Lewis Hamilton took a fortuitous Sochi victory as Sebastian Vettel retired with an MGU-K failure, costing Scuderia Ferrari a one-two finish as the Maranello outfit’s own internal rivalries overshadowed their race.
With the long run down to the first heavy braking zone of turn two pivotal to the races outcome, it was no wonder pole-sitting Leclerc admitted that it wasn’t ideal starting position. It was his team-mate that duly capitalised on this.
Reminiscent of Valtteri Bottas in 2017, Vettel launched past Hamilton and utilised the slipstream to pass Leclerc. Meanwhile, the McLaren F1 cars of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris both made incredible launches to leave them fourth and sixth respectively.
Further back in the pack Romain Grosjean was sent into a premature retirement due to a three-wide movement with Antonio Giovinazzi and Daniel Ricciardo. The latter duo were sent to the rear of the pack with damage.
In all of the chaos Kimi Räikkönen also jumped the start, compounding Alfa Romeo’s day further as the Finn was served with a drive-through penalty.
Scuderia Ferrari then made a highly-contentious strategy call, telling Leclerc that Vettel will let him through. The German duly set a fastest while arguing his case that Leclerc needs to close up to the rear of the lead car.
Behind all of this Bottas finally usurped Sainz, while Max Verstappen moved past Sergio Pérez into turn four. Then on lap twelve the aforementioned Dutchman moved up into the top six, relieving Norris of his top-six birth.
Nico Hülkenberg then produced a superb move on Pérez to take eighth for Renault, next in his sights would be the young Brit, Lando Norris. The Enstone- squad attempted an undercut to surpass their rivals, only for a slow-stop to scupper their challenge somewhat.
Verstappen finally promoted himself to fifth, passing Sainz. Meanwhile, team-mate Alex Albon was up to twelfth from the pitlane. However, the Thai-driver began to complain of brake problems as he moved to the rear of his predecessor, Pierre Gasly.
Norris then pitted from seventh, coming out well clear of Hülkenberg as the Renault driver struggled with traffic. Sainz Jr. then pited from sixth and he retained track position over his team-mate.
Ferrari then pulled the trigger with the pit-stops, as they called Leclerc in at the end of lap twenty-two. Ferrari continued to leave race-leader Vettel out as he complained of high tyre-wear, with Leclerc now moving into range to undercut Vettel as Ferrari continued to baffle the paddock strategically.
Vettel entered the pits at the end of lap twenty-six with a smoke-screen surrounding him as he locked-up. Following the stops Leclerc came out clear of the German, and while we awaited Vettel’s response to move he simply pulled over to the side of the circuit with no MGU-K, depriving us of a remarkable finish.
Vettel’s stricken Ferrari brought out the Virtual Safety Car, leaving the drivers without a pit-stop in the best position as they capitalised on the situation.
George Russell then looked to pick up a brake-failure as he went straight on into the Armco. In all of the chaos the order changed dramatically as the script was truly ripped up in Sochi.
Leclerc then gambled on a set of scrubbed soft tyres, as he aimed to challenge the Silver Arrows on the restart.
Hamilton led, breaking the record for most races led in the sports history, from Bottas, Leclerc, Verstappen, Sainz, Magnussen, Norris, Perez, Stroll with Albon rounding out the points.
The Safety car came in at the end of lap thirty-two and Leclerc aimed to harry Bottas for second, yet as much as he aimed to use Ferrari’s superior power unit , he couldn’t get close enough to make a move.
Behind all of this Albon was up to seventh, ahead of Perez and Norris, while Hülkenberg had passed Stroll for the final point. The Thai driver then pressed onto Magnussen, while Norris struggled for pace, allowing Hülkenberg through. Albon managed to pass Albon with ten laps to go, giving himself time to chase Sainz.
Albon completed his charge by demoting Sainz to sixth in another sterling come-back drive for Albon.
It was meant to be for Hamilton, with Bottas taking a Mercedes one-two ahead of a dejected Leclec. Verstappen drove to a lonely fourth, ahead of Albon who charged past Sainz’s McLaren. Perez took a superb seventh for Racing Point while Magnussen was denied eighth due to a five-second time-penalty for not following the bollards through turn two. This dropped him to ninth, leaving Norris as the beneficiary of the penalty. Meanwhile, Hülkenberg rounded out the points.