SOCHI • Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton yesterday snatched victory in the Russian Grand Prix in a surprise Mercedes one-two after Ferrari argued over team orders and were undone by a virtual safety car.
Sebastian Vettel repeatedly ignored orders to let his teammate Charles Leclerc pass after taking the lead early in the race, only to retire with an engine problem.
His retirement on the 28th lap and a virtual safety car period cost Leclerc victory as Hamilton was able to use it for his one pit stop to change from medium to soft tyres and get in front.
The Briton took the chequered flag ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas and third-placed Leclerc for his ninth win of the season and 82nd of his career, moving ever closer to his sixth championship title, while Mercedes can now clinch the constructors' title in Japan.
The Silver Arrows have now won all six races in Sochi since its 2014 debut, with Hamilton coming out on top four times, but after banking a bonus point for the fastest lap to stretch his lead to 73 points over nearest rival Bottas, he was insistent the team would continue to take "one foot in front of the other".
He said: "Firstly just an incredible job for all the guys here. It's just incredible to have this result today, considering how quick they (Ferrari) were off the start. Just keeping up with them was a hard task.
RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1hr 33min 38.992sec
2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes +3.829sec
3 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari +5.212
4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull +14.210
5 Alexander Albon (Tha) Red Bull +38.348
6 Carlos Sainz (Esp) McLaren +45.889
7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point +48.728
8 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren +57.749
9 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas +58.779
10 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault +59.841
DNF Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
1 Hamilton 322pts
2 Bottas 249
3 Leclerc 215
4 Verstappen 212
5 Vettel 194
1 Mercedes 571pts
2 Ferrari 409
3 Red Bull 311
4 McLaren 101
5 Renault 68
"Honestly, I try not to think too much about the championship. One race at a time and one step at a time... We don't want to stumble."
Of his first victory since Hungary, he added: "It feels like a long time coming, it feels like the first time as well."
Ferrari had arrived in Sochi after a hat-trick of wins and, with a hefty speed advantage on the straights, they looked set for another triumph when Leclerc seized pole position for the fourth race in a row by a comfortable margin.
But the Scuderia tripped themselves up with a strategy that involved Leclerc allowing Vettel, who had started in third, to slipstream the former and take the lead into turn two.
The deal was for the German to hand back the place once Ferrari had settled into a one-two formation, but instead, Vettel began banging in a series of fastest laps - he led for 27 laps - to Leclerc's frustration.
While the team had assured him over the radio that "Sebastian will let you by next lap", the four-time champion refused to ease off.
Already smarting after being undone in Singapore by a strategy that worked in Vettel's favour, the Monaco native was adamant it had been agreed he would keep the lead unless he got off to a poorer start.
Claiming that their "start performance itself was exactly the same", Leclerc said: "I will always trust the team, but our tactic was for me to give the slipstream, which I did - and then, well I need to speak to the team about that."
Vettel, though, made light of claims he ignored Ferrari team orders, cheekily telling reporters that "maybe I missed something".