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Bottas wins as penalties put Hamilton record bid on hold

(Reuters) - Valtteri Bottas won the Russian Grand Prix for Mercedes on Sunday after team mate and Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton was penalised for infringements before the race had even started.

Formula One F1 - Russian Grand Prix - Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia - September 27, 2020. Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas celebrates with the trophy on the podium after winning the race. Pool via REUTERS/Kirill Kudryavtsev

Hamilton, who had started on pole position in Sochi hoping for a 91st victory to equal Ferrari great Michael Schumacher’s all-time record, finished third behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

He accused stewards of trying to stop him winning and said the “ridiculous” sanctions were excessive but to be expected.

“They’re trying to stop me, aren’t they?” the Briton told Sky Sports television.

The Briton’s lead over Bottas was reduced to a still healthy 44 points after 10 of 17 races, with the Finn collecting a bonus point for fastest lap.

“Never give up. It’s a good day,” said Bottas, who addressed his critics in more basic terms over the team radio as he took the chequered flag.

“It’s nice to get a win, it’s been a while and I need to try and keep the momentum...there’s still quite a few races to go, so you never know. I’ll keep pushing, I won’t give up and we’ll see how it ends up.”

The win -- by 7.729 seconds -- was the Finn’s second of the season, and first since the Austrian opener in July.

‘RIDICULOUS’ PENALTIES

Bottas said he had been lucky but was well-placed to win anyway, with Hamilton starting on the higher-wearing softs after a fraught Saturday qualifying while the Finn was on the mediums -- the better long-term strategy.

Hamilton’s hopes were in any case dashed when stewards issued two five-second penalties for making practice starts outside the designated area as he headed to the grid.

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“I’m pretty sure no-one’s got two five second penalties for something so ridiculous before,” said the Briton, who had won six of the nine races before Sochi.

“I didn’t put anyone in danger. I’ve done this at a million tracks over the years and never been questioned on it.

Hamilton was also handed two penalty points on his licence, which would have left him just two away from a one-race ban, but they were later rescinded after Mercedes explained the driver was following their instructions.

Stewards said the team-to-car audio backed this up. Mercedes were instead fined 25,000 euros ($29,052).

“If Lewis wants to raise something, as I have said to him before...the door is always open,” said race director Michael Masi of Hamilton’s comments.

“We have the stewards as an independent judiciary to adjudicate...there was an infringement and it doesn’t matter if it was Lewis Hamilton or any other one of the 19 drivers.”

In a dull race after two exciting rounds in Italy, Mercedes continued their record of winning every Russian Grand Prix since the first at the 2014 Winter Olympics host venue.

Mexican Sergio Perez was fourth for Racing Point with Australian Daniel Ricciardo fifth for Renault and Charles Leclerc sixth for Ferrari.

Frenchman Esteban Ocon took seventh for Renault with Russian driver Daniil Kvyat eighth and pleasing the first real crowd of a season hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

AlphaTauri team mate Pierre Gasly, a surprise winner at Monza, was ninth and Red Bull’s Alexander Albon took the final point in 10th.

The safety car was deployed for four laps after the start when McLaren’s Carlos Sainz went off and misjudged his return to the track, hitting the wall hard.

Leclerc also tagged Lance Stroll’s Racing Point, with the Canadian spinning out.

Hamilton served his penalties in one pitstop, returning in 11th place but moving up to third after others pitted. “This is just ridiculous, man,” he said over the radio. ($1 = 0.8605 euros)

Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond and Ian Chadband

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