And with that it all looks wrapped up. Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team just need to add the cherry on the cake in Austin to become both World and Constructors Champions for 2015, as Hamilton profited from team mate Nico Rosberg’s early retirement.
The second ever Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom provided drama and excitement right to the end, as a collision between Finns Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas gifted Sergio Perez his first podium for 1 and a half years.
Saturday’s Qualifying was overshadowed by events before the flag dropped, Carlos Sainz suffering a brake failure at Turn 13, careering into the barriers in a sickening shunt during Free Practice 3. The Spaniard rendered a passenger, was airlifted to hospital but after several medical checks and close observation was cleared to race. But when Qualifying did get under way, it was Rosberg who took just his third pole position of the season ahead of team mate Hamilton.
With all attention on Rosberg thanks to his first lap misdemeanour last year, the action happened further down the field. Rosberg led Hamilton out of Turn 2 but a spinning Nico Hulkenberg made contact with Marcus Ericsson, instantly ending both of their races and bringing out the Safety Car. However, he may have lead for the first few laps, but Rosberg’s throttle trouble and retirement gifted Hamilton an easy time ensuring he passes Ayrton Senna’s tally of victories.
After the Safety Car pulled in Bottas breezed past Raikkonen for third, before Rosberg complained of a “broken throttle”, explaining that he had to lift his whole leg off the pedal to get the car to slow down affecting his steering thanks to the snug nature of a Formula 1 cockpit. The German surrendered the lead to Hamilton before pulling into the garage on lap 8, never to rejoin.
The shaken but not stirred Sainz fought back up the field in his Toro Rosso from last place to a sterling seventh, fighting with Daniel Ricciardo at the mid point of the race before retiring with yet another brake failure at Turn 13 (albeit slightly less dramatic) just seven laps from the end. In the other Toro Rosso, Max Verstappen was caught up in the Hulkenberg/Ericsson melee, but his comeback drive could only muster an eleventh place finish in a dismal weekend for the Italian team.
Meanwhile at McLaren Honda, there were improvements. Despite feeling like a “sitting duck”, Jenson Button claimed two points and Fernando Alonso took home the final World Championship point in tenth, again providing another jocular exchange with his team during the race.
Lotus had yet another uninspiring race as their future still looks up in the air, Haas bound Romain Grosjean suffering a massive shunt on lap 12 at Turn 3 after slotting into the turbulent air of Button’s McLaren. Pastor Maldonado meanwhile profited from retirements and late drama, uncharacteristically steering clear of trouble to take the flag in eighth.
The main drama came at the end of the race, again through Bottas and Raikkonen, who constantly battled to take that final podium position. The Force India of Perez sat in their way, who’d looked after his ageing tyres superbly for a solid 35 or so laps. As the Mexican struggled, the Williams and Ferrari loomed larger and larger in his mirrors in the final laps and on the penultimate lap, both the Finnish drivers passed Perez at Turn 13 and looked as if they’d fly off into the distance condemning him to fifth place. Yet on the final lap, a desperate Raikkonen tried a do or die move on Bottas at Turn 4, clipping the Williams sending it into the barriers, and causing damage to his Ferrari. Perez trundled on past to claim the podium spot once more. Bottas was eventually classified in twelfth and Raikkonen limped home to fifth, yet faces trouble from the stewards which could give Mercedes the Championship.
Meanwhile, Hamilton rounded the final few corners to end a masterful drive, once he inherited the lead he didn’t put a foot wrong with Vettel taking second in the race and the Championship. He now looks like the only threat to Hamilton, 66 points behind. Rosberg is 73 behind with just 100 points left to score this year.
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