If there’s a race where Mercedes might expect Valtteri Bottas to get in amongst the battle for the lead and potentially disrupt the Ferraris, then the Sochi Autodrom is certainly a candidate.
His team-mate Lewis Hamilton holds a 40-point lead in the drivers’ championship, meaning Bottas will undoubtedly be tasked with playing support role over the remainder of the season.
However, his dip in form – or Hamilton’s rise in form – means he has been unable to assist his team-mate’s championship challenge, and the Finn will certainly be looking to peg back his colleague where he can over the remainder of the season.
Fortunately for Bottas, he has form in Russia; He took his first Formula One win at last year’s event, he’s never been out-qualified by a team-mate there and he would have a 100% race record against his team-mates had he not been taken out of third place by Kimi Raikkonen in 2015.
Mercedes are the only winning constructor at the Sochi Autodrom, taking all victories since the venue joined the calendar in 2014. Added to that, they even won the two Russian Grands Prix that were hosted back in 1913 and 1914, prior to the first World War.
Ferrari took qualifying honours last season, with Vettel and Raikkonen locking out the front row, but a fast-starting Bottas took the lead at the start of the race and denied a Prancing Horse victory.
With Ferrari looking much stronger this season – even at track previously earmarked for Mercedes – they pose a bigger threat this year, and will be looking to turn the tables in both the drivers’ and constructors’ standings.
The early signs are that Red Bull will not much of a factor at the Russian Grand Prix, at least not for the lead.
Whilst Red Bull have been attempting to use Renault’s ‘spec C’ power unit in the last two race weekends, they will revert to less-powerful ‘spec B’ power unit components over fears about reliability, which will likely result in grid penalties.
“We’ve got the previous specification going in for the next race, so Sochi is going to be a tough weekend for us,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
“We accepted the risks when we took this [Spec C] engine. It has delivered a bit more power and it has been a bit rough around the edges.
“I think the [Red Bull mechanics] actually did a good job to tidy it up as best they could on the mapping within their parameters. With more time and more optimisation, it would only be better.”
Midfield battle to be decided in court?
Haas, who have fought back from a shaky start to the season to challenge Renault for ‘best of the rest’ honours, will have the chance to appeal the decision to disqualify Romain Grosjean from P6 at the Italian Grand Prix.
The Frenchman was disqualified because his car had breached article 3.7.1 d of the Technical Regulations, which focuses on the radius of the leading corners of the floor’s reference plane.
A technical directive regarding this area of the car had been issued to all teams a few weeks ago before the Italian Grand Prix, giving the teams until Monza to make their cars compliant.
Haas, who unlike the rest of the grid are at the mercy of suppliers, asked for permission to introduce the update at Singapore, but they claim they heard nothing back from the FIA.
“It’s 50/50, it could go both ways,” said Haas team principal Guenther Steiner. “I would never say I am confident of winning it because you never know what is happening.
“We have no control on the decision, you can do the best you can with your lawyers and your technical people to explain what actually happened, the whole process and why we ended up where we were and why they got it wrong. But then again, I’m not on the Court of Appeal. I cannot decide, so I would say 50/50 so it could go both ways.
Despite their score-less race in Singapore, Haas are expected to be able to fight back over the coming races and be able to challenge Renault, who currently hold P4 in the constructors’ championship by 15 points.
The outcome of the hearing is worth a potential 10-point swing in the standings, which could be the deciding factor in determining where a big chunk of prize money goes.
Four rookies in for FP1
With the quest for Formula One seats intensifying towards the end of the season, four rookies will be given the chance prove that they’re the right candidate for F1 2019.
McLaren’s Lando Norris already has a seat at the Woking team for next season, so his 90-minute test will be to continue his acclimatisation into the team. Sauber will also give their 2019 driver Antonio Giovinazzi another opportunity to integrate himself into the team ahead of his partnership with Kimi Raikkonen.
Elsewhere, Artem Markelov will drive in front of his home crowd when he takes the wheel of Carlos Sainz’s Renault RS18 in FP1. The team have already confirmed Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg for 2019, so he wont be able to do better than his current test & development role at Renault, meaning he may have to look to other teams in order to find a route into Formula One. As runner-up in the 2017 Formula Two Championship, the Russian will continue to have enough qualifying points for a super licence.
Canadian Nicholas Latifi will take one of the Racing Point Force India seats for FP1 in Russia, taking his third practice outing of the season, this time in Sergio Perez’s car. Although Force India are yet to confirm their drivers for 2019, Latifi is very unlikely to be in the frame for a seat, given the likelihood of the team choosing Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez. Despite his efforts, Latifi only has 20 out of the required 40 points in order to earn a super licence and, given his dip in form this season, wont be able to secure enough points to earn a super licence for 2019.
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
Who do you think will perform well at the Sochi Autodrom? Leave your thoughts in the section below.