Nico Rosberg wins in Sochi to extend championship lead over second-placed Lewis Hamilton
Nico Rosberg sealed a perfect lights-to-flag victory to win theRussian Grand Prix for the first time in his career and register his seventh consecutive race win to extend his lead over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in another one-two for the Brackley-based outfit, but a first-lap collision between Sebastian Vettel and Danill Kvyat will be the major talking point from an eventful afternoon in Sochi.
Hamilton charged through the field to salvage second after starting tenth due to yet another issue in qualifying that prevented him from running in Q3, with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen completing the podium.
But it was the chaos at the start, caused entirely by Kvyat, that allowed Hamilton to make such swift progress, and will lead to questions of the young Russian.
Kvyat was praised for his move on Vettel at the Chinese Grand Prix a fortnight ago despite the pass resulting in contact, but this time the home favourite had no defence as he hit the four-time world champion not once but twice.
Kvyat missed his braking point heading into turn two on the opening lap, ramming into the back of Vettel who subsequently was pushed into the side of the slow-starting Daniel Ricciardo. The contact saw Vettel suffer a left-rear puncture, with his Ferrari twitching as he went into the long turn four at full speed and he was forced to get off the throttle mid-corner, catching Kvyat out.
The Russian hit Vettel hard in the back for the second time in as many corners, but this time the force was enough to spin Vettel into the outside wall, ending his race and triggering an expletive-ridden rant from the German. The accident, which earned Kvyat a 10-second stop-go penalty, led Vettel to take a determined stroll down the pit lane to visit his former team and have a quiet word with Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, on the pit wall, with no prizes for guessing who they were discussing.
The safety car was needed to clear up the mess, which had also seen the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg spun out of the race by Esteban Gutierrez in the Haas, while Manor’s Rio Haryanto also had to retire on the opening lap.
Once the action resumed, Rosberg immediately gapped the rest of the field, and Kimi Raikkonen was caught napping by Valtteri Bottas with the Williams snatching second at turn two. Behind, Hamilton followed suit and worked past Felipe Massa for fourth, having enjoyed a good first lap despite a slow getaway off the line that saw him make up five places.
Hamilton was soon enough past Raikkonen, with the Finn putting up little resistance, but he could not find a way past Bottas and the pits looked like the most obvious chance to get past. The possibility of the undercut was taken away from Hamilton though when Bottas pitted on lap 17, and Hamilton followed him in a lap later, emerging alongside the Williams at full speed. Bottas took the position, but Hamilton needed just one more lap to get by Bottas heading into the second corner and immediately pulled away.
Raikkonen managed to take advantage of Bottas getting stuck behind the McLaren of Fernando Alonso, with the McLaren yet to pit, and got out of the pit exit before the Williams could pass.
For the front three, it looked like a Sunday leisurely drive to the end, though those are three words that don’t appear in Hamilton’s vocabulary. He quickly mounted a charge after Rosberg pitted and reduced the 12-second gap by five seconds only to hear of a water pressure issue on the radio that slowed his progress and meant he would have to settle for second.
The problem was rectified some four laps later, but the gap was back out to 13 seconds by that point and the battle at the front that never was had been taken away, leaving Rosberg with a simple flag-to-flag victory.
“Lewis is going to come back of course,” Rosberg said after becoming just the fourth driver in Formula One history to win the first four races of the season, following in the footsteps of Alberto Ascari, Vettel and Michael Schumacher twice.
“He is on it and as motivated as ever, so it’s early days. I am just taking it race by race. We have an incredible car which is really a pleasure to drive.”
The was plenty to watch behind the front-runners to entertain. Behind the fifth-placed Massa, the action was constant with a string of teams battling for the minor points. Alonso had driven an exemplary race and was in a lonely sixth, but what followed him was a Renault-Haas-Force India-Toro Rosso-McLaren train. Kevin Magnussen gave Renault a much-needed boost as he pulled away from the pack to make seventh his own, with Romain Grosjean holding off Sergio Perez to take eighth.
Jenson Button took advantage late on after Carlos Sainz cracked under pressure from the 2009 world champion and outbraked himself towards the end of the lap, with the error giving Button a run into the penultimate corner to pass the Spaniard and take the final points-paying position. Button would have likely finished in tenth regardless, given Sainz had a five-second penalty for punting Jolyon Palmer off the track earlier in the race.