Mercedes Technical Director Mike Elliott believes Lewis Hamilton's poor start at the Russian Grand Prix was partly down to the Briton's concerns of a first-corner incident influencing his World Championship battle with Max Verstappen.
Verstappen entered Sunday's race atop the Drivers' Standings, but his hopes of extending or keeping hold of that advantage were dented as early as Friday. After Red Bull opted to trigger a grid penalty by fitting Verstappen's car with a fourth engine this season, the team admitted they were focused on damage control.
In the end, Verstappen managed to finish P2, while Hamilton claimed his 100th career F1 win, though it was anything but straightforward for Hamilton. The Mercedes driver had a poor start to the race, with Elliott stating that title implications factored into his cautious first lap, especially with Verstappen so far down the grid.
"If you actually look at it, he was on the dirty side of the grid, and given that he actually made a really good start," said Elliott.
"He was making his way through the field effectively up until the point where [Lando] Norris moved across blocking Lewis's path off.
"Norris we think was also derating, so actually Lewis' closing speed was really high, partly because of the tow he had and partly because Norris was derating. As is a consequence of that, Lewis had to make a decision: Does he try and fight for that inside line or does he brake and make sure that he is not involved in a first corner incident?
"You've got to bear in mind in Lewis' mind his main protagonist in the championship is right at the back of the grid. And as a consequence, Lewis has to make a decision in that split second about what is the right thing to do, and the right thing for Lewis to do was to make sure that he didn't get tangled up in a first corner incident."
Sunday's result means Hamilton now leads the title race on 246.5 points, two more than Verstappen, with the Turkish Grand Prix next up on 10 October.
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