Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix and extended his championship lead to 50 points. These points give Hamilton a two-race cushion over Sebastian Vettel with five races left on the 2018 calendar. While this was a monumental day for Lewis and his bid for a fifth drivers’ championship. The race itself left a disgusting taste in everyone’s mouths facilitated by the team orders of Mercedes.
Lap 24 would be the turning point of the race as Bottas slowed his winning pace to a crawl to let his teammate through for the lead. Mercedes did this to protect Hamilton from Vettel, who was hard on the charge behind him. This decision from a team standpoint made the most sense. It allowed Hamilton the potential to earn the most points possible and garner the team a possible 1-2 finish. This team order also gave the team a chance to earn the maximum amount of points toward the constructors’ championship. From a fan standpoint, it watered down the action and cheapened the race. It would have been great to see Vettel and Hamilton battle for position and even better, seen Bottas earn his first win of the season. But yet again, Bottas had to play second fiddle for the betterment of the team.
The situation reminded me of when Mercedes asked Bottas to hold the position at the German Grand Prix earlier this year after the late-race restart due to Vettel’s costly mistake. Viewers got annoyed when Bottas got told to hold the position behind his teammate even though he was faster on fresher rubber. In that case, Mercedes did give him a chance to get passed the eventual race winner. Now, it was only three corners worth of battling, but when viewing the circumstances of the championship, the decision was easy to understand and a sweeter pill to swallow for Bottas. Hamilton did come from his starting position of 14th to 1st when the championship was still in a precarious situation for the team. When Vettel retired from the race, Mercedes saw the opportunity for maximizing points, and it was no different in Sochi.
The team aspect in Formula One is unlike any other in motorsports. We repeatedly hear of these drivers worrying about what is best for their team. Bottas understood that in Germany and again in Sochi. He understands his defined role on the team as the second driver, but those of us on the outside have a hard time relating. Fans come to see a race, but these drivers come to maximize their team’s potential. Neither Hamilton or Bottas were proud of the racing that took place between them or the situation they were put in. But for Mercedes, it was the result they wanted and needed for the long term goal of the championship. The team result has always mattered more than the individual’s, and that was apparent on Sunday.