Lewis Hamilton returns to winning ways after a Ferrari fiasco, while Carlos Sainz stars again: Rating all 20 drivers from Sochi.

Lewis HamiltonQualified 2nd, Finished 1st

It may not be reflected in poles and the dominant victories we have come to expect, but Lewis Hamilton continues to extract the maximum out of a Mercedes car which is clearly slower than Ferrari’s – at least on Saturdays.

Just like in Singapore, Hamilton managed to split Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel with a great final qualifying lap, one that was more than half a second faster than Valtteri Bottas in the sister W10. Hamilton was then faultless on Sunday, only losing out to Vettel on the first lap on the medium tyre despite an early scare with the McLaren initially passing him, and was much faster than Bottas in terms of race pace as he kept Ferrari at arm’s length in the early stages.

He was then lucky with how the race fell into his hands thanks to the “deliciously ironic” DNF of Vettel, which then gave Hamilton a ‘free’ pit-stop due the Virtual Safety Car, but it was the Englishman’s qualifying performance and pace advantage over Bottas which put him in that position to benefit.

Hamilton can’t wrap up the title in Japan, but a 73-point advantage means he is likely – on this form – to do so at the following race in Mexico. He is also now only 10 races away from breaking Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record…Rating out of 10: 9

Valtteri BottasQualified 5th (started 4th), Finished 2nd

Valtteri Bottas has to be given credit for his staunch defending from Leclerc in the closing stages – evoking memories of him holding off Vettel for a Russia victory in 2017 – but once again, this was not the Finn’s finest weekend. He was out-qualified by a Red Bull and, after rising up a place on the grid thanks to Max Verstappen’s grid penalty – he was passed by Lando Norris at the start and spent a good chunk of time behind the McLaren. Even after the Safety Car when Bottas was on the same soft tyres as Hamilton, he was defending from the Ferrari rather than attacking his team-mate for the win. Although he finished second, Bottas was comfortably the fourth quickest driver on Sunday.

Mercedes will be delighted with Bottas for playing the team game by holding up the Ferrari and protecting Hamilton, and it is these sorts of drives that help him come contract time, but Valtteri is quickly seeing his personal ambitions fade away, slipping eight more points behind Hamilton in the title race. He’s still without a win since round four in Baku.

“He wants the year to end again,” said Sky F1’s Paul Di Resta. “He wants to reset. His body language just isn’t the same.

“Where he was in Australia, in Baku, he’s a different character. He was in the confidence that Charles Leclerc is in at the moment.”Rating out of 10: 7

Charles LeclercQualified 1st, Finished 3rd

We’re learning more and more about Charles Leclerc as the 2019 season progresses. He has shown he has the potential to be Ferrari, and F1’s, next big superstar – and his qualifying performances of late have been nothing short of remarkable. He sealed his sixth of the season in Sochi, four-tenths ahead of Hamilton and Vettel.

But the Monegasque also proved again in Russia that he is not unflappable – nor is he unbeatable.

You can understand Leclerc’s frustrations at the start of the race – he moved to the left-hand side of the track to help Vettel – but in truth his team-mate didn’t need the slipstream as he had already stormed ahead of Hamilton off the line, But after losing the lead, Leclerc’s radio outbursts were misguided. He was asking Ferrari to do the impossible – swap their two drivers when the man in front was clearly faster – and should probably have recognised that when he struggled to keep within a second of his team-mate. Vettel stretched his advantage to over 4s by the time Leclerc stopped, showing that the youngster still has improvements to make on a Sunday despite his immense qualifying speed.

Still, Ferrari would probably be celebrating a fourth consecutive victory, and another one-two, were it not for Vettel’s DNF – it’s hard to imagine Hamilton could have passed one Ferrari, let alone both – and it would have been very interesting to see how the team played a Leclerc-Vettel battle in the second half of the race. Instead, it was Leclerc who was faced with the task of overtaking, something he could not do despite a straight-line speed advantage over Bottas.

Would Vettel, at least a couple of tenths faster than Leclerc per-lap, have been able to get ahead of the Mercedes?

But make no mistake about it, Leclerc is in fine form.Rating out of 10: 9

Max VerstappenQualified 4th (started 9th), Finished 4th

Red Bull are failing to match Ferrari and Mercedes at any track at the moment, which must be incredibly frustrating for their star driver Max Verstappen. Still, the Dutchman, 22 on Monday, continues to deliver consistently and out-perform the tools at his disposal.

