Max climbed from ninth place to fourth at the flag, while Alex stormed through the field to claim a brilliant fifth place after starting from the pit lane as the Bulls staged an incredible race recovery from grid penalties at the Russian Grand Prix.
With the Team electing to take PU-related penalties ahead of the weekend in order to put both drivers in the best position for the final five races of the season, the race at the Sochi Autodrom was always going to be tough, with Max starting in ninth place and Alex relegated to a pit lane start after a qualifying crash led to repairs under Parc Fermé conditions. However, both Bulls delivered outstanding drives to claim 22 valuable championship points at the end of a tricky weekend.
At the start of the race Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel made a superb start and was past second-on-the-grid Lewis Hamilton before they reached the turn one kink. Vettel then got a massive tow from pole-sitting teammate Charles Leclerc and stole the lead through turn two.
Max jumped up to P8 at the start from ninth place on the grid but behind him there was a collision involving Haas’ Romain Grosjean, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo. The incident resulted in Grosjean exiting the race, while both Ricciardo and Giovinazzi required pit stops for repairs.
The collision brought out the safety car and under the caution Vettel led from Leclerc with Hamilton third ahead of Sainz. Max was still in eighth place while Alex had risen to P16.
When the safety car left the track Vettel held his advantage over his teammate, a situation that appeared to cause some friction, as Leclerc had apparently expected the German to allow him to retake the lead after affording Vettel a tow after the start. The chatter over the radio would continue for some laps until Leclerc was told that the pass would take place later in the race after the pair had built a sufficiently large gap to Hamilton in third.
Max and Alex, meanwhile, were making moves forward. On lap eight Max powered past Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez through turn four to steal seventh place. Four laps later he launched a brave but brilliant move on McLaren’s Lando Norris in to turn one to take sixth place and then, on lap 17, he powered past the second McLaren of Carlos Sainz under DRS into turn one to claim P5.
Alex meanwhile quickly cleared Williams’ George Russell after the safety car and then inherited P14 when Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen was handed a drive-through penalty for a jump start. He inherited another place when Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg suffered a slow second pit stop due to a front jack issue and then forced his way past Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat to rise to P12.
At the front, Leclerc was the first of the leading pack to pit, with the Monegasque driver stopping for medium tyres on lap 22. He rejoined in fourth place behind Bottas and then began to set fastest laps.
Despite complaining of fading rear tyres Vettel stayed out until lap 26 and when he finally dived into the pits to take on medium tyres the lead changed hands as promised, with Leclerc flying past to take the lead.
Vettel’s time in action after his stop was brief. By the time he reached turn 15 of his first lap out from the pits his Ferrari had given up and an engine issue saw him pull over at the side of the track.
That brought out the Virtual Safety Car and then when Williams’ George Russell crashed out under the caution, the physical safety car was deployed.
Under the caution a host of cars pitted, including Max (for medium tyres) and Alex (for softs).
And when the order shook out, Mercedes had profited hugely, with Hamilton in P1 ahead of Bottas. Leclerc was now down in third with Max in fourth place. Alex meanwhile was into the points after all the stops, in 10th place.
When the racing resumed, the leading drivers held their positions but further back Alex made a brilliant re-start to pass the Racing Points of Lance Stroll and Segrio Perez and the McLaren of Lando Norris to claim P7.
Alex then began to hunt down Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and at the end of lap 42 he launched a late-braking attack into turn 13 that worked perfectly. With P6 claimed he next set off after Sainz who was on the medium tyre.
And the Thai racer capped a brilliant afternoon with an equally brilliant move past Sainz at the start of lap 49. He pulled alongside the Spaniard on the sweep through turn three and then powered past on the entry to the next corner to seal fifth place.
That was how the order remained until the chequered flag. Leclerc pushed hard to get past Bottas, but the Finn stoically resisted the pressure and after 53 laps Hamilton crossed the line to take his ninth win of the season and the bonus point for posting the fastest lap two tours from home. Bottas was second ahead of Leclerc and the Bulls wrapped up a brilliant fight through the field to seal fourth and fifth place.
Behind Alex, Sainz took sixth place for McLaren ahead of Pérez. Norris added to a positive result for McLaren with eighth place, while Magnussen managed to hold on to P9 despite incurring a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage earlier in the race. The final point on offer went to Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.
Russian Grand Prix - Race Result Top 10:
- Lewis Hamilton
- Valtteri Bottas
- Charles Leclerc
- MAX VERSTAPPEN
- ALEX ALBON
- Carlos Sainz
- Sergio Perez
- Lando Norris
- Kevin Magnussen
- Nico Hülkenberg