The risky switch to inters that won Lewis Hamilton the Russian GP

In a new series for Autosport, we take a look at the moments and calls pivotal to deciding each grand prix, and find out what was the winning formula.

Sunday’s dramatic Russian Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton scored a historic 100th Formula 1 win after a late rain shower shook up proceedings in Sochi.

It ended in heartbreak for Lando Norris, who was just a few laps away from his maiden grand prix victory before a decision to stay out on slicks backfired, leaving the McLaren driver feeling devastated.

Sochi was always going to be a big opportunity for Hamilton and Mercedes in the title race. Red Bull opted to change Max Verstappen’s power unit after losing an engine in the Silverstone crash, meaning the Dutch driver would start at the back of the grid.

But Hamilton’s hopes of maximising the chance on offer were compromised by a messy qualifying session. Two mistakes and some unfortunate timing meant he couldn’t set a time on slicks, leaving him fourth on the grid as Norris took his first F1 pole.

Norris feared he would be a sitting duck on the long run to Turn 2 thanks to the powerful slipstream, and he did lose the lead as his former McLaren team-mate, Carlos Sainz Jr, moved ahead. But Hamilton also ended up going backwards after getting boxed in at Turn 2, leaving him as low as seventh on the first lap.

Sainz and Norris were able to pull clear of the pack through the opening stint. Tyre graining caused Sainz’s times to drop off, allowing Norris to pass him for the lead on lap 13.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Norris had no such problems managing his medium tyres, stretching his stint all the way to lap 28 - two laps longer than Hamilton, who had fallen almost 14 seconds behind the McLaren after getting stuck behind Daniel Ricciardo.

But once Hamilton had clean air and a fresh set of hard tyres following his stop, and after quickly passing Lance Stroll, Sainz and Pierre Gasly, he was able to carve into Norris’s advantage, setting fastest lap after fastest lap.

A gap of eight seconds on lap 30 had been reduced to less than two seconds by lap 40, forcing Norris to dig deep and start to respond to Hamilton’s pace by posting some fastest laps of his own. The gap continued to fall though, leaving Hamilton almost within DRS range of Norris entering the final 10 laps.

And then, after a race of radio messages and eyes on the sky, the rain finally arrived. The fans were first to react, digging out their umbrellas and raincoats in the grandstands, and it left the drivers facing a critical call: do we pit for intermediates, or stay out on dry tyres?

Rain initially hit the track around Turn 5, but was not heavy enough to make it immediately wet enough for intermediates despite some slippery moments. Norris and Hamilton both said they wanted to continue on slicks for the time being, with Norris making his thoughts very clear to engineer Will Joseph on the radio.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M , Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M , Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

A couple of minutes later though, the rain was growing heavier - and more was coming on the radar. On lap 48, Hamilton was told to pit by his engineer, Pete Bonnington. But he ignored the call, carrying on for another lap as he closed right up on Norris.

Aware that conditions would only worsen, Mercedes jumped back on the radio to Hamilton, adamant that it was the right decision to pit. On lap 49, he finally came into the pits for a set of intermediates. Norris was now left all alone at the front, tip-toeing around the damp track after committing to staying out.

Sadly for Norris, it was the wrong decision. On lap 51, Norris spun off the track and was left struggling to keep his car in a straight line. He eventually hauled his car into the pits, cutting the white line at pit entry and landing a reprimand in the process, in a lap that was timed at more than three minutes.

By the time Norris was back out, he had fallen all the way to eighth place. He managed to regain a position by passing Kimi Raikkonen late on, but seventh was far less than he deserved.

McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl conceded after the race that the team could perhaps have been firmer with Norris to get him to pit, and will review what happened. You can be sure that Norris will learn from the experience and come back stronger for when he does finally win his first grand prix.

For Hamilton though, the timing had been just right. He was able to cross the line over 50 seconds clear of the field, making it the biggest winning margin in a grand prix since his win at Silverstone in 2008 - even if the gap to the rest of the pack did not tell the full story of a race.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st position, with his trophy

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st position, with his trophy

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The late rain allowed Max Verstappen to recover to second place, meaning Hamilton’s championship lead is just two points heading to Turkey. With the title battle so finely poised, calls such as the switch to inters in Sochi could prove critical.

F1 is not a game of chance. It’s a game of strategy. So is winning big in poker or casino. See where your strategy can get you. https://promo.partypoker.com/en/promo/lp/motorsport

18+, New UK players only, T&Cs Apply, Gamble Responsibly

shares
comments
F1 Heroes celebrated in a new photo book
Previous article

F1 Heroes celebrated in a new photo book

Next article

Williams F1 car "the best it's ever felt" in Russia - Latifi

Williams F1 car "the best it's ever felt" in Russia - Latifi
Load comments
How getting sacked gave Mercedes F1’s tech wizard lasting benefits Plus

How getting sacked gave Mercedes F1’s tech wizard lasting benefits

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells STUART CODLING about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Plus

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at
 Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as BEN ANDERSON discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren  Plus

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren 

From being lapped by his own team-mate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021
The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Plus

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing windtunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that’s made Hamilton’s title charge tougher Plus

The invisible enemy that’s made Hamilton’s title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles at a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1’s inconvenient penalties have to stay Plus

Why F1’s inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021’s title fight climax Plus

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021’s title fight climax

OPINION: Red Bull has had Formula 1’s fastest package for most of 2021, but in several of the title run-in events it has wasted the RB16B’s potential. It cannot afford to do so again with Lewis Hamilton motoring back towards Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings with two rounds remaining

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
Qatar Grand Prix Driver Ratings Plus

Qatar Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Qatar was a virtual unknown for most as Formula 1 made its inaugural visit to the Gulf state, and tyre management quickly emerged as an even more critical factor than normal. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that two of the championship's elder statesmen produced standout drives

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021