Sebastian Vettel should have decided to retire from Formula One rather than continue racing, according to three-time champion Jackie Stewart.

After Ferrari and Vettel opted against extending their agreement beyond this season, the 33-year-old agreed to take a seat with the Aston Martin works team from 2021.

The four-time champion has struggled to mount a serious title challenge since joining the Scuderia in 2015, winning just 14 races in an era dominated by Mercedes.

Vettel admitted prior to signing with Aston Martin that retirement was an option he was considering, and Stewart thinks leaving F1 would have been a good choice.

Stewart told Stats Perform News: "Sebastian Vettel's a very nice gentleman. He's had a wonderful career and I personally would love to see him retiring and do what I do.

"Go to some of the best events, get involved with some of the best multinational corporations. He’d be a great ambassador for the sport apart from anything else. But if he wants to continue racing it’ll be because he loves the sport."

Vettel has scored just 17 points in the truncated 2020 season, with Charles Leclerc claiming Ferrari's only two podiums of the campaign.

The Scuderia are sixth in the constructors' standings and Stewart hopes their woes this year are not a sign of a long-term decline.

"Ferrari is one of the great brands that has ever lived. For whatever reason, this year has been a disaster for them. I hope and pray that next year we can see Ferrari as they really should be," he added.

Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher's all-time record of 91 F1 wins at the Nurburgring last time out and could surpass him at the Portuguese Grand Prix next weekend.

Hamilton appears on course to match Schumacher's seven drivers' titles, but Stewart feels it is impossible to determine whether the Briton is the greatest driver of all time.

"It's a fantastic achievement to win as many races as he has. He's driving definitely the best car on the track," said Stewart.

"Nevertheless, he's driven extremely well but it's very difficult to say he was the greatest driver of all time. Was [Juan Manuel] Fangio better than Michael Schumacher? You don't know that. Was Arnold Palmer better than Gary Player? Or much more importantly was he better than all of the current golfers?

"But Lewis has driven extremely well and deserves the success that he has."

Lewis Hamilton's father expressed his sadness that Michael Schumacher could not be at the Eifel Grand Prix to see his son equal his record tally of Formula One victories.

Mercedes driver Hamilton took the chequered flag for the 91st time at the Nurburgring on Sunday to draw level with the legendary Schumacher.

There was a touching moment when the German great's son, Mick, presented the six-time F1 world champion with one of his father's helmets after his record-equalling win.

Hamilton's father, Anthony, spoke of his pride over his son's achievements, but revealed his sadness that Michael Schumacher could not be present due to the serious injuries he suffered in a skiing accident in 2013.

He told Sky Sports News: "While it was an exciting day and certainly an honour to receive that from Mick Schumacher, it's also tinged with a bit of sadness because Michael's not here."

Championship leader Hamilton was taken aback by the gesture from Formula 2 driver Mick Schumacher, who was denied an F1 practice drive on Friday due to bad weather.

"Wow, I'm really, really honoured man. Thank you so much, I really appreciate that thank you," said the Briton.

"I don't even know what to say. I mean, when you grow up watching someone, you genuinely idolise them in terms of the quality of the driver they are and what they're able to continuously do, year on year and race on race, week on week with their team.

"I remember playing as Michael on the game, Grand Prix 2 I think it was.

"Seeing his dominance for so long, I don't think anyone – and especially me – could imagine that I'd be anywhere near Michael in terms of records. It's an incredible honour."

Hamilton needs one more world championship win to equal Schumacher's haul of seven.

Lewis Hamilton was "honoured" to receive one of Michael Schumacher's helmets after equalling his record for the most Formula One grand prix wins.

The Mercedes driver claimed the 91st victory of his career - a total that brought him level with seven-time world champion Schumacher - as he triumphed at the Eifel Grand Prix on Sunday.

It was the first F1 race since 2013 at Nurburgring in Schumacher's home country, and the Ferrari great's son was on hand to mark Hamilton's landmark victory.

Mick Schumacher - who was due to take part in his first F1 practice on Friday, only for the poor weather conditions to deny him the chance - handed Hamilton one of his father's iconic red helmets from the 2012 season as the Briton spoke on stage following his win.

"I'm honoured," Hamilton told the younger Schumacher. "This is such an honour; I really appreciate it."

