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Monday November 18th, 2019 2:49PM

Hamilton wins Russian GP after teammate lets him through

By The Associated Press
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix and closed in on his fifth Formula One title, but he's not happy.

Victory was handed to Hamilton by his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who pulled over to let him through on orders from the team.

"It's never, ever in my whole life been the way that I wanted to win a race," said Hamilton, who said Mercedes overrode his objections to the switch. Passing Bottas "did not feel good."

Hamilton cruised to victory after the switch and now leads Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel by 50 points in the standings as both chase their fifth title. Even if Vettel wins all five remaining races, he's no longer guaranteed to beat Hamilton.

Hamilton held off a challenge from Vettel at the start and overtook him after the German briefly got ahead at the pit stops, but by lap 25, he was again under serious pressure from Vettel.

Soon the call came through.

"You need to let Lewis by into turn 13 this lap," was the team's message to Bottas, who could have taken his first win this year. Seconds later, the Finn eased over to the side of the track.

"I assured Valtteri it's not something I asked for, but it's what the team feels is right to do. It's a very awkward position to be in," Hamilton said. "There are not many teammates who would do something like that."

It was Hamilton's fifth win in six races and Mercedes' third one-two finish this year.

Team orders, as such coordinated passes are known, have been used for decades and are allowed under F1 rules. But they have a history of alienating fans who would prefer to see competitive racing.

Mercedes strategist James Vowles defended the move by saying Hamilton had a "small blister" on his tire and could have fallen behind Vettel.

Vettel, who finished third, said he held no malice toward Hamilton and Bottas for their switch.

"Well done to both of them. They played together as a team very well," said Vettel. "I think in the position that they are, it's a no-brainer what they did today."

Starting one place behind Hamilton in third, Vettel tried and failed to overtake him off the start and failed to take advantage when Hamilton missed a chance to get past Bottas into the second corner.

On a Russian track that makes overtaking tricky, the main drama came when Hamilton came out just behind Vettel after stopping on lap 14, sparking a brief but fierce battle between the two title rivals.

Vettel locked a wheel while lining up a move on Bottas, allowing Hamilton to close in before the start-finish straight, but when Hamilton tried to overtake, Vettel cut him off and forced him toward the wall.

Hamilton hung on to Vettel around the long left-hander of turn 3 and charged up the inside into the right-angle turn 4 to retake second. "It was a question of who was going to brake earlier at the next corner and I wanted it more," Hamilton said.

The stewards investigated Vettel for blocking Hamilton — who said the German "nearly put me in the wall" — but didn't take action.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen started 19th on his 21st birthday but charged through the field to finish fifth, though he couldn't challenge the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen ahead of him.

It was another dramatic drive from Verstappen, who over four seasons has firmly established himself as F1's most aggressive and exciting racer, but has never had a car capable of a true title challenge.

Behind Verstappen was the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. Charles Leclerc, who's replacing Raikkonen at Ferrari next year, was seventh after another strong drive for Sauber, ahead of Kevin Magnussen's Haas.

The two Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez rounded out the top 10 after their own failed experiment with using team orders to climb up the field.

___

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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