MERCEDES won the constructors’ championship and Lewis Hamilton moved to within a whisker of winning the drivers’ championship after triumphing at an action-packed Grand Prix in Sochi, with Sebastian Vettel finishing second and Sergio Perez claiming a stunning third place.
Seven of the 20 drivers dropped out overall, the joint-most this season alongside the British and Australian Grands Prix. The first of these occurred almost immediately after ‘lights out’, when Nico Hulkenberg of Force India got his car in a spin, catching both Max Verstappen and Marcus Ericsson, of Toro Rosso and Sauber, as they tried to go past him. 18-year-old Verstappen was able to carry on but the race was over on the very first lap for the Swedish driver Ericsson and his German rival Hulkenberg. As a result, the safety car was called, bunching up the field. It was removed two laps later, with Rosberg leading Hamilton at this point and Räikkönen occupying the final podium place, in his ultimately futile bid to overhaul the Mercedes pair. Shortly after, Bottas stepped on the power to move past the Finn into third. Lap seven then saw a decisive move from Hamilton, as the two-time World Champion capitalised on a mistake by Rosberg, who ran wide and couldn’t recover his position. The German’s woes with his throttle continued, as he was passed by Bottas. This was the signal that he needed to step out of the firing line, and on the on the next lap he decided to pull into the pits and subsequently retired. Another serious crash on lap 12, this time to Romain Grosjean, forced the safety car to be called out again. The rear end of his car flipped out, and, although he tried to make a correction, it was not enough to stop the car smashing into the barriers, leaving debris all over the track.
After the second restart, Vettel and Räikkönen came out with renewed intent, looking to put pressure on Bottas and Hamilton in front. The Ferraris were jostling for third place, and they came close to clashing, with the German driver not quite making the inroads necessary to grab third place. However, a matter of seconds later Räikkönen was forced to concede the position. For the next ten laps or so, the race was relatively uneventful, but then drama unfolded once more, as Bottas started to experience problems with his tyres. He was therefore forced to pit, and then Vettel and Räikkönen came in in quick succession. It was the four-time World Champion who had the more successful re-entry, emerging ahead of Ricciardo and Bottas, and shortly after overtaking the Force India of Perez.
Bottas and Räikkönen were enjoying a real scrap for fifth, and the two Finns were going wheel-to-wheel, with the former just holding onto his position. Perez was starting to struggle, and many of the chasing pack, including Räikkönen, Felipe Massa and Daniil Kvyat were starting to believe that they could catch him. Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz suffered brake failure and retired, with Daniel Ricciardo following suit soon afterwards.
However, there many more twists and turns to come. Bottas managed to go up the inside of Perez into third, while Räikkönen also took advantage of the Mexican’s struggles to push the Force India man into fifth. It seemed as if Perez’s chance of a podium place had eluded him, but luck was on his side a matter of seconds later. Räikkönen’s car locked up and smashed into the side of the Williams driver, sending the car spinning into the barriers. This also caused his Ferrari driver significant problems, and he was not able to get close to his previous speed, allowing Perez back into third in an extraordinary culmination to the race. Hamilton ultimately cruised to victory, and after securing his ninth season win, is within touching distance of his second successive crown with his new team.
There was yet more drama after the race, with Räikkönen sanctioned for his part in the crash that ended Bottas’ race. The Espoo-born racer, who had initially finished fifth, was given a 30-second penalty, meaning that he dropped to eighth, handing the constructors’ title to Mercedes. It caps off another superb season for the team, and if Hamilton could secure the drivers’ championship in Austin in two weeks’ time, that would be the cherry on the cake.