Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium with third placed Charles Leclerc. AP Photo/Luca Bruno.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium with third placed Charles Leclerc. AP Photo/Luca Bruno.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix. AP Photo/Luca Bruno.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix. AP Photo/Luca Bruno.
The Safety Car drives ahead of Sebastian Vettel during the Russian Grand Prix. AP Photo/Luca Bruno.
The Safety Car drives ahead of Sebastian Vettel during the Russian Grand Prix. AP Photo/Luca Bruno.

Sochi, Russia - Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton snatched victory in the Russian Grand Prix in a surprise Mercedes one-two on Sunday after Ferrari argued over team orders and were undone by a virtual safety car.

Hamilton also banked a bonus point for the fastest lap of the race to stretch his lead to 73 points over team mate and closest rival Valtteri Bottas, who finished second, with five rounds remaining.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc finished third after an early radio controversy with Sebastian Vettel, whose retirement on the 28th of 53 laps brought out the virtual safety car that ironically cemented Hamilton's lead.

Mercedes's victory was their sixth in a row in Sochi, the team having won every Russian Grand Prix since the first in 2014.

The victory was the 82nd of Hamilton's career, and ninth of the season, leaving him nine short of Michael Schumacher's all-time record of 91.

"It feels like a long time coming, it feels like the first time as well," said Hamilton, now closer than ever to a sixth title, of his first win since Hungary on the eve of the August break.

"It's just incredible to have this result today, considering how quick they (Ferrari) were off the start. Just keeping up with them was an incredibly hard task.

"Honestly I try not to think too much about the championship. One race at a time and one step at a time...one foot in front of the other. We don't want to stumble."

Ferrari had arrived in Sochi after a hat-trick of wins and with a hefty speed advantage on the straights, looking set for another triumph after Leclerc seized pole position for the fourth race in a row by a comfortable margin.

But the Italians tripped themselves up with a strategy that involved Leclerc allowing Vettel, starting in third place, to slipstream the Monegasque off the start and take the lead into turn two.

The deal was for the German to hand back the place once Ferrari had settled into a one-two formation but instead Vettel began banging in a series of fastest laps to Leclerc's consternation.

"Sebastian will let you by next lap," the 21-year-old was told over the radio on lap four.

But Vettel, a four times world champion, refused to ease off and said Leclerc would need to close a gap of some 1.3 seconds to make that possible.

Leclerc was already smarting after being undone in Singapore by a strategy that worked in Vettel's favour, with the team radio again crackling with anger as the youngster vented his feelings.

"You put me behind. I respected everything," he said as it became clear Vettel, winner in Singapore after more than a year off the top of the podium, was clearly faster and had no intention of easing off.

"I respected. I gave him the slipstream," he added later.

Leclerc pitted from second place on lap 23 and came back out in fourth. Vettel made his stop three laps later, trading places with Leclerc while Hamilton led.

Two laps later Vettel coasted to a halt by the side of the track, and the virtual safety car period gave Hamilton the chance to take a free pitstop and come back out ahead of Leclerc.

The Monegasque made another pitstop on lap 31 when the real safety car was deployed after George Russell crashed in his Williams, resuming in third and unable to pass Bottas. 

Reuters