First placed Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, left, celebrates on the podium Photo: Luca Bruno/AP Photo

SOCHI Lewis Hamilton captured an unlikely victory for Mercedes at the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday after Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders and then retired with an engine problem.

Vettel's retirement on the 28th of 53 laps and a virtual safety car period cost team-mate Charles Leclerc victory as Hamilton was able to use it for his one pit stop to change from medium to soft tyres to get in front.

He took the chequered flag 3.829 seconds ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas, with Leclerc third at 5.212 seconds, for his ninth win of the season and 82nd of his career as he moves closer to a sixth world title.

The win continues Mercedes' domination in Russia. The team has won all six races since Sochi's F1 launch in 2014 and Hamilton has now made it four victories at the circuit.

"Firstly just an incredible job for all the guys here," Hamilton said.

"They've been pushing forwards and always trying to be innovative and just never giving up. It makes me feel inspired and it's incredible to have this result today.

"Keeping up with [Ferrari] was a hard task. We haven't given up, we kept pushing and the car was fantastic."

The race had appeared to be heading for a Ferrari one-two and a fourth straight win for the Italian team, but there was apparent friction after Vettel had got in front of Leclerc from the start in Sochi.

Vettel, third on the grid, overtook Hamilton and was then allowed by Leclerc to pass as part of team strategy to block the Mercedes driver - but the German four-time F1 champion did not then return the favour as expected.

There were evident differences between the team and their drivers in radio messages as Vettel stayed in front, deciding Leclerc was not close enough from him to give way, to the annoyance of his team-mate.

"You put me behind - I respected that. The gap's too big now. We talk after the race," Leclerc said in one radio message.

A bit later, with Vettel increasing his lead, the team told Leclerc: "Charles we will do the switch later, Hamilton is a bit close, focus on the race."

Vettel built up a lead of some four seconds by lap 17 but pit stops by the two - Leclerc on lap 22 and Vettel on 26 - saw them reverse positions.

Two laps later, Vettel pulled over, stopping the car in a position which required the virtual safety car, and Ferrari's strategy was in tatters as Hamilton took advantage during the slow down to make his tyre switch.

He emerged in the lead and had team-mate Bottas behind him to help keep Leclerc at bay for the rest of the race.

"I will always trust the team but the tactic was me giving the slipstream to be one-two at the end of the straight, which happened, but then I don't know ... I need to speak with the team to know better the situation," Leclerc said.

Hamilton also managed to get the fastest lap for a bonus point to increase his lead in the world championship standings over Bottas to 73 points with five races remaining.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen came from ninth on the grid to finish fourth ahead of team-mate Alexander Albon, who had started the race from the pits.

The leading 10 was completed by McLaren's Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez in a Racing Point, Lando Norris in a McLaren, Kevin Magnusen in a Haas and Nico Huelkenberg in a Renault.

dpa