After a quick change to soft compound tyres in changing conditions, Carlos Sainz found himself in a fantastic P2 on the grid, while Charles Leclerc had his work cut out at the Sochi Autodrom, starting from the back of the grid with an earlier engine penalty.
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Photos: Scuderia Ferrari.
On the formation lap, Max Verstappen, who was starting from last place with his various penalties, was worried about a possible battery issue but it was quickly sorted before the start. As the lights went out, pole sitter Lando Norris led away until turn two, as a great start from Carlos saw him jump into the lead past both Norris and a fast-starting George Russell. Lewis Hamilton, starting from fourth, had a poor start and dropped down to seventh, but quickly passed Fernando Alonso for sixth. Further down, Charles had a great start and moved up to 13th on the first lap, while Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen also continued to move up the order early on.
As the race got underway, Carlos was ahead of his former teammate Norris by 1.4 seconds as the pair looked to pull away from third-placed Russell who was beginning to hold the cars up behind him, setting the fastest lap on lap six. Further back, Verstappen crucially passed Bottas for 14th, now aiming to continue to move up the grid on the hard compound tyres.
By lap nine, Carlos was beginning to be caught by Norris as the McLaren was looking to reclaim the lead he lost to the Ferrari on the opening lap. Verstappen had now got past Charles for 12th, as Charles was forced to go wide after challenging Sebastian Vettel for 11th. Norris was challenging hard to reclaim his lead, but Carlos was doing well to keep the McLaren behind him.
As driver began to suffer with tyres, Norris re-claimed the lead from Carlos on lap 13, as Lance Stroll and Russell went for early stops onto the hard compound tyres. Charles now found himself in the points, moving up past Vettel into tenth position, while Verstappen was now into ninth.
Lap 15 and Carlos was the first Ferrari to pit, coming back out on the hard compound tyres and re-joining the race in 13th position after a slightly slow stop. McLaren and Norris opted to stay out longer, as did Hamilton who was now up to third. After the initial pitstops, Charles was now up into seventh position.
Daniel Ricciardo opted to pit from second on 23 but a slow stop for him left him further down the order. Carlos was now back into the points in tenth, while Charles was now up to sixth position. Hamilton then went for a stop on lap 27, as did Verstappen. Hamilton took a set of hard compound tyres, while Verstappen opted for a set of mediums. Carlos had found a way past Bottas and was now up to sixth, with Charles in fourth.
Lap 28 saw Norris pit from the lead, re-joining in fourth and on a set of hard compound tyres. Charles was now up to third, but had yet to pit, having started the race on a set of hard compound tyres and hoping to go long into the race. Carlos found himself behind Pierre Gasly in sixth, but he unfortunately lost the position to Hamilton on lap 30.
The race saw its first retirement on lap 33, as Mick Schumacher was forced to pit and retire the car with an issue. Charles went for his only stop for a set of medium compound tyres on lap 36, passing Bottas for thirteenth as he re-joined the track, while a poor stop for Sergio Pérez dropped him down the order.
With less than 15 laps to go, the pressure was on for Norris as Hamilton was pushing hard behind to keep up. Carlos was now up to third once again and pulling away from fourth-placed Ricciardo, but Charles was warned on the team radio that there was possible rain on the way for the end of the race.
Charles was now up to ninth, passing Russell on lap 42 with much fresher tyres as he looked to push up the order in the final laps. Carlos was still holding onto third, pulling away from Ricciardo as each lap went by. Russell reported drops of rain at turn ten, as Charles now moved past Stroll into eighth position.
With seven laps to go, the rain was beginning to hit the circuit. Pérez passed Carlos for third as the cars piled into the pit lane for a late stop for Intermediate tyres. Vettel hit his teammate Stroll on the run to turn ten as Carlos also pitted but Norris and Hamilton both stayed out. Charles was now up to fifth place. Hamilton pitted on lap 49 for Intermediates but just as it stopped raining again.
Stroll had contact with the barriers after a spin but could keep going, as Norris unfortunately lost the lead as the conditions got too bad. Carlos and Charles were now up to fourth and sixth, but Charles was caught out and went wide at turn five on the medium tyres and dropped to 12th place.
The chequered flag was taken by Hamilton for his 100th race win as championship rival Max Verstappen recovered to second. Carlos took third for Ferrari, but Charles was unfortunately out of the points after the rain in the final laps. Norris finished an eventual seventh but was on course for a penalty after missing the pit entry and going across the pit lane line.
Written by Cóilín Higgins.