Nico Rosberg’s blistering run of form continued on Sunday in Sochi as he claimed his seventh successive Formula 1 race win by dominating the Russian Grand Prix.
Rosberg recorded his first F1 ‘grand slam’ by leading every lap of the race from pole position en route to victory while also setting the fastest lap, allowing him to extend his championship lead to 43 points.
Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton capitalized on a messy first lap to rise to second after the sole round of pit stops, only for a water pressure issue to force him to ease his pace and settle for second place.
While Rosberg went relatively unchallenged at the front, the race in the midfield offered a number of fascinating scraps at the Sochi Autodrom as Ferrari and Red Bull both came unstuck.
Rosberg made a good start to hold onto his lead on the long run down to Turn 2, with Kimi Raikkonen battling his way past Valtteri Bottas for second place. Just behind, Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat diced for position much as they did in China, this time resulting in contact.
Vettel was punted from behind by Kvyat, sending him into the wall at Turn 3 and bringing his race to an early end. Daniel Ricciardo also got caught in the incident, leaving both Red Bulls requiring repairs, while Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierez tangled further back.
Having battled his way up to fifth amid the chaos, Hamilton was able to jump up to fourth when the race returned to green on lap four. Bottas was able to re-pass Raikkonen for second, with Hamilton quickly latching onto the back of the Finnish duo. The Briton quickly disposed of Raikkonen, but struggled to get close to Bottas thanks to the straight line speed of the Williams car, allowing Rosberg to escape up the road.
By the time Bottas pitted and released Hamilton into second place, Rosberg’s lead stood at 14 seconds, putting him in total control of the race. Mercedes reacted to Williams’ move by bringing in Hamilton one lap later, only for him to emerge from the pits once again staring at Bottas’ rear wing.
This time around, Hamilton wasted little time. After taking a lap to warm his tires up, Hamilton dived down the inside of Bottas at Turn 2 to move into net second place, leaving only Rosberg ahead once the pit stop cycle was complete. Raikkonen’s decision to go four laps longer paid off as he passed Bottas once again, while Rosberg was the last of the front-runners to pit, emerging with a lead of 12 seconds over Hamilton.
Hamilton refused to back down in the battle for the win though. With tire wear being low around the Sochi Autodrom, none of the leaders had to pit again, leaving Hamilton to try and catch Rosberg without gaining time through the pits. He duly delivered a set of blistering lap times to cut the gap down to just 7.5 seconds as Rosberg lost chunks of time through the first sector on each lap.
However, Hamilton’s charge was duly stunted when Mercedes informed him of a water pressure issue on his car with 165 laps remaining. From here, the focus became getting Hamilton to the finish, leaving Rosberg to manage his pace and his car at the head of the pack.
It proved to be a hassle-free end to the race for Rosberg, who crossed the line after 53 laps to score his seventh victory in a row, a feat only matched by three drivers in F1 history.
Hamiton was informed that the issue had stabilized later in the race, but Rosberg was already too far away, leaving the Briton to settle for second place at the checkered flag. After four races, the deficit to Rosberg now stands at 43 points, leaving Hamilton with a mountain to climb heading to the start of the European season in Spain later this month.
Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium for Ferrari after opening up a comfortable gap to Bottas after his pit stop, going some way to make up for Vettel’s retirement. Bottas led Williams’ charge in P4 ahead of teammate Felipe Massa as both continued their points-scoring streaks.
Fernando Alonso chalked up his first points of the 2016 season by finishing sixth for McLaren, keeping himself out of trouble while most of the midfield got tangled up at the first corner. Jenson Button made it a doubly delightful day for the team by finishing 10th after passing Carlos Sainz Jr. for P10 with four laps remaining, marking his first points of 2015.
The result marked a significant breakthrough for the team as it finally delivered on the promise it had shown in the early races, while it also ended a pointless run dating back to last year’s United States Grand Prix.
Kevin Magnussen was another driver to pick up a ‘first’ in Russia as he claimed Renault’s maiden points since returning to F1 as a constructor in 2016. A good start followed by a consistent pace allowed him to finish seventh, while teammate Jolyon Palmer missed out on his first F1 points in P13.
Haas returned to the points after one race away courtesy of Romain Grosjean, who was another beneficiary from the early drama. Canny tire management allowed the Frenchman to finish eighth after fending off a charging Sergio Perez in the final stages of the race, leaving the Force India driver to settle for P9 at the flag.
After being caught up in the first-lap drama and gambling on medium tires, Daniel Ricciardo fought his way back to 12th at the finish despite being forced into a second pit stop. Teammate Kvyat was hit with a penalty for causing the Vettel shunt, limiting him to a 15th-place finish behind Sainz and Marcus Ericsson.
Felipe Nasr crossed the line 16th in the second Sauber ahead of Esteban Gutierrez, who was also penalized for hitting Hulkenberg at the first corner. Pascal Wehrlein was the last classified finisher for Manor in P18. Max Verstappen and Rio Haryanto joined Vettel and Hulkenberg on the sidelines, failing to finish the race.