Asked what it meant to him to receive the gift, Hamilton added: "I don't even know what to say.

"When you grow up, watching someone and you genuinely idolise them, just in terms of the quality of the driver they are, what they are able to continuously do year on year, race on race, week on week with their team...

"I remember playing as Michael on a game called Grand Prix 2. Seeing his dominance for so long, I didn't think anyone, especially me, would be anywhere near Michael in terms of records, so it's an incredible honour. It's going to take some time to get used to.

"As I came into the pitlane, that's only when I realised that I'd equalled that. I hadn't even computed it once [until] I crossed the line.

"I couldn't have done it without this incredible team, everyone continuing to push behind me and giving their everything."

It was the other Mercedes who started the race on pole and even after Hamilton claimed the lead from Valtteri Bottas on the first corner, the Finn fought back and nipped ahead again at the next turn.

However, relentless pressure from the championship leader forced Bottas into an error on lap 12 as he locked up.

Mechanical issues forced Bottas to retire not long after and Hamilton was able to emerge victorious ahead of Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Renault's Daniel Ricciardo to extend his lead in the title race to 69 points.

"I had a good start, got up alongside Valtteri and we both understeered into this corner, so I tried to give as much room as possible," Hamilton added.

"He was in my blind spot so I didn't know where he was. I moved wide to the outside, he came back, he did an amazing job. I remember coming out of that corner thinking, 'Good on you, man, I'm impressed. That was good.'

"After that I just had to make sure that I tried to hang on to him for as long as possible and I managed to look after my tyres really well. I could see he was graining his front tyres, so I knew the next couple of laps were the time for me to push, then he had the lock up.

"It was not an easy race at all. The Red Bulls are so fast. Max drove extremely well. The one chance he had was at the restart, but I managed to pull away. You could see their pace at the end, we've got a serious fight on our hands."

Lewis Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher's record for the most Formula One race wins by triumphing at the Eifel Grand Prix.

The six-time world champion took advantage of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas' early error to seize the lead and then held off Red Bull's Max Verstappen at the Nurburgring.

Bottas, who started on pole, had a rotten day in Germany, retiring on lap 19 because of a mechanical failure, with Renault's Daniel Ricciardo finishing third.

Hamilton was able to increase his lead in the standings due to Bottas' retirement, the Briton now 69 points clear with six races to go as he closes on equalling Schumacher's record drivers' championships tally of seven.

Bottas was bidding to win back-to-back races for the first time in his career but a sluggish start off the grid opened the door to Hamilton in Turn One.

However, the Finn, racing in his 150th grand prix, battled back at Turn Two to regain the lead and show the kind of fighting spirit some have accused him of lacking.

Hamilton was back ahead at the start of lap 12, though, Bottas locking up at Turn One with an error that required him to pit and drop further back.

The introduction of the virtual safety car - brought out after Kimi Raikkonen clipped George Williams on his record 324th start - resulted in both Hamilton and Verstappen pitting to further deject Bottas, whose race was run not long after.

Hamilton was cruising to victory but when McLaren's Lando Norris abandoned the race, having also battled issues with his car for much of the afternoon, another safety car was deployed to give some hope to the chasing pack.

Verstappen very nearly smashed into the back of the race leader on the restart with 10 laps to go, but Hamilton duly delivered a lap record of 1:28.487 on 52 of 60 en route to a slice of history.

In his 150th Formula One grand prix, Valtteri Bottas has the chance to win back-to-back races for the first time and simultaneously deny Lewis Hamilton a history-making victory.

The Eifel Grand Prix – which sees the Nurburgring return to the calendar for the first time since 2013 – will have Bottas starting at the front after he ended Hamilton's run of five straight pole positions.

Hamilton will be attempting to equal Michael Schumacher's all-time record of 91 race wins, which he was unable to do in Russia last time out when Bottas emerged triumphant.

Max Verstappen, who was second in Sochi, could also be in the hunt on Sunday after running the two Mercedes cars close in qualifying, while Charles Leclerc is bidding to inject some life into Ferrari from the second row.

WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING

A three-way battle between Bottas, Hamilton and Verstappen looked to be going the way of the Red Bull driver as he led after the first runs of Q3, although there was under one tenth of a second between the trio.
Bottas ultimately produced a stunning lap to finish an impressive 0.256 seconds clear of Hamilton, who just edged out a game Verstappen by 0.037s.
Leclerc gave Ferrari a lift with a superb fourth place ahead of Alex Albon, equalling the Scuderia's best 2020 grid slot, having earlier eliminated team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who will start 11th, from Q2.
Multiple drivers discussed how difficult the cold conditions were, particularly as they did not have much running at the circuit after Friday's practice running was called off due to poor weather.

 


THE STARTING GRID 

1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), 2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull), 4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
5. Alex Albon (Red Bull), 6. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)
7. Esteban Ocon (Renault), 8. Lando Norris (McLaren)
9. Sergio Perez (Racing Point), 10. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
11. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), 12. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
13. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri), 14. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) 
15. Kevin Magnussen (Haas), 16. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
17. George Russell (Williams), 18. Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
19. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo), 20. Nico Hulkenberg (Racing Point)


EIFEL GRAND PRIX TALKING POINTS

Bottas has the chance to win two consecutive F1 races, something he has never done before. As well as denying Hamilton the chance to equal Schumacher, such a result would further reduce the deficit in the drivers' championship, which stands at 44 points.

Verstappen said after an impressive qualifying that Red Bull were continuing to close the gap on Mercedes and will hope unusual conditions – a race in Germany in October – or the front two battling among themselves could play into his favour.

Leclerc continues to get the most out of his sluggish Ferrari as the Italian team look to end a six-race run without a podium, their worst form since 2014 when they went eight without having a driver in the top three.

The pressure is on Albon once more – he starts fifth and has been out-qualified by Verstappen at every race in 2020.

The back row is more interesting than normal as Raikkonen (19th) is set to start for the 324th time in F1, beating the previous benchmark set by Rubens Barrichello, while Hulkenberg (20th) is standing in for Racing Point once more as a last-minute replacement for the unwell Lance Stroll. He previously replaced Perez for two events this year after the Mexican tested positive for coronavirus.


WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID

Valtteri Bottas (pole): "It is going to be a new day on Sunday, so I just need to focus on the small details that are going to matter and the first of those is going to be the race start. I can't enjoy the pole too much because Sunday is the day that really matters. Obviously being on pole is a good achievement but I can't say it is a turning point yet."

Lewis Hamilton (2nd): "I'm not really sure [where my pace dropped off], the grip didn't feel the same in Q3. I need to go back and have a look. I'm just trying to understand what happened. It is a long race. We will see with the weather – it is a lot cooler here, not the easiest place to overtake either, but there could be lots of opportunities, so I will be pushing hard."

Max Verstappen (3rd): "We brought a few upgrades so the car is working a bit better. Of course with only having run [on Saturday] there are still a lot of things to go through and analyse and optimise as well because of the understeer I had in the car [in Q3]. But it is definitely a good step forward so we are on the right way, I just hope we can keep heading in that direction and keep improving."

Charles Leclerc (4th): "I'm very happy. Quite surprised, to be honest, with the performance we've had this morning and this afternoon, especially in those conditions, as we were expecting to struggle in cold conditions and instead we are performing quite well. I really hope to bring a good result home – it is going to be a tricky race we have not done any high-fuel running yet, but I will try to make the best out of it."

Daniel Ricciardo (6th): "Solid one from the team again, sixth and seventh. This is a maximum downforce circuit, more like Barcelona, where we have struggled more, so it confirms the progress the team has made. Sixth is alright. We can have a good one from there and obviously Charles and Alex in front, they could be in our race."

Nico Hulkenberg (20th): "It was even wilder and crazier than last time. I was in Cologne which is an hour from here. I was due to come this afternoon anyway to do some TV stuff. I was sat with a friend having a coffee at 11am when I see that Otmar [Szafnauer, Racing Point team principal] rings me and says, 'Hulkenberg, hurry we need you here!'"

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 205
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 161
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 128
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 65
5. Alex Albon (Red Bull) - 64

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 366
2. Red Bull – 192
3. McLaren – 106
4. Racing Point – 104 (after 15-point deduction)
5. Renault – 99

Max Verstappen believes his qualifying performance for the Eifel Grand Prix was further evidence Red Bull are closing the gap to Mercedes in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas took pole position ahead of Lewis Hamilton, with Verstappen narrowly behind those two in third after showing impressive pace throughout qualifying.

