Lewis Hamilton took a scintillating victory at a dramatic Russian Grand Prix in Sochi to retake the lead of the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship.
McLaren’s Lando Norris led for the vast majority of the race but heavy rain arrived with just a few laps to go, and the 21-year-old slid off the track and down the order, allowing the seven-time champion to drive straight through and take victory.
It was another superbly entertaining race in a stunning season, and plenty was learned along the way.
McLaren are justifiably back challenging at the top of the sport
Having won in relatively fortuitous circumstances in Monza after Hamilton and Verstappen’s crashes, nobody would have expected a performance lt as strong as this from the papaya outfit in the very next race.
But Norris took pole entirely on merit on Saturday and had the pace not only to re-overtake the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz but also to defend for 15 laps from Hamilton when in the lead, and would almost certainly have taken victory had the downpour not arrived and scuppered his chances.
The team hadn’t won a race since 2012 but a combination of two drivers who know when to pick their moments, the switch to the Mercedes power unit and Norris demonstrating he is one of the very fastest drivers on the grid right now means McLaren are back as genuine contenders for race wins once again after spending almost a decade in the wilderness.
Verstappen is the ultimate irritant
Max Verstappen started dead last due to an engine change but took full advantage on the treacherous conditions at the end of the race to end up second.
That means that despite his victory, Hamilton hasn’t been able to score a glut more points than his rival, who simply refuses to accept any sort of mediocre result.
Whether it’s fighting wheel-to-wheel on track, or coming from the back of the grid to take big points, Verstappen is a relentless pest who won’t give Hamilton a minute’s peace.
Sainz’s sensible approach gives him advantage
Carlos Sainz clawed his way back into third place having initially led the race.
The Spaniard started slowly but bided his time and used the slipstream from Norris’ car to dive down the inside at turn two to take first place, before a poor strategy call from his Ferrari team left him squabbling in the midfield. At that stage his race engineer informed him he was battling for a fifth-place finish at best, but Sainz kept his head and refused to give in.
He dove into the pits for intermediates at exactly the right time and calculations like that throughout the race served him extremely well.
Raikkonen has one last hurrah?
Kimi Raikkonen has been enduring a pretty torrid final season in Formula 1 but scored his best result of the season with eighth in Sochi.
The Iceman has been of the great drivers of the 21st century and deserves some moments in the sun (or rain, rather) like this before he bows out.
Sochi finally pulls through just before leaving
The Sochi Autodrom is a notoriously poor circuit for Formula 1 races which often leads to tedious, uneventful races with little overtaking. In fact, the track will be replaced by one near St. Petersburg for the Russian Grand Prix from 2023 onwards, it was announced earlier this year.
So of course the track finally produced a classic just after the decision was made. This was another gripping race in a superb season of motor racing and if it can give us one more next year before bowing out, then fans around the world will be extremely grateful.