Valtteri Bottas took his first Grand Prix win in Russia ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, in what became a strategical battle between the two top teams for 53 laps.
Bottas had got a good start and into the lead by Turn 2, with Vettel in second, Kimi Raikkonen who dropped to third ahead of Lewis Hamilton. With the cars just five corners into the race, the Safety Car emerged after Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer crashed into each other at Turn 2.
The incident looked 50/50 on the replays, which showed Palmer turning in too early and clipping Grosjean, which caused the Renault to spin and pitch the Haas into the air then into the concrete barrier on the inside. Lance Stroll also spun as the Safety Car came out after clipping the kerb at Turn 6, which dropped him outside of the top 10 to 14th place.
With the debris cleared up Bottas led from Vettel at the restart, as the race settled into a rhythm and the drivers looked forward to the one and only wave of pit stops.
Despite the gap between each car being around three seconds on average however, some drivers were complaining about overheating brakes, which is what caught out Daniel Ricciardo who became the next retirement when his rear brakes failed while running in 5th place.
Hamilton was also struggling with overheating issues, which seemed to manifest throughout the race as he struggled to keep up with the top three. Max Verstappen who was running in fifth was also struggling with blistering on his front tyres and brake issues, which prompted him to be among the first drivers to pit.
At this stage Bottas and Vettel had caught up to the back markers to lap them, and with Verstappen’s pit stop it created clean air which Vettel could have used while the Mercedes lost time behind slower cars. Ferrari instead elected to keep Vettel out on track, with Bottas being the first to pit from the lead followed by Raikkonen.
As Vettel took the lead and became the first driver other than a Mercedes to lead a lap at Sochi, Hamilton also pitted which just left the Ferrari driver to stretch the gap to his team mate as Bottas closed the gap to within 20 seconds.
Ferrari eventually pitted Vettel with 15 laps to go, rejoining behind Bottas who had a comfortable nine-second lead. However as the Mercedes driver entered Turn 12, Bottas made a crucial error which flat spotted his front right tyre. While approaching traffic and managing the tyre damage Vettel closed the gap quite significantly, with it down to just 2.2 seconds with five laps to go.
Vettel then proceeded to light up the timing screen, setting the fastest laps of all on back-to-back laps along with the fastest sectors of the race. Bottas meanwhile started to encounter traffic, which made life even more difficult as he attempted to remain cool under serious pressure.
As they approached the final lap Vettel got to within DRS range of Bottas, but with traffic ahead of the Mercedes driver he also had the obligation to use his DRS as well in the designated zones. Bottas used this to great effect to get ahead of Felipe Massa, who had pitted from sixth earlier for a second time due to a slow puncture and dropped to ninth, while Vettel got held up through turns 3 and 4 which lost him four tenths of a second.
While Bottas still had to manage the gap to Vettel, him getting held up by the Williams allowed the Mercedes driver to cruise to victory for the first time in his Formula 1 career having taken his first pole position two weeks ago in Bahrain.
Further back the two Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon finished sixth and seventh respectively, ahead of Hulkenberg who finished eighth having went 41 laps on his set of Ultra Soft tyres. Carlos Sainz rounded out the top ten ahead of Lance Stroll in 11th, his first Grand Prix finish having not finished the first three.
Fernando Alonso didn’t start the race with an ERS problem, which meant he failed to record any result for the second race in a row. Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne rounded out a miserable weekend for McLaren Honda by finishing ahead of their new customers for 2018, both Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber’s – the former beating his team mate for a second time in a row on his F1 return.