SHAFAQNA – It had the biggest buildup and was the most anticipated race of the season, but because it also was the saddest moment of the season, what turned out to be an uneventful inaugural Russian Grand Prix was something of a relief for the Formula One series.
But for Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team, accepting the trophies on the podium from President Vladimir V. Putin, it was a great moment.
Hamilton led the race from start to finish to take his ninth victory of the season, his fourth in a row and the 31st of his career, to equal Nigel Mansell’s record for British victories.
His teammate, Nico Rosberg, finished the race second, and the Mercedes team thereby won the constructors’ title for 2014, with three races left to go.
It was Mercedes’ first constructors’ title as a team.
“It was a good day, an amazing weekend,” Hamilton said. “I’m, firstly, so proud to contribute to this great team to get the first constructors’ championship for this team. I could only have dreamed that when I joined this team.”
Valtteri Bottas finished third in his Williams.
The race weekend began under an emotional weight, just days after an accident at the Japanese Grand Prix the previous Sunday left Jules Bianchi, a driver with the Russian-owned team Marussia, in a coma with a serious brain injury. It continued with political controversy over Russian involvement in Ukraine and the news that Putin would show up at the race.
Although the president did attend and there was great pomp in a prerace show of Cossack dances and Russian flags, the track action passed without serious incident and in a sleepy manner not equaled this season.
So dominant were the Mercedes cars that Rosberg was able to recover from an error at the start of the race that threw him from second place back to second-to-last place and climb up through the pack during the next 52 laps on the same set of tires to finish second.
“Sorry guys, that was very unnecessary, but thanks for the awesome car,” Rosberg told his team on the wind-down lap.
Speaking later, he added: “It was just a mistake on my side. I just braked too late, that’s it. After that, my tires were just square, they were vibrating so much I couldn’t see where I was going. I thought that was the end of the day. And I managed to get all the way to second, and it was just thanks to my car.”
With Rosberg out of the way, the race was the easiest of the season for Hamilton.
“Once I was in the lead I was really just having to control, look after the tires, and managing the fuel was straightforward,” Hamilton said. “I wasn’t having to push much. The car has been amazing, and I have really, really enjoyed the track, and Russia has been one of my favorite places this year.”
The two Mercedes cars qualified first and second on the street circuit that winds its way through the buildings that were the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The drivers praised the circuit as enjoyable to drive, but it was the circuit at which they had the least amount of tire wear this season.
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Hamilton now leads the drivers’ standings by 17 points, with 291 points, and Rosberg is in second, with 274 points. Daniel Ricciardo of the Red Bull team is third, with 199 points.
Mercedes has 565 points, and Red Bull, which has won the title in the previous four seasons, is second with 342 points. There are three races left in the season with a maximum of 129 points available for a team.
Mercedes has been racing under its own name since 2010, after spending the previous decade and a half providing engines to other teams, notably in a joint-ownership program with the McLaren team, where it won the constructors’ title several times.
Although Mercedes won the drivers’ title in 1954 and 1955, the constructors’ title did not exist until 1958, by which time Mercedes had withdrawn from the series. Although the Russian Grand Prix was the first in Formula One history, since 1950, there was a Russian Grand Prix in 1913 and in 1914, which was won by a Benz.
Niki Lauda, the three-time drivers’ champion who is the nonexecutive chairman of the Mercedes team, celebrated the victory as if it were his own.
“Unbelievable,” Lauda told British television. “I am really happy, I don’t know if I can now call myself a four-time world champion.”
The Mercedes team has dominated the season, as its two drivers won all the races but three, which were won by Ricciardo. The Mercedes drivers have finished first and second in nine races of the 16 so far this year.
The main reason for the Mercedes domination was the new turbo, hybrid engine specification this year that the German manufacturer built better than the Ferrari and Renault engine providers. At the Russian Grand Prix, the first five cars were all powered by the Mercedes engine, with the McLaren Mercedes cars of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen finishing fourth and fifth.
The only other point of interest, aside from Rosberg’s drive on Sunday, was a brilliant qualifying drive by Daniil Kvyat, a Russian driver, who drove his Toro Rosso to fifth position on the grid, in his best qualifying session of the season. The 20-year-old finished the race in 14th position.
Only two cars failed to finish the race, one of them Max Chilton’s car, which retired with a technical problem after only 12 laps. His team, Marussia, had run only one car, out of respect for Bianchi, its other driver.
Fifteen minutes before the race started, all of the drivers gathered on the grid to support Bianchi, and throughout the race, a message on the track in large letters read: “Jules, we are all supporting you.”