After putting Mercedes' record of taking every 2020 pole under serious threat, finishing just 0.292 seconds behind Bottas and an agonising 0.037s adrift of Hamilton, the Dutchman was in an optimistic mood.

Indeed, he had felt the Red Bull could have gone even better had he not lost grip at the end of Q3.

"It was an interesting qualifying," he said. "Overall, I think we are getting closer towards Mercedes, which is very positive.

"It was a decent qualifying – it was just in Q3 when it really mattered we were understeering too much.

"When it's so cold and you're understeering so much, you're graining the front tyres, eating up the rubber, which cost me a bit of lap time.

"In a way, I am a little bit disappointed as I was expecting a little bit more [in qualifying] but it is what it is and overall I can still be happy."

On whether he also expected to challenge Mercedes in the race, when Red Bull are typically stronger, Verstappen added: "I hope so.

"It's going to be even colder on Sunday, so it will be even more interesting as to what the tyres are going to do and how they are going to behave, so let's see.

"The track is fun to drive. Just looking forward to it and seeing what we can do."

Hamilton was on pole the last time there was an F1 race at the Nurburgring in 2013 and acknowledged unknowns for Sunday, particularly after bad weather meant there was no practice running at all on Friday.

Bottas won in Russia last time out, so this will be British driver Hamilton's second attempt to equal Michael Schumacher's all-time record of 91 race wins.

Asked what could make the difference, Hamilton said: "It's the graining, how the tyres behave, whether it's a one-stop or two-stop race, how long the tyres will go, the start, whether there is safety car... there is a lot to play for so I need to get my head down.

"Going behind a safety car in these conditions will be tough. It's an amazing circuit, one of the historic circuits we have, so definitely great to be back here.

"When I look at the data there will be plenty of time [I could have gained]. Valtteri is obviously two tenths ahead so he did a good job and congratulations to him."

Pole-sitter Bottas is looking to achieve back-to-back wins for the first time.

"It's such a nice feeling when you get it done the last lap, with the last chance," said Bottas. "The last lap in Q3 was spot on. Just what I needed and it was nice to get it together.

"It's been pretty tricky with short practice and these conditions getting the tyres in the sweet spot on the out lap, that was one of the bigger things.

"Of course I believe I can win. That's the only goal and hopefully we can have a good start."

Valtteri Bottas continued his momentum from winning in Russia last time out by claiming an impressive pole position for the Eifel Grand Prix.

A supreme lap of one minute and 25.269 seconds on Saturday saw Bottas finish 0.256 seconds clear of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who had claimed the previous five Formula One pole positions.

It was a thrilling qualifying battle between the two Mercedes cars and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who led after the first runs of Q3 but ultimately had to settle for a close third.

Charles Leclerc was outstanding to take fourth for Ferrari ahead of Alex Albon and Daniel Ricciardo.

In the first grand prix to be held at the Nurburgring since 2013, Sebastian Vettel will start 11th on home soil after being eliminated at the end of Q2 by a charging Leclerc.

Lewis Hamilton is excited by the prospect of a "serious challenge" at the Eifel Grand Prix this weekend after Friday's practice sessions were cancelled.

Heavy rain and fog meant the medical helicopter was unable to take off at the Nurburgring and so the drivers will only have an hour at most for practice on Saturday.

Qualifying will follow later in the day before the race on Sunday, meaning little preparation time for the first race at the German circuit since 2013.

Championship leader Hamilton, who will once again attempt to equal Michael Schumacher's record of 91 Formula One wins, concedes the situation is not ideal but the Mercedes driver is relishing the challenge.

"It's definitely a bit frustrating to miss out on days like this," the Brit said in quotes published by Sky Sports.

"We probably wouldn't have got a huge amount of running in really because we're limited on tyres, but I would have loved to done even an install lap. But everyone's in the same boat.

"But I'm definitely [excited], especially if it stays like this. Hopefully clearer skies but wet... it definitely makes it a serious challenge with less practice. So I look forward to that."

Hamilton leads the drivers' standings by 44 points from team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Lewis Hamilton will hope to equal the record for Formula One race wins at the second attempt at the Eifel Grand Prix this weekend.