Verstappen, despite knowing he had a grid penalty, impressively out-qualified a Mercedes on Saturday, and then made his way through the midfield relatively quickly on Sunday after starting ninth. Verstappen may have been fancying his chances in other circumstances when the Safety Car brought him back towards the top three, but Red Bull just didn’t have the pace this weekend, while he was on medium tyres compared to his rivals’ softs. That meant Verstappen had to settle for what he described as a “boring” P4.

The Japanese GP is massive for Red Bull, and Honda – but they couldn’t ask for a better lead driver than Verstappen.Rating out of 10: 8.5

Alex AlbonQualified 19th (Started pit-lane), Finished 5th

Certainly not the smoothest of weekends for Alex Albon, but you’d suspect he’d have taken fifth coming into it.

His crash in qualifying was an unforced error which Red Bull would have been desperate to avoid after Pierre Gasly’s struggles, and Albon can’t afford too many more of if he is going to keep his drive in F1 2020. After starting in the pit-lane in the race, Albon did well – although P5 does flatter him slightly.

By the time of the Safety Car, Albon had only actually passed three cars on-track – George Russell in the Williams and two Toro Rossos. He was 10th when racing resumed and so made a lot of passes after that, but he had the advantage of softer, fresher tyres than most of the drivers ahead, who were all in slower cars.

But overtaking isn’t always easy in Sochi – especially in a Red Bull which isn’t the quickest on the straight – so Albon does deserve credit for his comeback. Red Bull boss Christian Horner described it as “another mature drive”.Rating out of 10: 7.5

Smooth operation and back to where we deserve! Solid P6. Felt nice to fight boths Mercs at the start and both Red Bulls later, but we lacked a bit of pace to hold them off. Happy with best of the rest again though. Great job everyone. Another double points finish for the team 馃挭馃徎 pic.twitter.com/PsPsmGeRgu

— Carlos Sainz (@Carlossainz55) September 29, 2019

Carlos SainzQualified 6th (started 5th), Finished 6th

After the disappointment of Belgium, Italy and Singapore, Carlos Sainz was back in the points in Russia and was arguably the star performer.

Sainz qualified sixth, and started fifth, and even passed Hamilton at the start of the race. He was never going to stay ahead of the Mercedes for long but built a large gap to his closest rival, and even when the field bunched up following the Safety Car, Sainz didn’t look in danger from the midfield. It was just a shame that he didn’t hang on for a third fifth-place of the season, admitting to Sky F1 that he couldn’t afford to lose time by battling Albon on the softs.

Sainz has finished sixth or higher in six races this season and is gaining on that position in the championship, too, just three points off Gasly. A smooth operator.Rating out of 10: 9.5

Sergio PerezQualified 12th (started 11th), Finished 7th

“I think it’s been one of my greatest races that I can remember,” said Sergio Perez about his performance – and that says a lot coming from a man who has six F1 podiums.

Perez may not have made it into Q3 but made a great start – moving ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Verstappen – to be in the mix for the points and even though the timing of the Safety Car didn’t help him, he was relentless in his pursuit of Kevin Magnussen and Lando Norris, who both eventually buckled.

His post-summer results are now 6th, 7th, DNF, 7th. A driver in form.Rating out of 10: 9

Lando NorrisQualified 8th (started 7th), Finished 8th

Lando Norris won’t be overly happy with P8, but he did at least seal McLaren’s first double points finish since the summer break. Norris, like Sainz, started extremely well and held up Bottas for a few laps after passing the Mercedes – and after that the English rookie was a position behind Sainz before the VSC. The timing of that didn’t help him – allowing a Haas inbetween the McLarens, and Norris was then passed by a Red Bull and a Racing Point after the Safety Car.

“I was vulnerable to cars behind on fresher tyres,” explained Norris, who will hope to get on top of his team-mate again on a Saturday after being out-qualified here.Rating out of 10: 7.5

Kevin Magnussen​​​​​​​Qualified 14th (Started 13th), Finished 9th

You’ve got to feel for Kevin Magnussen. The Dane was on for his best result since Germany despite Haas’ Sunday struggles, and was battling like crazy to keep up with his rivals after benefiting in terms of position from the Safety Car. But when heading onto the Turn 2 run-off area when defending from Perez for P7, Magnussen didn’t abide by the ‘bollard rules’ when rejoining the track and was handed a five-second penalty because of it.

Magnussen described the stewards’ ruling as “harsh” and “c**p” as he felt he already had a penalty by losing the position, but that time penalty dropped him another place to ninth.

