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Lewis closes on title with win

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Lewis Hamilton has moved potentially just one race away from a coveted third world championship after winning the Russian Grand Prix while Nico Rosberg retired. 

Another victory in Austin in two weeks' time may be enough for Hamilton after Mercedes team-mate Rosberg's already-fading challenge was all-but ended by a broken throttle pedal which forced him to retire from the race.

Unlike in Japan, Rosberg had managed to fend off Hamilton's advances at the start to convert his pole position into the lead of the race. 

However, a sticking throttle pedal quickly developed on his W06, steadily causing him a loss of performance and discomfort in his Mercedes cockpit. After running wide to gift Hamilton the lead, Rosberg was soon heading for the pits and a costly retirement.

Second place for Sebastian Vettel means the Ferrari driver is now Hamilton's closest title challenger, 66 points behind, but the mathematics are now simple: if Hamilton wins the next race in America and Vettel finishes no better than third then the Mercedes driver will achieve his dream of becoming a three-time world champion.

Rosberg is now 73 points off the pace with just 100 left to play for over the final four races.

Hamilton said in the post-race press conference: "Nico's been incredibly unfortunate to suffer the worst of it."

Rosberg's DNF wasn't enough, however, to delay Mercedes' coronation as winners of the Constructors' Championship for a second successive year - although the Brackley squad had to wait for Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen to be penalised in a post-race investigation before their celebrations could begin.

While Rosberg's early demise in Sochi cleared Hamilton's path to a comfortable ninth win of his dominant season and 42nd of his career, tying Vettel for third on the all-time list, the battle for the remaining podium positions was rather more riveting - and unpredictable.

While Vettel, having fallen behind team-mate Raikkonen at the start, worked his way up to second, the battle for third went all the way down to the final lap as the second Ferrari and Williams' Valtteri Bottas fast caught Force India's Sergio Perez, who had made an early opportunistic pitstop under the Safety Car called for a huge crash for Romain Grosjean.

The not inconsiderable challenge for Perez was to complete the final 40 laps on the same set of soft tyres. It looked as though the Mexican had just fallen agonisingly short of the podium when Bottas and Raikkonen passed him in quick succession at the end of the penultimate lap.

However, there was one dramatic twist left in the tail on the final tour. Steaming into the braking zone at Turn Four, Raikkonen hit the side of the Williams to send countryman Bottas into a collision course with the barriers.

With Raikkonen's SF15-T also sustaining severe damage, Perez gleefully seized third place back - claiming his and Force India's first podium finish since last year's Bahrain GP.

"It worked really well," said Perez of Force India's bold strategy. "We lost the podium one lap before the end but it was very difficult to hold them back. I could not brake, I was in danger of flat spotting them [the tyres]. Then in the last lap they had the contact. It's great to give a second podium to the team and give them more momentum."

Raikkonen, overtaken by the other Williams of Felipe Massa for fourth, managed to drag his car with sparks flying from its underside over the line in fifth place but the Finn's tangle with Bottas unsurprisingly caught the eye of the stewards. Two hours after the end of the race, the veteran was handed a 30-second time penalty which dropped him to eighth in the classification - confirming Mercedes as constructors' champions.

"I tried to overtake, I overtook him once before in the race there. I was catching him through Turn Three and I thought I would try again," Raikkonen told Sky Sports F1. "I don't know if he didn't see me or expect me to go there. I tried to turn in as much as I could."

Behind the top two, the points positions were shuffled around frequently in the closing laps with Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Toro Rosso's returning Carlos Sainz having already dropped out with overheating brakes.

Having been given the all-clear to race by doctors following his heavy practice crash, Sainz had been on course to go from a hospital bed to a career-best finish in the space of 24 hours before a brake problem saw him spin twice before retiring.

Raikkonen's penalty meant Daniil Kvyat ended his home race in fifth in the sole-remaining Red Bull, ahead of Sauber's Felipe Nasr who had driven strongly all afternoon. Sixth place is Sauber's best result since the Melbourne season-opener.

With Pastor Maldonado next up for Lotus ahead of the penalised Raikkonen, struggling McLaren finished with both cars in the top 10 for just the second time in their dismal season - however, only ninth-placed Jenson Button kept his points after Fernando Alonso was given a five-second penalty for exceeding track limits.

Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen, who was last at the end of lap one after picking up a puncture in a melee triggered by a spinning Nico Hulkenberg, therefore rounded out the points finishers instead. 

Russian GP result:

1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:37.11

2. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, +5.953

3. Sergio Perez, Force India, +28.918

4. Felipe Massa, Williams, +38.831

5. Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull, +47.566

6. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, +56.508

7. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, +1:01.088

8. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, +1:12.358*

9. Jenson Button, McLaren, +1:19.467

10. Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, +1:28.424

11. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, +1:31.210**

12. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Collision

13. Roberto Merhi, Manor, +1 lap

14. Will Stevens, Manor, +2 laps

15. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, +5 laps

DNF Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso

DNF Romain Grosjean, Lotus

DNF Nico Rosberg, Mercedes

DNF Nico Hulkenberg, Force India

DNF Marcus Ericsson, Sauber

*30-second time penalty**5-second time penalty

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