Russian Grand Prix 2014: Lewis Hamilton presented trophy by Vladimir Putin as he equals Nigel Mansell record with Russia victory

Championship lead now up to 17 points as he matches British legend’s tally of 31 GP wins

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton’s fourth win in a row and his ninth of the season brought him level with Nigel Mansell as the most successful British Formula One driver of all time in terms of race victories, but the inaugural Russian Grand Prix was overshadowed by Jules Bianchi’s terrible accident a week earlier.

Hamilton’s 31st race win increased his world championship lead to 17 points over team-mate Nico Rosberg, who finished second here at the Sochi Autodrom, with three races left to run. The Mercedes drivers’ ninth one-two of the season allowed their team to clinch their first constructors’ title. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas finished third ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button.

The dawn of this new era in Russian motorsport was heavy on the propaganda, with President Vladimir Putin, who would later present the winner’s trophy to Hamilton, and King Hamad of Bahrain in attendance.

A spectacular and nationalistic opening ceremony featured 1,000 people as a street parade, with Cossacks performing their traditional Lezginka combat dance and volunteers carrying the national blue, white and red colours in gigantic strips down the startline.

The gaiety of the occasion was in stark and poignant contrast to the underlying mood of sadness in the paddock in the preceding days, where so many people had been hurting in the aftermath of Bianchi’s horrible accident at Suzuka last Sunday.

 

As Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, dignitaries and the drivers lined up at the front of the grid for the singing of the Russian national anthem, a digital image pasted the words: “Jules, we are all supporting you” on to the Tarmac for television presentation.

The Frenchman continued to cast a long shadow as the drivers formed a semi-circle in tribute to him. In the Marussia garage, car No 17 sat there, primed and ready to go as the Banbury team’s silent tribute.

However, for the next hour and a half it was business as usual. When the visors came down for the start it was every man for himself. More tears would doubtless fall again later, but the focus of high-speed competition demanded complete concentration as the drivers headed back into racing mode despite the questions many had to ask themselves in the intervening days.

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Lewis Hamilton charges to the finish line in Sochi

Hamilton led the field from pole, but Rosberg got a run on him going down to the tight first corner. There the German nosed ahead but at a high price. He braked viciously, locking his front wheels. From that moment on Hamilton was set up for a walk in the park.

“It was definitely doable, I just messed up,” Rosberg confessed, showing once more his new-found ability to take setbacks on the chin since the chastening aftermath of his infamous collision with Hamilton at Spa. “No explanation, I just braked too hard,” he added. “It was very unnecessary as it was my corner, so obviously I’m very disappointed with that, but after that the front tyres were just square and vibrating so much that I couldn’t see where I was going.”

Ironically, this was the one track of the season where grip levels were so high that single tyre stops were the order of the day. Thus Rosberg was immediately condemned to complete the remaining 52 laps on one set of tyres after pitting for fresh rubber at the end of the lap.

“I thought that was the end of it for me,” Rosberg said. “But we had some great strategy by the team. Half of me is extremely disappointed that I messed up today, but the other half is happy because everyone in our team deserves this title so much, because for them this is the really important one. I’m also very happy [to] get back up to second place, and that was all thanks to my car, it was unbelievable today.”

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Nico Rosberg attempts to pass Lewis Hamilton on the first lap

Hamilton, meanwhile, eased away from Bottas’s initially bothersome Williams until the Finn’s rear tyres began to lose their bite. After that it was plain sailing for Hamilton all the way to a meeting with Putin at the finish.

“Obviously Nico did a great job to recover from his mistake, and our car was performing really well,” Hamilton said. “We did a great job as a team, and today is history for us. I feel really proud to feel part of it, the first world championship for constructors for Mercedes is amazing. I could only dream of that when I first joined this team.

“Once I was in the lead I could look after the tyres, and managing the fuel was quite straightforward. The car still felt great towards the end, so I could push or not push and I didn’t really have to. It was easy to match anyone else’s lap times. The car has been amazing this weekend.”

Receiving the winner’s trophy from Putin was a new experience, however. “Getting the trophy was kind of normal,” Hamilton added, “but it was surreal for the President of Russia to be presenting the award to me. But this whole weekend has been a great experience for me, the crowd have been amazing, I didn’t know F1 was something that people followed here in Russia, I didn’t know there was such love for it, but they’ve been really enthusiastic and I’m excited that we’re here.

“The way this has been done you would think they’ve staged this event many times. I take my hat off to them.”

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