Rules are rules, but this seemed harsh on a driver who recovered well on Sunday after a disappointing qualifying.Rating out of 10: 8

Nico Hulkenberg​​​​​​​Qualified 7th (started 6th), Finished 10th

Starting sixth, Nico Hulkenberg would have been confident of scoring solid points, and Renault confident of challenging and beating midfield rivals McLaren. Unfortunately, Sunday was somewhat of a nightmare.

“Everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong today,” said Hulkenberg. “A poor start, a slow pit-stop and an unfortunate VSC timing. It’s disappointing as the potential was there for a better result.”

Hulkenberg was fortunate even to score a point in the end, having to pass Lance Stroll after the Safety Car.Rating out of 10: 7

Out of the points

Lance Stroll, who started 14th, was lucky to avoid the Turn 2 carnage at the start of the race – just managing to dart down the inside of Daniel Ricciardo – but after that his afternoon was pretty quiet. He was running just outside the points for most of the race and couldn’t hold off Hulkenberg despite his straight-line speed advantage in the Racing Point.

“It was a tough race today and to finish just outside the points is really frustrating,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in traffic and I wasn’t really happy with the balance of the car.” With Perez finding form, Stroll has got to step up.Rating out of 10: 6

A good recovery drive from Daniil Kvyat considering he started at the back of the grid, and he out-performed Pierre Gasly in their wheel-to-wheel battles. That must have felt good.

But Toro Rosso didn’t really have the same pace as their rivals in Sochi. Those Honda reliability failures, meanwhile, are worrying as we head towards Suzuka.Rating out of 10: 7

Another painful weekend for Kimi Raikkonen. He was out-qualified by his team-mate and then jump-started on the grid, leading to a drive-through penalty. He got back in contention after the Safety Car but only managed to pass Gasly due to his unsuccessful lunge on Kvyat. Alfa Romeo didn’t have the pace for the points here.

“The last four races have been nightmares,” said Kimi, who hasn’t finished in the top 10 since the summer break.Rating out of 10: 5.5

Not your finest race, Pierre Gasly. He only really had team-mate Kvyat to scrap with due to Toro Rosso’s pace, or lack of, and made a clumsy error when trying to lunge down the inside of his team-mate into Turn 2 after the Safety Car. He braked far too late, which led to him missing the corner completely, nearly colliding with Kvyat, and losing a place to Raikkonen.Rating out of 10: 6

8:37
Sky F1’s Anthony Davidson is at the SkyPad to analyse a chaotic start to the race at the Russian GP

Sky F1’s Anthony Davidson is at the SkyPad to analyse a chaotic start to the race at the Russian GP

Antonio Giovinazzi qualified strongly on Saturday and started P12 on the grid, but his race was effectively ended on the first lap after finding himself as the filling of a Grosjean-Ricciardo sandwich. The Italian was unfortunate as there was a gap in the middle, but Grosjean evidently didn’t see him and turned in. He struggled with damage after that, and limped home in a lowly 15th.Rating out of 10: 6.5

Did Not Finish

You get the feeling Robert Kubica can’t wait for this season to finish. More than a second off his team-mate in qualifying, this was arguably his worst weekend of a struggling year. He was stopped by Williams as they tried to save parts.Rating out of 10: 5

George Russell said he was “feeling good” early in the race and the team opted to fit him with the softs after the VSC, which could have given him a chance to attack some other cars. Unfortunately for him, there was an issue with the car following the restart which caused him to lock a front wheel and head into the barriers.Rating out of 10: 6

3:37
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel reflects on a disappointing result after retiring from the Race with a engine issue

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel reflects on a disappointing result after retiring from the Race with a engine issue

Sebastian Vettel was undoubtedly the faster Ferrari on Sunday. He certainly has some pace to find in qualifying, but his start to the race in Sochi was superb, and he was comfortably quicker than Leclerc in the opening stages as he defiantly rejected his team’s request to swap places.

Such a shame that an engine issue led to a first DNF of the season as – even if Leclerc was ahead of Vettel after those first stops – he would have been confident of sealing a second successive win.Rating out of ten: 9

It probably didn’t come close to the disappointment of Singapore, but Daniel Ricciardo had another frustrating afternoon on Sunday. He just can’t catch a break.

10th, and more than three-tenths off Hulkenberg, in qualifying was slightly concerning, but Ricciardo wasn’t at fault for his DNF in the race. He went down the inside of Grosjean into Turn 2, but the Haas driver collided into Giovinazzi and then the Renault. Ricciardo carried on for a while, but had too much damage.Rating out of 10: 6