SOCHI (Russia) • Valtteri Bottas claimed his first Formula One victory yesterday, taking the flag at the Russian Grand Prix after a tense final few laps as he was chased down by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who finished in second.
Kimi Raikkonen was third - his first podium finish since last year's Austrian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton was able to claim only fourth, struggling with the temperature and performance of his car in Sochi.
Bottas had started in third on the grid behind Vettel and Raikkonen, but had the lead by turn two. Despite a mighty charge by Vettel, who was on fresher rubber at the end, the Finn held his nerve with considerable skill to ensure he finally had his first race win, in his fourth race for Mercedes.
"It took quite a while," said the 27-year-old after coming home just six-tenths of a second ahead of Vettel at the flag. "More than 80 races but worth the wait. Thanks so much to the team and the factory."
The result was enough for Mercedes to overtake Ferrari in the constructors' championship by a single point, 136 to 135.
Niki Lauda, Mercedes' non-executive chairman, said: "To defend his position against a strong Ferrari, I can only say thank you very much."
RUSSIAN GP RESULTS
1 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1hr 28min 8.743sec
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +0.617sec
3 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +11.000
4 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes +36.320
5 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull +1:00.416
6 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India +1:26.788
7 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India +1:35.004
8 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault +1:36.188
9 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams +1 lap
10 Carlos Sainz (Bra) Toro Rosso +1 lap
1 Vettel 86 points 2 Hamilton 73 3 Bottas 63 4 Raikkonen 49 5 Verstappen 35
1 Mercedes 136 points 2 Ferrari 135 3 Red Bull 57 4 Force India 31 5 Williams 18
With 86 points, Vettel remains leader of the drivers' championship, 13 ahead of Hamilton. Bottas - the 107th different winner of an F1 race - closed to within 10 of his Mercedes team-mate in third.
"I tried everything to catch him, and I thought there would be an opportunity on the back straight," Vettel said. "It doesn't matter though. Big congratulations to Valtteri. This is his day."
Bottas enjoyed an exceptional start, launching off the line and then making the most of the advantage the Mercedes cars enjoys over Ferrari in straight-line speed.
He slipstreamed and passed Vettel on the long drag down to the first braking area at turn two, and had the lead through the corner.
Vettel slotted in behind, followed by Raikkonen and Hamilton.
After the safety car was deployed on the first lap when Jolyon Palmer in the Renault hit the Haas of Romain Grosjean at turn two, racing resumed on lap four, and Bottas once more nailed the restart and proved to have real pace out front, putting 1.8 seconds on Vettel's Ferrari.
Hamilton, who lost time through sector three all weekend, was doing so again and was more than five seconds back from the lead, telling his team he was suffering cutouts in power, and lapping almost a second slower than Bottas.
Temperature problems with the car appeared to be compromising Hamilton's performance.
"Why is my car overheating? I am out of the race," he said.
The Briton still managed to struggle home. Two-time champion Fernando Alonso did not even start as the Spaniard abandoned his troublesome McLaren Honda.
Bottas was proving to have a setup that was working to perfection, and by lap 17 he had extended it to 4.5 seconds.
The leading positions remained unchanged until the pit-stops, which saw Bottas first in for super-softs followed by Raikkonen and Hamilton, with Vettel leading from lap 27 until lap 34 when he finally pitted for new rubber.
This enabled Bottas to regain the initiative. But an error at turn 13 on lap 38, when he had a serious lock-up and narrowly avoided the wall, invited Vettel, on fresher tyres, back into contention.
The German closed the gap to 1.5 seconds with 10 laps to go and set up a grandstand finish, but Bottas hung on for the memorable win.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE