Grand Prix Preview: Russia

As F1 heads to Russia there has been a major shift in tone for the championship, Lewis Hamilton now has one hand on the title with Sebastian Vettel trailing by 40 points, Vettel needs to start winning races soon otherwise it will all be over.

Since 2014 we have seen Mercedes dominate the race taking a clean sweep of wins there and is the scene where Valtteri Bottas took his maiden win last season beating Sebastian Vettel by under one second. Ferrari did look quick last year with both cars locking out the front row but a lightning start by third placed Bottas saw him beat the Ferraris into turn one. Hamilton has had success in Russia winning in the inaugural Grand Prix in 2014 and then again in 2015 after teammate Rosberg suffered a technical failure from the lead.

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Mercedes have won every race held in Sochi.

Sochi isn’t famous for it’s overtaking with only one recorded overtake last year and 29 the year before but we have seen some incidents. Perhaps the two most famous incidents would be the collision between Raikkonen and Bottas in 2015 which cost both a podium and the latter retired from the race. The other most notable incident took place in 2016 where home hero Daniil Kvyat crashed into the back of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari taking Vettel out and causing damage to both his and then teammate Ricciardo’s cars.

Sochi features 18 corners and features the long left hander of turn three which in some regard is similar to Istanbul’s famous turn eight and has seen some overtaking into the run into turn four; just ask Kevin Magnussen who overtook Button there in 2016 on his way to six championship points. There are two long straights which provide perhaps the best chances of overtaking both with a DRS zone, if you get a good slipstream you can pass there as did Valtteri Bottas last year on the first lap to take the lead of the race.

Tyre wear is very low, it is easily a one-stop strategy and Nico Rosberg was able to run an entire race distance on one set of tyres to finish second after flat spotting his tyres on the first lap mandating him to pit.

Copyright: Pirelli

Drivers to watch: 

Valtteri Bottas hasn’t won a race this season and Sochi provides him his best opportunity this year to win. Given the fact that this is where he took his first win and has contested or finished in the top three every time he’s raced here he should be full of confidence and will give it everything to take his first win of the season.

Sergey Sirotkin enters his home race coming back from a very bullish Singapore Grand Prix. The race before this he scored his first point of the season following Romain Grosjean’s disqualification. He is starting to show some real form on Sunday and with this being his home race we may see him even more motivated and drag out extra performance from his Williams. Sirotkin usually gets the most out of the car on a Saturday but will we see him make another step up this weekend?

Drivers in need of a result: 

Sebastian Vettel is a long way off Hamilton in the championship, and if he wants to stay in the fight then he needs to win and start winning this weekend. If he can swing the momentum back to himself and Ferrari he may yet have a chance of winning his fifth title.

Sergio Perez had a disaster in Singapore, he collided with his teammate on the first lap taking Ocon out of the race, then he then made a clumsy move on Sirotkin when trying to complete his overtaking manoeuvre giving himself a puncture and then trailed near the back of the pack to finish pointless. Force India need every point they can get if the want to overhaul McLaren in the championship and cannot afford Perez to have another weekend like Singapore. He can take solace in the fact that he has finished on the podium before in Sochi back in 2015.

Stoffel Vandoorne is probably having the worst season in his racing career, yet to out qualify his teammate and without a drive for next season Stoffel needs to show the promise he once had in the junior categories. If Stoffel can start scoring points and out qualifying Alonso he may have a chance at Toro Rosso next season.

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Red Bull haven’t managed to score a single podium in Russia.

Race Predictions: 

Valtteri Bottas will take his first win of the season but will only marginally win with Vettel again a close second. Force India will also have a strong showing and finish best of the rest ahead of the Haas cars.

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