Birthday boy Max celebrated his 21st in style with an incredible Russian Grand Prix drive that saw the Dutch ace power from 19th place on the grid to fifth place in the first eight laps of the race. Teammate Daniel also delivered a brilliant result, racing from P18 at the start to P6 at the flag, despite a race long struggle with damage sustained early in the race.
At the start, pole position man Valtteri Bottas held his advantage and took the lead ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel made an excellent start and drew level with Hamilton, but the Briton quickly picked up a tow from Bottas’ car and managed to hold onto P2 ahead of the German and Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen.
It was the Bulls, though, who made the biggest impact in the opening laps, with Max making a stunning start to climb to 13th place at the end of the first lap.
The Dutchman’s amazing charge up the order continued across the opening laps and by lap eight he was powering past Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, who had also made good progress from a P7 start, to claim a remarkable fifth place.
Daniel, too, was on the march, though his fight was made all the harder by front wing damage picked up when he hit debris on the opening lap. By lap 10, however, the Aussie had risen from P18 on the grid to P10 and was into the points.
At the front on the same tour, Bottas led Hamilton by eight tenths of a second, with Vettel 2.8 off the lead and ahead of Räikkönen. Max was now 20 seconds off the lead.
While Max and Daniel’s progress dominated the first part of the race, the action moved to the front of the order when Vettel made his first stop on lap 13, looking to undercut Hamilton. The Ferrari driver took on soft tyres in a 2.8s stop and rejoined behind Bottas who had already made his pit stop. Hamilton, though, was hitting traffic and losing time. Mercedes reacted and pitted the championship leader.
However, even though his stop for soft tyres was a quick 2.5s, Hamilton emerged alongside the quicker Vettel and the German swept past to claim lead his title rival.
Vettel’s advantage didn’t last long, however. Hamilton was quickly on the attack and made a move in Turn 2. Vettel defended aggressively and blocked the pass, but Hamilton was immediately on the offensive again and in Turn 4 he dived down the inside and stole the place once more.
Max and Daniel, meanwhile, were managing their starting soft tyres and when Räikkönen became the last of the lead drivers to pit, on lap 19, Max swept through to claim the lead. Daniel, meanwhile was holding station in a lonely P6.
Max’s pace on his starting soft tyres was now beginning to flag slightly and that served to back up the cars immediately behind. Second-placed Bottas began to come under pressure from Hamilton, while Vettel began to close hard on Hamilton.
The threat from Vettel again forced Mercedes to react, and Bottas was told to let Hamilton past. The Finn obliged and as Max continued to lead, the Finn became the third-placed bulwark between the title leader and Vettel.
As the race headed towards it’s final third Max’s times were still good and on lap 36 he was 2.9 seconds clear of Hamilton.
An aggressive final stint on the softer compound tyres beckoned and Daniel pitted at the end of 39 to take on ultrasoft tyres, as well as a new nosecone to replace one damaged at the start of the race. The Aussie emerged in P6 and when race leader Max then made his stop on lap 43, also for ultrasofts, he rejoined in P5, 14s behind Räikkönen.
The expected pace advantage from the ultrasofts didn’t materialise, however, and while both Daniel and Max traded race fastest laps they couldn’t find the pace needed to close on fourth-placed Räikkönen.
On lap 53, then, Hamilton took his 70th career win ahead of Bottas with Vettel taking third place. Räikkönen held onto fourth place and Max and Daniel took fifth and sixth places respectively at the end of a remarkable race for the Bulls.
Seventh place went Charles Leclerc with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen in eighth. The final two points places were occupied by the Force India’s of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez.
Russian Grand Prix - Top 10:
- Lewis Hamilton
- Valtteri Bottas
- Sebastian Vettel
- Kimi Raikkonen
- MAX VERSTAPPEN
- DANIEL RICCIARDO
- Charles Leclerc
- Kevin Magnussen
- Esteban Ocon
- Sergio Perez