Ton up Hamilton chases down Norris to win dramatic Russian GP

Lewis Hamilton maintained Mercedes’ perfect record at the Sochi Autodrom, chasing down compatriot and pole sitter Lando Norris to win a dramatic Russian Grand Prix and with it his 100th.

Victory for Hamilton was his fifth at the circuit and an eighth for Mercedes on the bounce. More importantly it meant the Englishman regained the lead of the championship by two points, main rival Max Verstappen finishing a superb second after charging from the back of the field as a late downpour scuppered Norris’ race.

“I just want to start by saying a big thank you to all these fans,” said Hamilton after another landmark victory. “I know its not been the best of weather but what a race it provided so a big thank you to everyone in Russia for having us.

“Its taken a long time to obviously get to a hundred and I wasn’t even sure whether or not it would come. Lando did such an amazing job, he had incredible pace and did such a great job for McLaren. It’s very bitter sweet obviously to see my old team ahead and doing so well. They won the last race so they’re doing fantastic obviously powered by Mercedes so good to see them united again.”

It was a bad start from Hamilton, the champion dropping to seventh as Sainz grabbed the lead from Norris and Russell, Stroll another fast starter up to fourth from eighth on the grid.

With the Sochi Autodrom providing a tough technical challenge with a mix of medium to low speed corners, overtaking opportunities would always be few and far between.

Once again, when the running order settled down, it would be the all-important pit stops that would be critical to deciding the key places. Stroll was the first of the big hitters to roll the dice, swooping into the pits on lap 13 for a set of hard compound tyres.

It triggered a flurry of stops, Norris getting past Sainz for the lead down the back straight with a textbook pass. Next in was Russell a lap later, promoting Hamilton momentarily to third but unable to make inroads into Ricciardo ahead of him.

McLaren were first to react, pitting Ricciardo on lap 23. But a slow stop gave Hamilton the advantage and track position after his stop. When the dust settled after the first series of stops it was Norris who retained the net lead from Hamilton for a grandstand finish to the flag.

Then more drama as rain hit the circuit with five laps remaining, Hamilton taking the gamble to dive in for intermediates as Norris risked staying out. It proved the decisive call, McLaren failing to box their man, who slithered off in the wet, losing his lead before finally boxing for intermediates.

It proved to little too late for Norris, who still chases his first win in F1. And but for that late shower, he was almost home and dry – so to speak! No doubt he will have chances again.

2021 Russian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

But to the victor, the spoils. A hundred grand prix victories is something scarecely imaginable, even for this most brilliant of drivers who bagged his first way back in 2007 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

“Obviously the team made a good call right at the end,” added Hamilton. “I didn’t want to let Lando go but I didn’t know what the weather was doing but I’m incredibly grateful to all these men and women here and back at the factory. Wow. One hundred.”

It meant that Carlos Sainz came home third ahead of Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso. Next was the evergreen Kimi Raikkonen as Norris, Sergio Perez and George Russell rounded out the top ten.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.