Lewis Hamilton has one hand on the Formula One world championship after he won the Russian Grand Prix today.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg, was leading the race in Sochi but was forced to retire with a throttle issue on lap seven.
Sebastian Vettel, who finished second, is now Hamilton’s nearest challenger in the title race. Sergio Perez completed the podium for Force India after Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen were involved in a dramatic last-lap collision.
After his lacklustre start in Japan a fortnight ago, Rosberg would have been desperate to secure a strong getaway here.
And, although Hamilton pulled alongside his team-mate, and indeed was at one point marginally ahead, Rosberg hung on to the lead. But by the time the German had got to turn four the safety car had been deployed.
Nico Hulkenberg lost control of his car on the exit of turn two and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, with nowhere to go, clattered into the Force India.
Max Verstappen, the 18-year-old rookie, was also caught up in the first-lap incident, picking up a rear-left puncture which dropped him to the back of the field.
The safety car was in at the end of lap three, but Rosberg was already reporting a issue from within his Mercedes cockpit. “My throttle pedal is broken,” he said – and just three laps later the problem became terminal.
On lap six he was gobbled up by Hamilton for the lead and then on lap seven his race was over, and seemingly so too his slim hopes of catching his Mercedes team-mate in this year’s title race. He is now 73 points behind Hamilton with just a century of points to play for.
Rosberg desperately crawled back to the pit lane – with members of his Mercedes crew even pushing him to his garage – but there was nothing which could be done to resolve the technical gremlin. A beleaguered Rosberg was out of his car. It marked his second retirement in four races.
“It’s unbelievable for something like that to happen,” Rosberg told Sky Sports. “It’s not nice when there is a problem with the throttle pedal. It is a bit of a worry especially as the pedal was coming more and more in my direction and in the end I had to lift my complete leg off the pedal to come off the throttle. Then I can’t steer because my knee was in the steering wheel.”
Back on track and Formula One was holding its breath once more after Lotus driver Romain Grosjean was involved in a huge shunt on lap 12.
A little over 24 hours after Carlos Sainz was airlifted to hospital following his crash in practice, Grosjean was in the wall at turn three. The Frenchman lost control of his car at 160mph, slammed into the barrier and destroyed the right-hand side of his car.
Mercifully Grosjean emerged from his car seemingly unscathed. “I was glad when I opened my eyes I was fine,” he said as he returned to the pits.
The marshals then spent the next 10 minutes repairing the damage to the barriers at turn three and sweeping the debris off the track.
On lap 17 the safety car pulled in, and Hamilton, despite complaining of cold tyres, turned in the fastest lap of the race and from there it was a regulation victory for the Briton.
Hamilton, who was presented his winners’ trophy by Russian president Vladimir Putin, is 66 points ahead of Vettel. If he outscores the Ferrari driver by nine points in Austin and finishes two points ahead of Rosberg he will be crowned champion.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff revealed the T-shirts to celebrate their constructors’ championship were printed and ready to wear here in Sochi.
Raikkonen limped home in fifth meaning the celebrations will have to be put on hold for now. But the Finn’s incident with Bottas on the final lap is under investigation and a subsequent time penalty could see the Silver Arrows win the team title.
Felipe Massa finished fourth for Williams, Daniil Kvyat was sixth in front of his home crowd. Sauber’s Felipe Nasr was seventh, Pastor Maldonado finished eighth while the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10.
Sainz, who was given the green light to race on Sunday morning, was on for a career-best seventh but spun out with only six laps remaining.