Championship leader Nico Rosberg extended his incredible winning streak to seven races with a comfortable lights-to-flag victory at the Russian Grand Prix.
Rosberg’s lead was never threatened as Lewis Hamilton, helped in part by a chaotic first lap, recovered from his engine failure in qualifying to finish second, with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen completing the podium places.
In the build-up to the race, Hamilton insisted he could not lose any further ground to Rosberg, but the Briton will now head to the Spanish Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time 43 points adrift of his team-mate.
A Herculean effort from Hamilton’s Mercedes team, who flew replacement parts from their Brixworth base on a chartered jet to Sochi, ensured the Briton started from 10th rather than the pit lane under Formula One’s complicated engine rules. It also afforded Hamilton a bird’s eye view of the mayhem which was to unfold at turn two on the opening lap.
While Rosberg, starting from pole, easily retained his lead, Sebastian Vettel’s race was quickly over. Starting in seventh after a grid penalty, Vettel labelled Daniil Kvyat as a “mad man” in a toe-curling face-to-face exchange at the previous race in China, and here, the two men were at it again.
Kvyat, the home favourite, thumped into the back of Vettel at turn two before crashing into him again moments later. The force of the impact sent Vettel spinning into the wall.
A virtual safety car was then deployed to clean up Vettel’s Ferrari, and in avoiding the first-lap chaos – which also ended Nico Hulkenberg’s race and saw his Force India team-mate Sergio Perez sustain a puncture – Hamilton had moved up to fifth.
When Rosberg stopped for a fresh set of tyres on lap 21, Hamilton was 13 seconds adrift.
With 16 laps remaining, he had got the gap down to a little over seven seconds before he was informed of a water pressure issue, ending his challenge.
Elsewhere, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa finished fourth and fifth for Williams, while both McLaren drivers finished in the points for the first time since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix – an unwanted run of 12 races.
Fernando Alonso was sixth with Jenson Button passing Carlos Sainz in the closing stages to finish 10th.