There was drama before the race had even begun at the Sochi Autodrom on the Black Sea coast when Hamilton was placed under investigation for being in the wrong position for the practice start.
Once the racing got underway Hamilton started well and led from the front ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, but soon learned that his chances of victory were in major jeopardy as he was handed two five-second penalties for his pre-race mistake.
“Where’s that in the rule book,” responded a puzzled Hamilton when hearing the news from his team, but he was forced to take the penalty when he pitted from first place on lap 17, rejoining the race in 10th and facing a packed field to work his way back into podium contention as Bottas led the way.
The Brit carved his way through the field and was up to third by lap 30, although he was more than 20 seconds behind Finnish star Bottas and trailed second-placed Red Bull driver Max Verstappen by 10 seconds.
The positions stayed that way for the remainder of the 53 laps in Sochi, as Bottas picked up his second victory of the season and his first since an opening weekend win in Austria back in July.
The flying Finn’s victory in Sochi also extended Mercedes remarkable unbeaten run in Russia to seven races since F1 came to the Black Sea resort in 2014.
Bottas now has two Russian GP wins to his name, also triumphing in 2017, while Hamilton was denied the chance to add to his previous four wins. Former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg won at the Sochi track in 2016.
In finishing third this time around, Hamilton was forced to wait for the opportunity to match racing legend Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 91 F1 victories, but could reach the mark in the German’s homeland when racing moves on to the Nurburgring for the next stage on the calendar in two weeks’ time.
Local hero Daniil Kvyat enjoyed a decent race in Sochi, finding himself third at one point, before dropping back after pit stops and finishing in eighth.
Six-time world champion Hamilton maintained his lead at the top of the overall standings after the 10th race of the season, moving on to 205 points with Bottas improving to 161 points in second and Dutch star Verstappen boosting his tally to 128.
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll take the points that I got,” said Hamilton after the race when asked about his penalty.
The Brit also thanked the estimated 30,000 fans who had turned out across the weekend to watch the action in Sochi, a reduced number due to Covid-19 restrictions but still a substantial one in the context of the races so far on the F1 calendar.