Hamilton has the last laugh on team orders in Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin presents Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton with the winner’s trophy while second-placedValtteri Bottas (left) looks on at the end of the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi on Sunday.

Sochi: Lewis Hamilton closed in on his fifth Formula One title with victory in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix after his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, pulled over to let him through halfway into the race.

Hamilton now leads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 50 points in the standings with five races remaining as both chase their fifth title.

As Vettel put Hamilton under pressure on lap 25, a call came over team radio for Bottas to let his teammate through, and the Finn complied.

“It’s actually quite a difficult day because Valtteri did a fantastic job all weekend, and he was really a gentleman to let me by,” Hamilton said. “I can understand how difficult it must be for Valtteri. He did a fantastic job today and deserved to win.”

Mercedes strategist James Vowles defended the move by saying Hamilton had a “small blister” on his tyre and could have fallen behind Vettel.

Bottas, who has previously objected to being described as Hamilton’s wingman, said it was “a really difficult day,” adding “obviously a really good result for the team.”

After Bottas gave up his chance for a first win this season, Hamilton cruised to his eighth victory and fifth in the last six races. It was Mercedes’ third one-two finish this year. Vettel was third.

Bottas’ messages to the team suggested he expected Hamilton would hand back first place to him after the danger from Vettel had eased.

Hamilton had earlier held off Vettel at the start and briefly dropped behind him at the pit stops before overtaking the German driver in the race’s only competitive overtake for a top position.

“Is this how we are going to finish the race?” he asked, before the answer came back in the affirmative.

“Valtteri this is Toto. Difficult day for you and a difficult day for us,” said team boss Toto Wolff, whose finger had been captured by the world television feed hovering over the ‘tactics’ button before the order was given.

“Let’s discuss it afterwards when we come together and we’ll explain things.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen started 19th on his 21st birthday but charged through the field to finish fifth, though he couldn’t challenge the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen ahead of him.

Behind Verstappen was the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. Charles Leclerc, who’s replacing Raikkonen at Ferrari next year, was seventh after another strong drive for Sauber, ahead of Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.

The two Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez rounded out the top 10.

 

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