came late in the Russian Grand Prix race in Sochi and changed everything! From then on the Russian Grand Prix presented a completely different challenge in the wet which tossed aside all that had gone before. Those who had pitted and chosen intermediate tyres instead of the slick hard tyres for drier conditions were able to get the most out of their cars in the rain. Those still on the slick hard tyres were casualties.
Lando Norris for McLaren was on pole after a brilliant qualifying run and led for most of the race – Except there was a Carlos Sainz, Ferrari attack in the first lap that gave Carlos the lead temporarily – before Lando overtook him and took the lead back. And Lando was still leading 6 laps before the end of the race and looking good to win before the rain hit; and he was still leading with only 3 laps to go, except Hamilton on better tyres was attacking hard. However, Lando had made a terrible strategic call not to change his tyres to deal with the possibility of rainwhen his McLaren team urged him to do so.
The rain came tumbling down and the gap between Hamilton who was chasing him with superior-in-the-wet intermediate tires and Norris shrank with each corner. And then came the moment that changed the race: Norris slid off the track on the next to last lap. His hopes of a win were over in the most merciless fashion, and he dragged himself back to the pits too late for those wet-efficient tyres collecting a caution for crossing the entry on his way in.
As for Hamilton, he jumped on his chance for the lead and held it for the last lap for his 100th Grand Prix win – the only time in F1 history that a driver has scored that many wins and the first to score a total of 4,000 points in his F1 career.
Ferrari Bitter Sweet
Carlos Sainz had had a great qualifying run ending in second position on the grid for the race behind McLaren’s Lando Norris. This was Carlos’ best qualifying result ever. And he also drove an excellent race – and importantly pitted for intermediate tyres to handle the late wet conditions. Which meant he ended up on the podium in third place. A sweet result for him and Ferrari.
As for Charles, the Ferrari team had tasked him to try out a new fourth engine ahead of next season. That extra engine change came with an automatic penalty which had him starting at the back of the field. Displaying extraordinary skill he tore through the pack on Lap 1 up to 12th from 19th on the grid!
And it didn’t stop there, by Lap 42 Charles Leclerc continued making the most of his tyre advantage. He had overtaken Ocon, Raikkonen and Vettel in recent laps, charging to get into the points. A good recovery for the Monagasque ace after his engine penalty.
But just as the rain killed Lando Norris’ chances, so too it had a bitter effect on Charles Leclerc’s. All that work advancing through the field for naught. Because in the end he dropped to 15th because he had stayed on slick hard tyres hoping the rain would decrease , having given his team-mate priority to change tyres for the rain.
The rain was a gift to Hamilton for Mercedes and Verstappen for Red Bull both of whom even with skillful racing would not have chased down Lando Norris for McLaren but for the rain and the fact they were on the right tyres.
Hamilton took victory, followed by Verstappen and Sainz. Hamilton’s win is all the more important given that Verstappen, against all odds, managed to go from 20th on the grid to arrive in second place at the chequered flag.
And the drivers’ championship remains just as exciting as before with Hamilton changing places with Max Verstappen in the standings; Verstappen had gone into the Russian Grand Prix with a 5 point lead. The gap is now two points in the Briton Lewis Hamilton’s favour.
Cross fingers for Charles Leclerc’s and Ferrari’s fortunes in the next Grand Prix in Istanbul, Turkey on October 10th.