George Russell wins as Lando Norris retires in Sochi Formula 2 sprint race
ART Grand Prix's George Russell secured a sixth win of 2018 at the Sochi Autodrom, extending his lead in the Drivers' Championship with a clinical driving masterclass in mixed conditions at the Russian venue.
In Saturday's Feature Race, Russell secured a fourth place finish and a haul of 12 points, meaning that he lined up in fifth on the grid for Sunday's 21-lap-long reverse grid Sprint Race.
With Nirei Fukuzumi lining up in pole position following a penalty for original polesitter Roberto Merhi, lights out in Russia marked a chaotic affair, with the circuit's first braking zone in Turn 2 seeing a cluster of cars darting in all directions, with some drivers taking to the escape road while others simply cut the right-hander.
After starting down in seventh place, Nicholas Latifi was the man on the move on lap 1, propelling himself into second place behind leader Fukuzumi amidst the Turn 2 chaos, only to be struck on the left-rear by a bolshy Alessio Lorandi as the pair both crashed out of the race.
This accident for the second and third-placed runners allowed Russell to drift into second place, and once green flag racing resumed on lap 3 following a momentary pause from the safety car, the Mercedes junior soon found himself in the lead, overtaking former GP3 team-mate Fukuzumi on the fifth tour of the circuit.
While Russell extended his advantage at the front of the field, Fukuzumi struggled to maintain his pace, getting cleared by Sergio Sette Camara, Alexander Albon, Artem Markelov and Nyck de Vries in quick succession to drop outside of the top five.
With dark clouds forming on the horizon, rain quickly became an ever-present threat and by lap 13 drivers were ditching their Soft compound Pirelli tyres for a fresh set of all-wets, with Intermediates not being on offer in Formula 2.
Lando Norris was the first driver who opted to make this switch, one lap after serving a 10-second stop/go penalty for being out of position during the safety car period with the Briton's race and championship hopes slowly fading.
Despite the rain only expected to be temporary, Russell led the field into the pit lane, rejoining in third place with the two Charouz Racing System drivers of Antonio Fuoco and Louis Deletraz opting to take a chance on strategy, staying out on slick rubber despite track conditions rapidly deteriorating.
On the right tyre compound, Russell cleared both of the drivers to regain his lead and remained unchallenged for the remainder of the race, taking the chequered flag on lap 21 to extend his lead in the Drivers' Championship.
Sette Camara was unable to challenge the ART driver and took second place for Carlin and was closely followed by Albon who was third for DAMS, taking another podium finish for the French squad.
De Vries secured fourth place for Prema Racing and was followed by Markelov who completed the top five for Russian Time. Roberto Merhi was sixth while Fukuzumi trundled home to a disappointing seventh for Arden. Dorian Boccolacci completed the points-paying positions in eighth.
Niko Kari and Jack Aitken joined Latifi and Lorandi in retirement while McLaren protege Norris also failed to see the chequered flag after picking up a puncture through brief contact with Arjun Maini.
With 48 points available at Formula 2's final weekend of 2018 in Abu Dhabi, Albon is now the only driver who can challenge Russell for the championship, with 37 points separating the pair while Norris is now 51 points adrift of his former rival, meaning that his title hopes are over.
Formula 2 will return on November 24 and 25 where a new champion of the F1 feeder series will be crowned.