On Sunday, Lewis Hamilton won his 100th Formula One race, retaking the championship lead amid high drama at the rain-soaked Russian Grand Prix. After being stuck on 99 since the British Grand Prix in July, Hamilton finally cracked the century mark thanks to a late downpour that wreaked mayhem. The 36-year-old Briton reclaimed the lead in the drivers’ standings by two points over second-placed Max Verstappen. Hamilton informed his team on the vehicle radio after winning his 100th chequered flag 14 years after his first in Canada: “Oh, my goodness. That was a lot of labour, man!”
With McLaren’s Lando Norris solidly in possession up front, the seven-time champion looked destined to come away for the seventh race in a row trapped on the 99 mark.
However, with five circuits to go, the rain that had been threatening the championship’s 15th round for so long arrived, causing chaos.
As slick-tired cars began to lose grip and come in for intermediates, Hamilton followed them, leaving Norris in the lead.
With three circuits to go and Norris a sitting duck and sliding all over the track, Hamilton pushed his way to the front and clinched the necessary number of victories.
After jumping out of his car he said: “The rain came, it was very opportunistic, the team did a great job, I’m grateful for the points”.
“It’s taken a long time to get to 100 wins.
“I wasn’t even sure it would come. The team made such a good call at the end. I didn’t want to let Lando go. I’m incredibly grateful to all these men and women here and back in the factory. Wow, 100.”
After a rare error in qualifying 24 hours prior, Hamilton started from the second row.
“Going to bed last night, with the job that I did yesterday, there were subtle little mistakes. I was so determined to do the best job I could. It was tough.”
A dancer pirouetted on a grand piano at the back of the grid to provide a surreal touch to the occasion as flecks of rain began to gather on drivers’ visors at the start.
On the first lap, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz beat Norris and George Russell in the Williams to win the long 900m race to the first turn, while Hamilton dropped from fourth to seventh.
Mercedes’ strategy with Valtteri Bottas, whose engine was replaced so he could start at the end of the grid and keep Verstappen up, worked for all of seven circuits until the Dutch driver slipped past the Finn, prompting smug smiles from the Red Bull garage.
After flying by Sainz to reclaim the lead he had lost at the start on lap 13, Norris said over the team radio, “Got him.”
On the next lap, Sainz brought his Ferrari into the pits, promoting Daniel Ricciardo to second and leaving McLaren in first and second place.
As the race approached the halfway point, the top ten had yet to pit, with Verstappen moving up to sixth.
Ricciardo was the first of the front runners to change tyres, however due to a late tyre change, the Monza victor was relegated to 14th, while Hamilton took advantage of the clear air to set the fastest lap.
On lap 27, the century-chasing driver finally came in, followed by Verstappen, who dropped to ninth and 12th.
After Ricciardo’s troublesome visit, Norris came in for a smooth stop, with the McLaren mechanics high-fiving in relief.
“You can win this race,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Hamilton on the radio.
Norris had reclaimed the lead with 10 laps to go, with Hamilton lurking in his wing mirror, roughly a second behind.
Then it started to rain.
As McLaren gambled, cars began to come in for a change of rubber for more grip, including Hamilton, who stayed out on hards with a 25-second lead.
Fernando Alonso pirouetted like a pre-race ballerina, followed by Norris, to deliver Hamilton the lead and a piece of F1 history.