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F1 Russia: Hamilton wins in the rain; Verstappen starts last, finishes second

Sochi, Russia, Sept 26/21 (GRW): Going into the Russian Grand Prix, the prospects of both the two leading contenders of the championship looked poor - but, in the end, they produced a usual result: Lewis Hamilton first, Max Verstappen second. Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz round out the podium three.

Daniel Ricciardo was classified in fourth place while Valtteri Bottas was fifth. As for the Canadian drivers, Lance Stroll was 11th while Nicolas Latifi was a DNF in last place.

In qualifying, max Verstappen did not even attempt to set a lap time given that he already knew that he was going to start at the very back of grid due to a three-grid-position penalty from the previous race and an back-of-the-grid penalty for using a fourth engine (a cost-saving measure to discourage teams from using more than three engines in the season). As for Hamilton, a troubled qualifying session, including a crash in pit lane, saw him starting in fourth place behind Lando Norris (McLaren), Sainz, and George Russell (Williams). Red Bull’s Sergio Perez started in ninth place while Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was seventh on the grid.

This unusual grid order and the prospect of rain produced a race with a lot of different front runners. In the closing laps, rain complicated things and helped both Hamilton and Verstappen to achieve an unexpectedly good result.

At the start, Sainz shot into the lead ahead of Norris and Russell – and they ran this way until the first round of pit stops began on lap 12 of the 53-lap race. Then Norris took over the race lead ahead of fellow McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo. By then, Hamilton had moved up to third place, delaying his first pit stop until lap 26.

More pit stops at this point saw the race order shuffled to Perez, Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc – but as the second round of pit stops continued, Norris regained the lead ahead of Hamilton and Sainz. Meanwhile, Verstappen, who had started at the back, had worked his way up to seventh.

The race might had ended up like this except for the arrival if rain about lap 47 which upset things. Should they call in their driver for intermediate (rain) tires or leave them out for the few remaining laps in hopes they could manage on their slicks and hang to the end like that. Significantly, Verstappen, Sainz and Hamilton were among those who gave up track position b y pitting for intermediates. Notably, Norris, who now had a 26-second lead over Hamilton opted to stay out and hope for the best.

Within a couple of laps, it was evident that those on the intermediates were rapidly overtaking those on slicks. Norris’s tires failed him and slid off letting Hamilton though into the lead while Verstappen was charging ahead on his intermediates and he jumped from seventh to third on lap 50. After his off, Norris conceded defeat and he came in for intermediates as well, as Verstappen and Sainz moved up to second and third. And that was their finishing order - Hamilton, Verstappen, Sainz.

After pit stop, Norris fell back an he finished in seventh place, 87 seconds behind Hamilton. But then, Verstappen crossed the line in second place a full 53 seconds back of Hamilton. In all, it was an unexpected race result.

As expected when Verstappen took the back-of-grid penalty, Hamilton was able to regain the championship points lead, but Verstappen’s remarkable back-to-second place performance minimized Hamilton lead to a mere two points advantage – 246.5 points to 244.5.

This was Hamilton’s long-awaited 100th F1 career win. “Wow... 100! It's taken a long time and I wasn't even sure the 100th would come! Going to bed last night I wasn't the happiest with the job I did yesterday. I watched the replay over and over again; they were subtle mistakes but I was so determined to put things right when I woke up this morning.

“Today was tough - I lost a lot of ground at the start, just trying to stay out of trouble. I was patient and at the end, when the rain came, I didn't want to let Lando go by boxing. Of course I didn't know what the rain was doing, it was just my feeling but I'm incredibly grateful to the strategy team for the job they did today. Getting anywhere near 100 victories wouldn't be possible without the hard work of the men and women here and back at the factory, I'm so grateful to them - it just feels so special.

“Lando did an amazing job today, he had incredible pace and he's doing such a great job for McLaren. It was bittersweet to see my old team ahead, they're doing so well powered by Mercedes and it's good to see them united again. Max did a good job to come up from second to last, the battle continues and we know we need to be on top form over the remaining races.”

• Click HERE for the Race Results

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