Lewis Hamilton says he could have won the Russian Grand Prix had mechanical gremlins not intervened to cut short his pursuit of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
The Briton had to come from tenth on the grid at Sochi Autodrom after engine failure prevented him from taking part in Q3 on Saturday afternoon but, after a lengthy rebuild that included fitting the latest spec fuel system after it was specially flown in from the UK overnight, he got as high as second place before issues returned.
Hamilton managed to avoid the chaos through the first couple of corners – which accounted for Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and dented the hopes of Red Bull amongst others – but still had to fight his way by both Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas before getting a run at Rosberg.
The gap between the two Silver Arrows had come down to 7.7secs, with Hamilton clearly pressing on, when the world champion got a message from pit-wall telling him that they were investigating a potential water pressure issue on his V6. Although that stabilised, Hamilton had had to back off, allowing Rosberg to cruise to a comfortable fourth win of the year.
“I wasn't at full throttle down the straights, just trying to look after it,” Hamilton confirmed, clearly disappointed that he could not continue to take the fight to his team-mate, “There wasn't a doubt in my mind that I could win it – I had the pace, but then I had the problems with the engine again so I had to back off.”
Word only got through to Hamilton after he radioed the team asking if his engineer was there to talk to, but he got the reply 'we're a bit busy at the moment' before he was given the news of his ailing engine.
“I had no idea how critical the engine was, there was no indication for me in the car but I had to slow down,” the Briton sighed, “I know the car felt good and, at that time, I was lapping quicker than Nico, so I was chewing away at [the lead]. It was quite a big gap but it came down from 13secs to 7.5secs and it was at that point that I had to back off. I had no indication and didn't know what the issue was or whether the engine would actually make it, so I just had to nurse it home.”
The Mercedes driver had a grandstand view of the incidents that marred the opening lap, even coming close to Vettel's Ferrari as it exited stage right.
“It was not the easiest first corner, but all races have been the same so far,” he reflected, “I just caught a small glimpse of some drama happening out of the corner of my eye, so I knew someone was going to spin. Then, when I got to turn three, I saw that one of the Ferraris was right next to me but I heard a big kind of a bang and he was gone, so I don't really know what happened.”
After that, Hamilton enjoyed working his way through the field, particularly passing the two Finns that barred his way to the front.
I don't know if Kimi was expecting me to overtake there, which was great, and the second move, on Valtteri, I was quite far back but he didn't seem to defend so it was quite easy.”