Mercedes driver Hamilton was unable to join Michael Schumacher on 91 career victories at the Russian Grand Prix a fortnight ago.

However, he now has an opportunity to achieve the feat in seven-time champion Schumacher's home country of Germany.

It could be a historic race for Hamilton, with lights out scheduled for 14:10 local time (12:10 GMT) on Sunday.

LAST TIME OUT

Hamilton's chances of equalling the record in Sochi were dealt a significant blow by a 10-second penalty for doing two illegal practice starts prior to the race.

His team-mate Valtteri Bottas consequently went on to claim a routine victory, with Max Verstappen following him over the line in second.

Hamilton was forced to settle for third, with his championship lead cut to 44 points.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN GERMANY

Mercedes have taken pole position for every race this season and Hamilton started from the front in the previous race at the Nurburgring in 2013, suggesting the odds are in their favour.

Rain could fall across all three days and cold temperatures are expected across the weekend, potentially leading to the first tricky wet race of the year.

On an unfamiliar track, the teams that manage to adapt quickest and best could well be the ones to prosper.

There will be an F1 practice debut for Schumacher's son Mick, who will drive for Alfa Romeo on Friday. Fellow Ferrari academy driver Callum Ilott will take the place of Romain Grosjean at Haas.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Same track, many guises - The Nurburgring will play host to a record fourth different F1 grand prix, having staged the German Grand Prix, European Grand Prix, Luxembourg Grand Prix and Eifel Grand Prix.

Another new winner? - Each of the past three F1 races at the Nurburgring have been won by different teams (Ferrari in 2013, McLaren in 2011 and Red Bull in 2009).

Landmark for Valtteri - Bottas is set to make his 150th appearance in F1 this weekend and could record back-to-back wins for the first time in his career.

An F1 record - Kimi Raikkonen is in line to surpass Rubens Barrichello's all-time record and start a 323rd grand prix at the site of his first pole position.

The prodigy - Mick Schumacher will take part in his first F1 free practice 3,239 days after his father's final appearance in the series (the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix).

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 205
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 161
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 128
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 65
5. Alex Albon (Red Bull) - 64

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 366
2. Red Bull – 192
3. McLaren – 106
4. Racing Point – 104
5. Renault – 99

Lewis Hamilton has received some good news after a deflating Russian Grand Prix, as the penalty points he received for an infringement have been rescinded by race stewards.

Championship leader Hamilton was punished after carrying out practice starts outside the designated area prior to Sunday's race in Sochi.

The Mercedes driver was handed two five-second time penalties, which he served in the pits after coming in when leading on lap 17, meaning he had to settle for a third-place finish.

The Briton was also hit with two penalty points on his Formula One super licence, taking his tally to 10 across the previous 12 months. If he received two more, Hamilton would have served a one-race ban.

However, after listening to audio, stewards accepted that it was the team at fault, as Hamilton was acting under instructions.

"The stewards received information from the team that the driver of car 44 had received a team instruction to perform the practice start in the incorrect place," a statement from the stewards read. 

"This was confirmed by the stewards having listened to the audio between the team and the driver.

"Based on this information, the stewards replace document 47 with this decision and therefore remove the penalty points imposed."

Hamilton had hit out at officials in a post-race interview with Sky Sports F1, the six-time world champion claiming: "They're trying to stop me".

"I need to go back and see what the rules are, what exactly I did wrong, but I'm pretty sure no one has received two five-second penalties for something so ridiculous," he said.

"I didn't put anyone in danger, I've done this at a million tracks over the years and never been questioned on it. But it is what it is."

Asked if the punishment was excessive, Hamilton replied: "Of course it is, but it's to be expected.

"They're trying to stop me, aren't they? But it's okay, I just need to keep my head down and stay focused, see what happens."

Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas clinched victory, reducing the former's lead in the title race down to 44 points with seven rounds remaining.

Toto Wolff was sympathetic to Lewis Hamilton's frustrations after the Mercedes driver questioned the penalties handed to him during the Russian Grand Prix.

Hamilton was leading in Sochi before race officials announced a pair of five-second penalties for carrying out practice starts outside of the designated area before the race had begun.

The reigning world champion ended up finishing third but questioned the ruling made by stewards, stating: "They're trying to stop me, aren't they".

