Sochi surprisingly delivered a thrilling Formula 1 race as a late downpour turned the Russian Grand Prix on its head.
The result was a milestone achievement for Lewis Hamilton as he wrestled back the lead of the world championship from main rival Max Verstappen, while there was gut-wrenching heartbreak for McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Here are our biggest winners and losers from a dramatic 15th round of the 2021 F1 season…
An important victory for Hamilton in Russia and one that saw him move back ahead of Verstappen in the title race, albeit by just two points.
Sochi was considered something of a must-win race for Mercedes and Hamilton ultimately delivered, though he did it the hard way after an uncharacteristically scruffy qualifying and poor start left him seventh on lap one.
But Hamilton recovered in convincing fashion with a typically relentless display – aided by the correct tyre call from Mercedes late on – that was key to him celebrating a remarkable centenary of wins in F1.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull
If you had told Red Bull and Verstappen that he would have finished second after starting dead last in Russia, they would have bitten your hand off.
But that was exactly what happened on Sunday as Verstappen turned in an epic recovery drive from 20th on the grid to take runner-up spot on the podium, some 53 seconds behind Hamilton.
The Dutchman was decisive in his overtakes and calculated throughout, before he led the critical call to switch to inters earlier than most of his rivals, a decision which resulted in him vaulting from seventh to second.
To come away from races in Italy and Sochi just two points behind Hamilton despite taking an engine penalty will give Verstappen and Red Bull huge confidence heading into the final seven races.
As Carlos Sainz himself admitted, at one stage of his Russian GP “it really looked like it was going wrong.”
The Ferrari driver surged into the lead with a perfect start and looked comfortable in the opening laps before he was re-passed by former McLaren teammate Norris.
An early pit stop ended up proving the wrong choice for Sainz and he struggled with graining, before resurrecting his race when he swapped slicks for inters when the rain arrived.
Sainz battled his way back through to the podium in third to seal an important 15-point haul for Ferrari on a day his teammate failed to score.
Fernando Alonso got the maximum out of his Alpine car in tricky conditions in qualifying and followed that up with an excellent drive to sixth in Sunday’s race at Sochi.
The two-time world champion was competitive throughout and pulled off an opportunistic overtake on Verstappen in the closing stages to sit sixth.
A podium could have been on the cards amid the drama at the end, but Alonso ultimately finished where he started with the sort of typically tenacious display we have come to expect from the Spaniard as he logged more valuable points for Alpine.
A really impressive drive from Kimi Raikkonen as the F1 veteran returned to action after missing two races due to a positive COVID-19 test.
The Finn found himself in and around the lower reaches for much of the race and gained some additional places amid the rain-induced chaos to take eighth.
It capped off Raikkonen’s best result since he finished fifth in the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix.
You have to feel sorry for Norris who lost out on what would have been a deserved maiden grand prix victory in Russia.
Norris had battled past Sainz after losing the lead from pole on the long drag down to Turn 2, but once he got back in front, the 21-year-old Briton looked in command.
That was until the rain arrived with five laps to go.
It was light initially and that convinced Norris to stay out on hards, but that decision dashed his hopes of a sensational first-ever grand prix win when the rain came down harder.
Norris ultimately held up his hands for wanting to stay out and retain track position and was left understandably heartbroken by the way his race panned out.
A race that had so much promise ended up in disappointment for Sergio Perez, who like Norris, wrongly gambled to stay out in slicks instead of pitting for inters.
Perez looked like a real podium contender as he charged back from a sluggish pit stop in the second half of the race on the medium compound, but his hopes of just a third podium for Red Bull were ended when the rain fell.
Perez fell to ninth at the flag, a poor result that didn’t reflect his performance for large spells of the race when he appeared on course to make up for a below-par qualifying.
A miserable result for Aston Martin on a day things could have been so different.
Lance Stroll found himself running in fourth thanks to an incredible start but being the first driver to trigger an undercut failed to pay off as he stopped first out of the leaders.
Vettel made encouraging progress in the initial light rainfall but the four-time world champion lost out on a potentially big result by coming in to swap onto inters far too late.
It was a race that went begging for Aston Martin, with the Silverstone outfit leaving Sochi with zero points to its name.
It was a similarly disappointing weekend all round for AlphaTauri.
After failing to make Q3 for just the third time in 2021, Gasly’s frustrations continued on Sunday as a gamble to stay out on slicks when the rain hit meant he missed out on points.
Things were no better for Yuki Tsunoda, who struggled to17th, leaving AlphaTauri with the sense it had missed a big opportunity. Alonso’s P6 for nearest rivals Alpine compounded a bad day.
The only solace for the Faenza squad was that Aston Martin also blanked.
P16 was far from the result Antonio Giovinazzi needed as he fights for his future in F1.
The Italian was comfortably out-performed by teammate Kimi Raikkonen all weekend but was also incredibly unfortunate in the race after losing radio communications after the opening lap.
Giovinazzi faced a massive uphill battle all race and his radio issues meant Alfa Romeo couldn’t call him in when it mattered most.