Formula One championship leader Nico Rosberg chalked up his seventh win in a row at the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday, with team mate Lewis Hamilton fighting back from 10th on the grid to seal a Mercedes one-two finish.
In a race that started with chaos, and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel being shunted into the wall by Red Bull’s Russian Daniil Kvyat, Rosberg had an untroubled afternoon from pole to chequered flag for his 18th career win.
The German equalled the achievement of compatriot Michael Schumacher in winning seven successive races, with only Vettel (nine in 2013 with Red Bull) and the late Italian Alberto Ascari ahead of them.
Hamilton was 25 seconds behind Rosberg with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen finishing third after winning a battle with fellow-Finn Valtteri Bottas, who started on the front row, in the Williams.
Rosberg, who won the last three races of 2015 and now the first four of 2016, leads triple world champion Hamilton by 43 points in the standings with 17 races remaining.
“It’s been an awesome weekend, the car has been fantastic. Very, very happy, thanks to everybody,” Rosberg said.
Hamilton had been closing in on Rosberg in the second half of the race, but backed off after the team warned him of a water-pressure problem.
Whether he could have caught Rosberg was doubtful – the German demonstrated he could produce blistering pace when needed with a fast lap just before the end.
“The car felt good. At that time, I was lapping a little quicker than Nico, I was chewing away at (his lead),” said Hamilton, adding he had no idea how serious the problem with his car was.
“At that point was when I had to back off and I was a second slower.”
Meanwhile, Vettel let rip with a blast of swear words after two first lap collisions with Kvyat dumped him out of the race.
The two had traded barbs at the previous Chinese Grand Prix when Vettel took issue with an aggressive first lap overtake down the inside by the Russian that triggered a collision between the Ferraris.
They lined up together on the fourth row of the grid in Sochi and chaos ensued.
The Russian twice smashed into the rear of the Ferrari at successive corners, the second impact shunting the four times world champion – who won his titles with Red Bull – into the wall.
Vettel’s reaction over team radio was mostly censored with bleeps for television audiences.
“I’m out. Crashed. Somebody hit me in the … rear at turn two, and then somebody hit me in the … rear again in turn three,” the German ranted.
“Honestly. what the … are we doing here?,” exclaimed the German, who had called Kvyat a “madman” in China and accused him of launching himself like a torpedo through the field.
Stewards imposed a 10 second stop/go penalty on Kvyat for causing the collisions.
The Russian had said before the start that he would do nothing different.
“You can never know how the start is going to go, it’s all about instinct. you have to react on what is happening around you so I really don’t know what the start will be like,” he had told reporters.
Vettel, who won three races last season for Ferrari and finished second in China, got out after the impact and picked up the shattered front wing, trying to stuff it into the cockpit.
He then commandeered a scooter from a marshal, riding it back to the paddock with the official behind as a passenger, before seeking out Red Bull team principal Christian Horner on the pitwall.
“It was not my fault – there was nothing I would do differently,” the German told the BBC.
“I don’t dislike him (Kvyat). I think he did a mistake two weeks ago and I think he did a mistake today.”
The race was Vettel’s second blank in four this season, the German failing to start in Bahrain after his car’s engine blew on the formation lap. He finished third in the Australian season-opener.