Mercedes did still secure victory in the race through Valtteri Bottas - meaning it's seven from seven for the team in Russia - but Wolff acknowledged it had been a difficult day for Hamilton, with the ruling effectively costing him a shot at glory.

It was a second setback in three races for the Briton, who appeared on course to win the Italian Grand Prix in Monza before being penalised for entering the pits when they were closed.

"I think Lewis has faced a lot of adversity in his life, and to all of us the penalty seems a little harsh," Mercedes boss Wolff said in an interview with Sky Sports F1.

"I think things go against him harshly sometimes. I guess if you're the most successful driver, you have to take that sometimes. 

"First of all, like we've always done in the past, we win and lose together. We've never pointed the finger on a person or group, we've tried to analyse what we can do better, how we can improve. 

"Clearly, we've had two incidents now – Monza and here – where we could have probably have had a better judgement, all of us together, and this is something that is going to make us better in the long term. 

"Every driver that hasn't extracted the maximum points in a race is going to be unhappy. You have to respect the DNA of racing drivers, but as a team we need to be happy with the result.

"We've increased our advantage in the constructors' championship and I'm very happy for Valtteri, but I can understand Lewis' feelings too."

Hamilton's lead in the title race is now 44 points, while the penalties prevented him from equalling Michael Schumacher's all-time record of 91 race wins.

On the subject of the illegal practice starts, Wolff explained how there is "room for interpretation" within the rules.

"The stewards said it's not the place where you would do a race start and I agree with that," Wolff said. "But in the director's notes, you can make practice starts after the lights on the right-hand side. And that's what he did.

"So there is room for interpretation and we clearly have to analyse why we made the mistake altogether and just take this one on the chin even though with the stewards, we agree to disagree."

Lewis Hamilton made clear his unhappiness with race officials after a pair of time penalties cost him dearly at the Russian Grand Prix, declaring: "They're trying to stop me".

Championship leader Hamilton was leading the way in Sochi when informed he was to be punished for carrying out a practice start outside the designated area before the race.

Formula One stewards ordered the Mercedes driver to serve two five-second penalties when he pitted on lap 17, leaving him with too much ground to make up when returning to the track.

The Briton ended up having to settle for third place as team-mate Valtteri Bottas claimed victory, cutting the gap between the pair in the driver standings to 44 points with seven rounds remaining.

Hamilton did not hold back with his assessment in an interview with Sky Sports, claiming there are some who are determined to stop him securing a seventh world title.

"I need to go back and see what the rules are, what exactly I did wrong, but I'm pretty sure no one has received two five-second penalties for something so ridiculous," Hamilton - who was also handed two more penalty points on his super licence - said.

"I didn't put anyone in danger, I've done this at a million tracks over the years and never been questioned on it. But it is what it is. 

Asked if the punishment was excessive, he replied: "Of course it is, but it's to be expected.

"They're trying to stop me, aren't they? But it's okay, I just need to keep my head down and stay focused, see what happens."

Hamilton, who started from pole position, was aiming to move level with the legendary Michael Schumacher by claiming a 91st race win, as well as a third in a row in Russia.

Any hopes of a record-equalling triumph were dashed by the penalties, though. On a frustrating day, he also appeared to question the timing of his stop over the team radio.

"The plan was to stop on that lap, I was just trying to go as far as I could," Hamilton revealed. "It didn't really change a huge amount, I just knew I had such a long to go on that tyre.  

"I think I did pretty well on the softs, but we will discuss it and try to figure it out. I’ve just got to make sure I don't put myself in that situation again."

Hamilton will hope to draw level with Schumacher's tally next time out, with the season moving to Germany for the Eifel Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton made clear his unhappiness with race officials after a pair of time penalties cost him dearly at the Russian Grand Prix, declaring: "They're trying to stop me".

Championship leader Hamilton was leading the way in Sochi when informed he was to be punished for carrying out a practice start outside the designated area before the race.

Formula One stewards ordered the Mercedes driver to serve two five-second penalties when he pitted on lap 17, leaving him with too much ground to make up when returning to the track.

The Briton ended up having to settle for third place as team-mate Valtteri Bottas claimed victory, cutting the gap between the pair in the driver standings to 44 points with seven rounds remaining.

Hamilton did not hold back with his assessment in an interview with Sky Sports, claiming there are some who are determined to stop him securing a seventh world title.

