I didn't ignore Ferrari's orders and hand Hamilton victory in Sochi, maintains Vettel
Sebastian Vettel insisted he did not defy team orders after Lewis Hamilton took advantage of a Ferrari meltdown to win in Russia and edge closer to a sixth Formula One world title.
Hamilton should never have been in contention to win here in Sochi, but for the bumbling Scuderia throwing away a certain one-two after Vettel broke down and Charles Leclerc dropped from first to third.
As the Briton celebrated his ninth victory of the year, moving 73 points clear in the standings with just 130 points remaining, Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto was attempting to manage a driver crisis following the fallout from a curious agreement struck on the eve of yesterday's race.
The Italian team had decided that, in order to beat Hamilton and finish first and second, pole-sitter Leclerc would provide Vettel with a slipstream on the 900m charge to the opening bend. The arrangement determined that if Vettel, who started third, got ahead of both Hamilton and Leclerc, he would allow his team-mate back into the lead.
Ferrari three times ordered Vettel to let Leclerc by, but he rebuffed their orders. The German said that he would be in danger of losing third to Hamilton if he slowed down. He also argued that he made the move fair and square and without a tow.
With Vettel refusing to play ball, Ferrari pitted Leclerc four laps earlier to give him the advantage of fresh rubber. It worked, but moments after leaving the pits, Vettel retired with an engine failure.
With Vettel's car in a precarious position, the virtual safety car period was deployed to slow down the field, affording Hamilton, who had yet to pit, a free stop for tyres and the lead of the race. An 82nd career win followed.
"I stuck to the agreement," said Vettel (32). "I spoke with Charles before the race. It was quite clear."
Leclerc said: "Everything was respected at the start. I gave Seb the slipstream, and we knew he would overtake. There was no need to take a risk because we would swap back and that is why I didn't fight him. I need to speak to the team."
Binotto insisted neither driver defied the deal, but his words appeared to pin the blame on four-time world king Vettel.
"We agreed that Charles would give the slipstream to Seb," said Binotto. "Charles giving the slipstream to Seb and not defending his position would provide Seb with an advantage. So later on we would swap the positions.
"The start went as planned and therefore we thought it was right to ask Seb to swap."
With just five rounds left, it is difficult to see anything preventing Hamilton from taking the title. He said: "We are just trying to put one foot in front of the other and not stumble."
FIA Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix, Sochi Olympic Park, Sochi, Russia
Final Positions after Race (53 Laps): 1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1hr 33mins 38.992secs, 2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:33:42.821, 3 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:33:44.204, 4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:33:53.202, 5 Alexander Albon (Tha) Red Bull 1:34:17.340, 6 Carlos Sainz (Spa) McLaren 1:34:24.881, 7 Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:34:27.720, 8 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:34:36.741, 9 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:34:37.771, 10 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:34:38.833.
World Championship Standings
Drivers: 1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 322pts, 2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 249, 3 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 215, 4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 212, 5 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 194, 6 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 69
Manufacturers: 1 Mercedes GP 571pts, 2 Ferrari 409, 3 Red Bull 311, 4 McLaren 101, 5 Renault 68