FORMULA 1 MOTORSPORT NEWS

Lewis Hamilton wins Russian Grand Prix from Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg

It marks a superb achievement which takes Hamilton 17 points clear in the drivers’ championship and, psychologically, streets ahead. It is the second time this year he has put together four race victories on the bounce.

For Mercedes, it was also the day they clinched their first ever constructors’ title. Hamilton said on the slowdown lap: “Congratulations on the Constructor’s Championship guys – great job! History in the making.”

Valtteri Bottas threatened to challenge Rosberg in the closing stages, but came home third, with Jenson Button a creditable fourth on a soporific afternoon in Sochi.

The biggest excitement came when on four occasions, the official television feed cut to pictures of Bernie Ecclestone and President Vladimir Putin rubbing shoulders, making this a worryingly political affair. The pair were even in the pre-podium room, shaking hands with the drivers.

Putin even asked the drivers: “How much weight do you lose in a race?” Hamilton then offered a belated handshake. The President then donned his grey to head out onto the podium. One can only imagine how unhappy he was to hear first the British and then the German national anthems. To top it all off, Putin presented the winner’s trophy to Hamilton and Paddy Lowe, the Mercedes technical boss.

Before the race began, there was feverish speculation that the President would be on the grid, making it Putin’s grand prix. Presumably, security concerns prompted the Russia’s leader to think again. However, he would have been suitably stirred by events at the front of the grid.

All the drivers lined up, with Ecclestone, FIA President Jean Todt, and the Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak, as the old Soviet anthem rung out. It was a rousing performance, by 80 signers from the Kuban Cossack Choir, but it somewhat overshadowed the message of support sent to the stricken Jules Bianchi. The drivers held a short huddle before hopping in their cars.

The stage was set for what Putin hoped would be a spectacular inaugural Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. The start did not disappoint.

Hamilton had a good enough getaway, before around the long right-hand kink, Rosberg got in the slipstream and edged towards his team-mate’s gearbox. The German pulled out to the right, ducked down the inside, and seemed to be in prime position.

However, after fiddling with a few switches – presumably adjusting the brake balance – he locked all four tyres, producing huge plumes of white smoke. The German had to take avoiding action, missing the second part of the corner, leading Hamilton for now. He was swiftly ordered to give the place back.

That was not the last of it. The lock up had totally obliterated his brand new set of tyres. “I have to pit because of vibrations”, he said agitatedly. At this stage, it seemed to be an unmitigated disaster. While Hamilton eased away at the front, Rosberg pitted on lap one, falling right to the back of the field.

It was yet another blow for Rosberg, one of many in recent races. It also underlined a now undeniable fact: in wheel-to-wheel racing, Hamilton more than has his number.

Remember Bahrain, when both drivers conceded Rosberg was the faster man? The German did his best to find a way through in an epic duel, but Hamilton always had the answers. Then in Belgium, on lap two, Rosberg had a long run out of Eau Rouge up to Les Combes, fluffing his lines once more as he clipped Hamilton’s rear tyre. On that occasion, it favoured his agenda. Not this time. He was left with an enormous recovery job, attempting to complete 52 laps on one set of tyres.

Rosberg was not the only one to make a dreadful start. Daniil Kvyat, the local boy, had qualified so well to start fifth, but fell back. Meanwhile, Jenson Button made his way up to third with team-mate Kevin Magnussen in fifth.

If the track and the venue is fairly dreary, then the race which unfolded was even more so. The only narrative worth following was how quickly Rosberg was able to make his way through the field. The early indications were bleak. On lap eight, he was struggling to overtake a Caterham, some 40 seconds behind the leader.

Caterham’s main rivals, Marussia, did not have any good news to cheer them after a hugely traumatic week following Bianchi’s accident. Max Chilton limped around at the back, retiring on lap 10.

Out front, Hamilton was totally comfortable. The gap to Bottas in second was not huge, yet the 29-year-old increased it at will whenever was required. All the while, Rosberg was steadily making progress. On lap 20, an incisive move on Sergio Perez gave him 10th. Five laps later, Kimi Raikkonen fell. Then finally on lap 31, he got the move he tried on Hamilton right, this time on Bottas, forcing the Finn to take avoiding action.

Hamilton had pitted a few laps earlier, holding an easy lead over Rosberg, now in second. The only riddle of this sleep-inducing affair was if the German could hold off Bottas or keep to his only set of tyres.

But then Putin inserted himself into the drama. First of all, on lap 39 (presumably with a delay), television pictures cut to Ecclestone greeting the Russian President outside the paddock. Both Ecclestone and Putin were in white shirt sleeves, shaking hands and smiling away. Then, around 10 minutes later, the official feed cut again to Putin and Ecclestone now in what might be described as VVVIP seats above the pit boxes, opposite the main grandstand.

And then, a few moments later, we saw Putin again, now with the King of Bahrain to his right and Ecclestone, as well as Jean Todt to his left. We even saw them a fourth time before the race was done. It was yet another example of the tawdry politicisation of this whole race.

Back on the circuit itself, the two Mercedes were untroubled at the front. Hamilton cantered to the win while Rosberg ensured it was a case of damage limitation. The championship rumbles on.