"I need to go back and see what the rules are, what exactly I did wrong, but I'm pretty sure no one has received two five-second penalties for something so ridiculous," Hamilton - who was also handed two more penalty points on his super licence - said.

"I didn't put anyone in danger, I've done this at a million tracks over the years and never been questioned on it. But it is what it is. 

Asked if the punishment was excessive, he replied: "Of course it is, but it's to be expected.

"They're trying to stop me, aren't they? But it's okay, I just need to keep my head down and stay focused, see what happens."

Hamilton, who started from pole position, was aiming to move level with the legendary Michael Schumacher by claiming a 91st race win, as well as a third in a row in Russia.

Any hopes of a record-equalling triumph were dashed by the penalties, though. On a frustrating day, he also appeared to question the timing of his stop over the team radio.

"The plan was to stop on that lap, I was just trying to go as far as I could," Hamilton revealed. "It didn't really change a huge amount, I just knew I had such a long to go on that tyre.  

"I think I did pretty well on the softs, but we will discuss it and try to figure it out. I’ve just got to make sure I don't put myself in that situation again."

Hamilton will hope to draw level with Schumacher's tally next time out, with the season moving to Germany for the Eifel Grand Prix.

Valtteri Bottas triumphed in the Russian Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton was left frustrated in his bid to match Michael Schumacher's all-time record for race wins.

Bottas claimed his second success of a rearranged 2020 season – his other came in the opener in Austria – to close the gap to his Mercedes team-mate in the overall standings. 

Championship leader Hamilton had to settle for third place, also finishing behind Max Verstappen, after a pair of time penalties proved crucial to his hopes of glory.

Having coming through what he described as a "horrible" qualifying session on Saturday to sit on pole, the Briton was placed under investigation before the action begun in Sochi after carrying out a practice start outside the designated area. 

The six-time world champion held off the challenge of a fast-starting Bottas to retain the lead during an eventful opening lap that saw the safety car deployed, though that was far from the end of the drama. 

When racing resumed, Hamilton was informed he had been penalised for his earlier infringement, a 10-second punishment he had to serve while pitting on lap 17 to switch to hard tyres. 

He returned to the track down in 11th place and while able to move through the field, his hopes of a third straight success in Russia – a result that would have seen him equal the legendary Schumacher's career tally of 91 victories – had been dashed by that enforced delay. 

Still, Mercedes did manage to maintain their 100 per cent record at the track, Bottas staying clear of trouble to prevail as he finished just under eight seconds ahead of Verstappen's Red Bull. 

Lewis Hamilton stands on the precipice of matching another of Michael Schumacher's great records in Formula One after snatching pole position for the Russian Grand Prix.

Should the British driver convert his performance in qualifying to another victory, it would mean Hamilton matching Schumacher's 91 race wins.

That is the narrative that could play out in Sochi after Hamilton dramatically took pole, having been in danger at one stage of missing out on the third stage of qualifying.

The prospect of a locked-out Mercedes front row was disrupted by Max Verstappen, with the Red Bull driver outpacing Valtteri Bottas.

WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING

There was almost the shock to end all shocks: Hamilton being absent from Q3.

Sebastian Vettel's spin in the Ferrari triggered a red flag in the closing minutes of Q2 and that gave Hamilton a problem.

Looking to cross the start-finish line in time to allow himself another lap, Hamilton managed that and found a big lap to avert the prospect of him starting the race in midfield.

He avoided a stewards' punishment over a minor infraction when leaving the track briefly, and later described the session as "horrible".

An eighth pole of the season was a reminder of Hamilton's supremacy in this sport, and nobody would be surprised were he to win this race for a fifth time in seven seasons on Sunday.

The 1-2-3 in qualifying was no great surprise and reflected the drivers' season standings prior to Verstappen failing to finish twice at Mugello. The gap between the fastest laps of Hamilton and Verstappen was substantial - in F1 terms - at 0.563 seconds.

Neither Ferrari made it to Q3, Vettel licking his wounds after his crash and finishing 15th in the session, with Charles Leclerc 11th.

