Hamilton wins Russian GP as Rosberg fails to finish
SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a huge step toward retaining his Formula One title by winning the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday as his main rival Nico Rosberg failed to finish.
Hamilton can now win his third career title at the next race in Texas, while his Mercedes team retained the constructors' title after a season in which the silver cars have dominated almost every race.
Hamilton started second behind Rosberg but took over the lead when his Mercedes teammate experienced a throttle problem that forced him to slow to a crawl and then come into the pits to retire.
Hamilton then cruised to victory by 5.9 seconds over Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, with Sergio Perez third for Force India, 23 seconds further behind.
Hamilton's 42nd career win took him past his boyhood hero Ayrton Senna on the all-time list, and the defending champion said he had taken the time to enjoy his drive to victory.
"I was really taking it in, just looking at the car," Hamilton said. "I don't know how many times I'll be in that position again, so really cherishing the moment and feeling really blessed. I love driving this car and I love where we are at the moment."
It was Hamilton's ninth victory of the season and the 12th for Mercedes. With four races to go, Hamilton leads Vettel by 66 points and Rosberg by 73.
For the second year running, Hamilton received his winner's trophy from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also greeted the top three drivers ahead of the podium ceremony.
Vettel was forced into a prolonged battle with his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen early on, eventually passing the Finn in a tight move up the inside.
"I think we both enjoyed it. Obviously, I came out in front, so I enjoyed it a little bit more than him," Vettel said. "He was giving me just enough room to survive, so it was a good battle."
Mercedes' second straight constructors' title was only decided after the race when the stewards penalized Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen for crashing into Valtteri Bottas' Williams on the last lap.
Raikkonen brought his damaged car across the line in fifth but was handed a 30-second penalty that dropped him to eighth. That gave Mercedes an unassailable 172-point lead over Ferrari in the constructors' championship, sparking celebrations in the Mercedes garage.
Bottas and Raikkonen had both passed Perez for third and fourth place respectively, before Raikkonen attempted a poorly-judged move on the inside to take third from Bottas, spinning the Williams driver into the wall.
Perez's third place was the best finish this year for Force India.
"I'm going through a great moment in my career," Perez said. "I was confident going into the race (but) obviously not expecting a podium at all."
Felipe Massa was fourth for Williams, with Russian driver Daniil Kvyat elevated to fifth by Raikkonen's penalty in a pleasing result for the home crowd. Felipe Nasr of Sauber and Pastor Maldonado of Lotus were six and seventh, ahead of the demoted Raikkonen.
Jenson Button of McLaren took ninth, with Max Verstappen of Toro Rosso 10th after the original 10th-place finisher, Button's teammate Fernando Alonso, was handed a five-second penalty. Stewards ruled that two-time champion Alonso, who was celebrating his 250th career race, had exceeded track limits.
Rosberg came into the race in second place in the title fight, but leaves in third with his title hopes almost extinguished. Following his retirement on lap 7, Rosberg said his throttle pedal had stuck on, leaving him worried about his safety.
"I couldn't come off throttle any more, so I was doing all the corners with throttle on," he said. "I was trying to take my leg off the pedal but then my knee would come up and I couldn't steer any more."
However, Rosberg refused to abandon his dwindling title hopes.
"You just have to be realistic now. (The gap to Hamilton) is a lot of points. It doesn't change my approach, still pushing to the maximum and committed. Going for it mentally," he said.
Hamilton has 302 points, Vettel is second with 236 and Rosberg has 229. No other driver is in contention. With a maximum of 100 points still available, Hamilton could retain the title at the next race in the United States on Oct. 25.
Two major accidents brought out the safety car in the early stages.
The fight for the lead on the first lap between Hamilton and Rosberg was almost immediately curtailed by a first-lap incident when Nico Hulkenberg's Force India span, collecting the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson. Both were left stranded, bringing out the safety car.
On lap 12, Romain Grosjean lost control of his Lotus and hurtled into the barriers at high speed, wrecking the car. Despite the violence of the impact, Grosjean was uninjured.
Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz Jr., who was only cleared to race by doctors on Sunday morning following a heavy crash in practice, started last. The Spaniard stormed through the field into the top 10, but his race ended late on when his brakes overheated.