Friday 15 December 2017

Hamilton equals Mansell's record with Sochi triumph

Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning the first Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. Photo: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning the first Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. Photo: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

David Tremayne

Lewis Hamilton's fourth win in a row and his ninth of the season brought him level with Nigel Mansell as the most successful British Formula One driver of all time in terms of race victories, but the inaugural Russian Grand Prix was overshadowed by Jules Bianchi's terrible accident a week earlier.

Hamilton's 31st race win increased his world championship lead to 17 points over team-mate Nico Rosberg, who finished second at the Sochi Autodrom, with three races left to run. The Mercedes drivers' ninth one-two of the season allowed their team to clinch their first constructors' title. Williams' Valtteri Bottas finished third ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button.

The dawn of this new era in Russian motorsport was heavy on the propaganda, with President Vladimir Putin, who would later present the winner's trophy to Hamilton, and King Hamad of Bahrain in attendance.

A spectacular and nationalistic opening ceremony featured 1,000 people as street parade met carnival, with Cossacks performing their traditional Lezginka combat dance and volunteers carrying the national blue, white and red colours in gigantic strips down the startline of the Sochi Autodrom.

The gaiety of the occasion was in stark and poignant contrast to the underlying mood of sadness in the paddock in the preceding days, where so many people had been hurting in the aftermath of Bianchi's horrible accident at Suzuka last Sunday.

As F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, dignitaries and the drivers lined up at the front of the grid for the singing of the Russian national anthem, a digital image pasted the words: "Jules, we are all supporting you" on to the tarmac for television presentation.

And the Frenchman continued to cast a long shadow as the drivers formed a semi-circle in tribute to him. In the Marussia garage, car No17 sat there, primed and ready to go as the Banbury team's silent tribute.

However, for the next hour and a half it was business as usual. When the visors came down for the start, it was every man for himself. More tears would doubtless fall again later, but now the focus of high-speed competition demanded complete concentration as warriors headed back into battle despite the questions many had to ask themselves in the intervening days.

Hamilton led the field from pole, but Rosberg got a run on him going down to the tight first corner. There the German nosed ahead, but at a high price.

He braked viciously, locking his front wheels. From that moment on Hamilton was set up for a walk in the park.

Messed up

"It was definitely doable, I just messed up," Rosberg confessed, showing once more his new-found ability to take setbacks on the chin since the chastening aftermath of his infamous collision with Hamilton in Belgium.

"No explanation, I just braked too hard," Rosberg said. "It was very unnecessary as it was my corner, so obviously I'm very disappointed with that. But after that the front tyres were just square and vibrating so much that I couldn't see where I was going." Ironically, this was the one track of the season where grip levels were so high that single tyre stops were the order of the day. Thus Rosberg was immediately condemned to complete the remaining 52 laps on one set of tyres after pitting for fresh rubber at the end of the lap.

Hamilton, meanwhile, eased away from Bottas' initially bothersome Williams until the Finn's rear tyres began to lose their bite.

And after that it was plain sailing all the way to a meeting with Putin at the finish.

"Obviously Nico did a great job to recover from his mistake, and our car was performing really well. We did a great job as a team, and today is history for us.

"I feel really proud to be part of it, the first world championship for constructors for Mercedes is amazing. I could only dream of that when I first joined this team.

"Once I was in the lead I could look after the tyres, and managing the fuel was quite straightforward." (© Independent News Service)

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