THE STARTING GRID

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 4. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) 6. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
7. Esteban Ocon (Renault) 8. Lando Norris (McLaren)
9. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) 10. Alex Albon (Red Bull) 
11. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 12. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri)
13. Lance Stroll (Racing Point) 14. George Russell (Williams)
15. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 16. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
17. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) 18. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
19. Nicholas Latifi (Williams). 20. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)

RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX TALKING POINTS

Hamilton is at that satisfying stage of his career where records keep falling to him, yet to match Schumacher's haul of 91 race wins would have seemed pie-in-the-sky talk to the young man who made his F1 entrance in the 2007 season.

That is the figure he can sensationally draw up alongside, with what would be a seventh race win of this strangest of seasons, Hamilton having already surpassed Schumacher's record haul of podium finishes this year.

A record-equalling seventh world title is also surely Hamilton's for the taking in the coming months, and there was a touch of Schumacher's resilience about him taking this latest pole after being backed up into a position of adversity.

Aside from the likelihood of a close battle in the opening few corners, one potential strategy issue for Hamilton is that he will start on the less durable soft tyres after his narrow Q2 escape, while closest rivals Verstappen and Bottas are on mediums.

As for Ferrari, well god bless the Prancing Horse but this season goes from bad to worse. After the short-lived succour of Vettel and Leclerc both finishing in the points at the team's 1,000th F1 race, last time out in the Tuscan Grand Prix, this was the latest in a long line of qualifying sob stories.

Twelve months ago, Leclerc stormed the qualifying session in Sochi, earning a fourth successive pole. They are wretchedly slow this year, which is a problem Leclerc and Vettel have to tolerate and get on with the job. Sunday's grand prix is again unlikely to bring great joy for the Italian marque.

Meanwhile, if Sergio Perez wanted to make a point on Saturday, he very much succeeded. Set to be cut free at the end of the season by Racing Point, to allow for Vettel's arrival, Perez accused some Racing Point team members of attempting to hide things from him ahead of this weekend.

Clear-the-air talks followed, and Perez qualified on the second row on Saturday, nine places ahead of team-mate Lance Stroll.

WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID:

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes, pole): "It’s nice to take pole position, but this track is probably the worst place to be on pole, due to the long run to the first braking zone. So, I’m expecting a tough fight down to Turn 2 and a challenging race, especially as I’m starting on the soft tyre, which is a good compound for the race start but is the worst tyre for the opening stint." 

Max Verstappen (Red Bull, 2nd): "P2 was very unexpected and I don’t say this often but I think this was one of my best ever qualifying laps and it felt really good. Of course we want to fight for pole and wins but this year it is not possible all the time, so then to be able to split the two Mercedes cars is very satisfying and I’m happy to be on the front row here. I think the Mercedes does still have more overall pace so they will be hard to beat but I’m happy with [qualifying] and I think we really extracted more than we thought was possible and we can be very happy with that."

Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes, 3rd): "There are some question marks there, which we’ll need to look into in the debrief and figure out why there was such a gap. But P3 is actually a pretty good place to start here and I think I’m on the right tyre as well. I’ve started third here before and look what happened, so I’ll try and do the same. It’s still all to play for."

Sergio Perez (Racing Point, 4th): "I’m very happy with our performance today: I think P4 was the maximum I could achieve because Max and the two Mercedes were very strong out there. We were able to qualify ahead of our nearest rivals, which is the main thing. It was a really tough session because the wind kept changing and we had the disruption of the red flag too. It’s a credit to the team that we were able to manage the sessions so well and extract the maximum from the car."

Charles Leclerc (Ferrari, 11th): "We definitely had the pace to do something good, much better than expected. Unfortunately, we missed our chance, so I’m pretty disappointed, but that’s life.
It is frustrating that we didn’t make it to Q3 because I really believe that we had the potential to go through today."

Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari, 15th): "When I crashed I was trying to improve my time. I hadn’t had a good first sector so I was pushing. It seems that I was going too quickly and so I lost the car. It had already happened in turn 2 and then it happened again in turn 4. I tried to avoid the impact, but I couldn’t catch it. I’m sorry to have made extra work for the team, but at least I think the car can be fixed."

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers 

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 190
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) - 135
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 110
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 57
5. Alexander Albon (Red Bull) - 63

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 325
2. Red Bull – 173
3. McLaren – 106
4. Racing Point – 92 (after 15-point deduction)
5. Renault – 82

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