After Ferrari’s unexpected, explosive pace in Singapore it is difficult to look past the Maranello outfit as favourites for the Russian Grand Prix, though Mercedes unbeaten record in Sochi should not be forgotten.
Despite Charles Leclerc’s frustrations, Sebastian Vettel clinched his first win in over a year ridding the German of any pressure he had faced since his last race win at Spa in 2018 and the four-time world champion will be hoping to make it consecutive victories in Sochi.
Mercedes are undefeated in Russian GP history and after the Silver Arrows’ poor strategy calls last weekend, they will be hungry to replicate last year’s dominant one-two in Sochi.
After being told to hang back to allow Lewis Hamilton to come out of the pits ahead of him in Singapore, Valtteri Bottas will no doubt have had flashbacks to last terms Russian GP where after a dominant race in the lead, was forced to move aside for his teammate.
On a track where he claimed his maiden victory, the Finn could be a serious challenger for the race win this weekend and if asked to move aside, you’d expect a firm ‘no’ this time around.
In the Red Bull camp there is a sense of disappointment after they expected to be faster in Singapore, but success in Russia seems an unlikely feat with two long straights already expected to hand them a disadvantage over the Ferrari’s and Mercedes.
The Sochi Autodrom first featured on the Formula 1 calendar in 2014 where it hosted its first ever grand prix.
The circuit is 5.848km in length with a race distance of 309.745km and there will be 53-laps from lights-out to the chequered flag.
The lap record is held by Bottas in 2018 after a 1.35.861 in his Mercedes was enough to help him towards second place on the podium after a controversial Hamilton victory.
Early forecasts ahead of this weekend suggests a chance of rain, most likely on the Saturday, maybe setting up an exciting qualifying session to mix up the grid ahead of Sunday’s race.
What happened last year?
Bottas is a master of the Sochi Autodrom, having claimed his maiden Grand Prix victory there in 2017. Last time out the Finn was on course to replicate that fine performance, but after securing pole position controlling the race, he was controversially asked to move aside for Hamilton who was chasing the drivers title.
The infamous message of, “Valtteri, it’s James,” would become a phrase that Bottas would have become all too used to hearing throughout the season, with the Mercedes team prioritising Hamilton in his quest for what turned out to be his fifth drivers title.
After the race the Brit said, “Usually, you’d just be elated, but I can understand how difficult it is for Valtteri – but really he did a fantastic job today and deserved to win.”
Title chasing Vettel ended the race in third ahead of Max Verstappen, as the German saw his hopes for a fifth world championship drift away, trailing top spot by 50-points.
Leclerc put in one of many strong performances that earned him his dream move to Ferrari after dragging his Sauber into seventh place.
When can I watch it?
Free practice 1: 09:00 – 10:30
Free practice 2: 13:00 – 14:30
Free practice 3: 10:00 – 11:00
Qualifying: 13:00 – 14:00
All times BST.