Russian Grand Prix – Race-winner Lewis Hamilton believes that he could’ve challenged Vettel for second without safety car intervention in Sochi.
The Mercedes team were able to reap the rewards from a Ferrari retirement and profit from the subsequent virtual safety car and secure a one-two finish.
Running in third and fourth for much of the race, Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas ran first and second after the Ferraris made their scheduled pit stops. With Mercedes running a harder tyre in a longer opening stint, they were able to pit for soft tyres under the virtual safety car when Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari retired from the race with a power unit issue.
Mercedes ran first and third after they made their stops under the VSC, but Bottas was promoted to second when Leclerc came in for the faster soft-compound tyres when a full safety car was deployed for George Russell’s crashed Williams.
With Leclerc unable to pass Bottas, in the closing stages of the race, Mercedes took the chequered flag to claim an unanticipated one-two result.
Speaking after the race, Hamilton paid tribute to the Mercedes tacticians, believing that he might have been able to split the Ferraris in the second half of the race, when he was going to be equipped with the faster tyres.
“It’s been so hard just to try and stay within distance of them this weekend, and to separate them in qualifying was good,” said Hamilton.
“They were on another planet when they took off from the start. They were gone. After that, they had such great pace, so I was struggling just to keep up with them. We thought that the soft tyre would go off.
“However, I was just able to keep them within shooting distance, and their tyres did start to go off a little bit, and that’s when I started to make a bit of a difference by closing that gap.
“Then Charles came in, and I started to catch Seb, but we were in a good position to be able to offset. Even if the safety car hadn’t come out, we would’ve extended [the tyre stint], come out of the softs, and he [Vettel] would’ve been on the mediums, and we would’ve potentially had a race. I don’t think I would’ve come out ahead of him, but we would’ve had a race.
“Unfortunately, the safety car came out after his engine blew, so that kind of stole the show for the fans.”