Lewis Hamilton took a decisive step towards claiming the 2018 Formula One Drivers’ Championship with victory in Singapore and will again hope to top the podium at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 7:10am ET).
Ferrari were expected to have the quickest car in Singapore but Hamilton produced a superb qualifying lap to claim pole position. He then dominated the race to take his seventh win of the season and his fourth in the last five races.
With his title rival Sebastian Vettel finishing third for Ferrari behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, Hamilton was able to extend his advantage at the top of the standings to 40 points with six races remaining. That is a commanding position to be in, especially as he and Mercedes are favorite with the US sportsbooks to secure victory in Russia.
The F1 Russian Grand Prix in Sochi was added to the calendar in 2014 and has been won by Mercedes in all four of its runnings to date. Hamilton won the first two races, Nico Rosberg prospered in 2016, and Valtteri Bottas emerged victorious last year.
Hamilton didn’t enjoy the best of races on that occasion, qualifying and finishing fourth, but he has been in excellent form recently. Mercedes seem to have reversed Ferrari’s early-season advantage in qualifying and are also now more or less equal on race pace. With Vettel on the back foot, Hamilton can inch closer to a fifth drivers’ championship by winning on Sunday.
Bottas, Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top six in Singapore. That is only the second time this season that the drivers of the top three teams have locked out the top-six finishing positions. They were followed by the McLaren of Fernando Alonso, the Renault of Carlos Sainz, Charles Leclerc in his Sauber and the second Renault of Nico Hulkenberg.
After two very good weekends, Force India failed to score in Singapore following a first-lap collision between their drivers that ended Esteban Ocon’s race and seriously hampered that of Sergio Perez. It was not the first time the pair have clashed and the team have now declared that they will not be allowed to directly race one another on track.
Force India had their points for the season reset following their takeover prior to the Belgian Grand Prix. Their pace in recent races, improved by the implementation of updates that had previously been on hold, has been sufficiently impressive for Sainz to state that he still views them as a challenger for Renault’s fourth-place in the constructors’ championship.
The team has always gone well in Russia. Perez scored points in 2014 and 2016 and even claimed a podium finish in 2015. Last year, he led Ocon home to sixth and seventh. With both Red Bull drivers potentially looking at grid penalties for engine changes, there could be an opening to get into the top six on Sunday and Perez is the most likely man to take it.
Leclerc has claimed six points finishes for Sauber in his debut season in the sport and has been rewarded with a place at Ferrari next year, where he will replace Raikkonen to team with Vettel. Sauber have had better pace that most were expecting. Indeed, Leclerc’s teammate Marcus Ericsson has himself finished in the points four times. Leclerc has regularly been ready to pounce when some of the other midfield teams have had problems.
Such an opportunity could again present itself this weekend. McLaren do not expect to be as competitive as they were in Singapore. Haas have always struggled to get their tyres working properly in Sochi. Renault’s recent updates haven’t really worked out for them, and they have already switched the majority of their attention to next year’s car.
Leclerc has never driven at Sochi in person, but he has logged plenty of simulator time there and has already shown himself to be a quick learner. Another points finish could well be on the cards.