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Lewis Hamilton's 100th win in Russia cannot mask concern for F1 title chances


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In the interview pen after the Russian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris held their own personal post mortem into how, in a chaotic final few laps, a maiden Formula 1 victory for Norris had turned into a record-extending 100th for Hamilton.

"You didn't want to come in?" Hamilton asked Norris, of the McLaren driver's decision not to pit for treaded intermediate tyres as they battled for the lead, just as a late-race rain shower turned slowly into a deluge. "Me neither. I was like, 'He's right there!'"

"Until then," Norris said, "it was dry enough for slicks. What I got told was the rain was going to stay like that. Apparently what you got told was different."

"Yeah," Hamilton said. "My team was great today. But I ignored the first call."

Hamilton will 'not bail out' of on-track battles any more

Full race results

Lewis Hamilton takes 100th win in Russian Grand Prix as Lando Norris spins in rain

In those few words, the two drivers pretty much summed up how the race turned on its head.

Because McLaren did not over-rule their driver and call him in for tyres, Norris lost a victory that for so long had seemed his for the taking after a superb performance all weekend.

And because Mercedes did, Hamilton left Russia on Sunday night back in the most tenuous of championship leads over rival Max Verstappen of Red Bull, who also read the conditions right.

Report

How the race was won and lost

It was an agonising outcome for Norris and McLaren after the 21-year-old took a brilliant maiden pole position in the wet on Saturday and then drove an accomplished race.

He lost the lead at the start to Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, but was back ahead within 13 laps and then controlled the race expertly from the front while Hamilton, always likely to be his main rival, was held back in traffic.

It took quite a while before Hamilton was finally up into a firm second place behind Norris. But with 23 laps to go, it was game on.

Hamilton was eight seconds behind Norris in clear air and in a much faster car. The question was not whether the Mercedes would catch the McLaren, but whether Hamilton would be able to pass it when he did.

After another 10 laps, Hamilton was within two seconds of Norris, but further progress was proving difficult. Had it stayed dry, the combination of the turbulent air behind the McLaren and the orange car's prodigious straight-line speed would likely have secured Norris the success.

But then the rain started to come down. Very lightly at first and only over a couple of corners. But the more the laps ticked by, the more the rain came, and into the final stages there were some big calls to make.

With six laps to go, Mercedes called in Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas for treaded intermediate tyres. That call was marginal - it was not clear at that point which way the weather was going to go. But with Bottas out of the points at that stage after a lacklustre race, they had nothing to lose.

Within 30 seconds, though, Mercedes had enough information to make the decision on Hamilton a no-brainer. They could see on the weather radar available to all teams, that heavier rain was definitely coming and they called for Hamilton to pit on the lap after Bottas.

Hamilton refused, while Verstappen, then stuck in seventh place, did come in.

On the next lap, Mercedes called Hamilton again. This time he followed orders and the call won him the race.

Hamilton pitted with four laps to go and initially he thought it was a mistake. "I only had three laps to catch up 24 seconds," he said. "So it was like 'no way'."

At the end of the next lap, he was still 15 seconds behind Norris. But so bad by now was the rain, and so unsuited to the conditions were Norris' slick tyres, that Hamilton was through and gone just five corners later.

Norris finally pitted with two laps to go. A win had become a seventh place.

Report

McLaren will analyse their errors

"I'm not that happy," Norris said. "I could have won the race and I didn't. I made the decisions I made and they were obviously wrong at the end of the day.

"What we, for some reason, didn't see was how much more rain was going to come. I didn't get told that, I didn't know about that and I made my decision on the information I got told, which was the drizzle was going to remain drizzle and not pouring with rain. It was all going so well, so it makes it all feel worse."

McLaren realised they had messed up and somehow failed to read the weather forecasts the way their rivals did.

Team boss Andreas Seidl said: "Lando, with the information he had from us, felt good staying out there on slicks and in the end we didn't over-rule him as team, and that's something we need to look into to see what we could have done better, because in hindsight it was the wrong decision.

"If we would have been crystal clear from the team side and convinced it was 100% the right decision to stop, we would have stopped. We need to analyse whether there was any information available that should have led us to make a clear call."

It was hard to take for both team and driver, but there is no getting away from that fact the last two races have been good for McLaren.

Daniel Ricciardo led Norris in a one-two in Monza, and Norris was within six laps of securing a second consecutive victory in Sochi. The progress is plain to see.

"It is these moments where you learn most," Seidl added. "Things like today happen, big disappointments, especially when you are so close to something really big, but he has enough experience, and the team as well, to come back out of this even stronger."

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