Lewis Hamilton took his 100th Grand Prix victory in a Russian Grand Prix that started in dry conditions and ended under rain, the Mercedes driver making a late switch to intermediate tires to take the lead when pole-sitter Lando Norris literally slid out of the lead with just two laps left.
Although he fell to seventh at the start, Hamilton’s pace was competitive on his medium tires and he pitted on Lap 27 for hards, before Norris – who had scored a sensational first pole on Saturday and dueled with Sainz early in the race – and once the pitstop sequences had finished by Lap 38 it was Norris leading a rapid Hamilton. The pair were just one-second apart in the closing stages.
Attention quickly turned to the matter of the Norris-Hamilton battle, the two drivers duelling for the lead and just a second apart. It looked like it would be a straightforward race between them until the end. That was, until the umbrellas emerged with just over five laps remaining. Would the drivers make it home and dry on slicks? Or would a switch to intermediates be necessary?
Hamilton continued to chase, resisting calls to pit for intermediates as others around him switched to the green-banded rain tires. And with just three laps left he would finally take the plunge, emerging well behind Norris – the McLaren driver leading, but on slick tires.
The rain tumbled down, the gap between Hamilton and Norris shrinking by the corner, and then came the moment that changed the race: Norris slid off the track on the penultimate lap. His hopes of a maiden win were over in the cruellest fashion, and he limped back to the pits for those intermediates, collecting a reprimand for crossing the entry on his way in.
As for Hamilton, he took the lead and held it for the last lap for his 100th Grand Prix win.
Verstappen was assured a top five finish before the rain fell, but a calculated switch to brand new intermediates helped him clinch P2 from last on the grid, ensuring that even in the most eventful race, he could secure a podium – albeit 53 seconds off his rival Hamilton.
Sainz completed the podium for Ferrari, having gained the lead at the start and pitted earlier than his rivals to stay in the hunt before a pitch-perfect switch to used intermediates. In fourth was Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian up to P2 before pitting on Lap 23, his late-race pace proving enough to beat Mercedes’ Bottas. The Finn’s hopes of a top-five finish seemed slim as he was running in 14th before the rain came, but he rallied in the wet after a Lap 47 stop for inters, to pull of a fortunate recovery to P5 from P17.
With victory No. 100, Hamilton’s title lead stands at just two points over Verstappen – while Mercedes are 33 points ahead of Red Bull. The Turkish Grand Prix is up next on October 8-10.