Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton secured his eighth victory of the season in Japan two weeks ago but may not have everything his own way at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 12pm BST live on BBC1 / Sky Sports F1).
Hamilton re-established a commanding lead at the top of the drivers’ championship by taking a comfortable victory at Suzuka. He overtook pole-sitter and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg on the run down to the first corner and was untroubled thereafter.
Rosberg came home second but now trails Hamilton by 48 points in the championship with five races left to run. Sebastian Vettel replicated his own position in the drivers’ standings by finishing third for Ferrari ahead of his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. Valtteri Bottas qualified in the top three but was only able to convert that into a fifth-place finish for Williams.
Nico Hulkenberg (pictured) secured his best result since Austria back in June by bringing his Force India home in sixth, while Romain Grosjean pipped his Lotus team-mate Pastor Maldonado to seventh in what was only the team’s second double-points finish of the year. The Toro Rosso pair of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jnr rounded out the top 10.
The Sochi Autodrom debuted along with the Russian Grand Prix last year and was generally well-received. It features a variety of corner types with the long, sweeping turns of the first half of the lap balanced out by a tighter section towards its end. The two long straights mean that it is important to strike the right balance between downforce and straight-line speed.
Current weather forecasts suggest that it will be a mild and cloudy weekend, with little chance of rain on either Saturday or Sunday. Pirelli brought their medium and soft tyres to last year’s event but have opened for their soft and supersoft compounds this time around.
Lotus really struggled to get their tyres up to temperature at last year’s Russian Grand Prix but are confident that the softer compounds chosen for this year’s event, in addition to a more weathered surface, will allow them to be much more competitive this time around.
Grosjean has comfortably been the better of the two Lotus drivers so far this season and enjoys a 28-point advantage over team-mate Maldonado in the championship standings. He has also out-qualified Maldonado in 13 of the 14 races to date in some impressive performances that have seen him qualify in the top 10 on 11 occasions.
Grosjean has a good chance of again reaching the final session of qualifying on Saturday.
Hamilton’s victory in Japan has seen his odds for a repeat performance tighten significantly. However, Mercedes struggled with the two softest tyre compounds on a similarly surfaced circuit in Singapore and are concerned that they may have comparable issues this weekend. Whether that is enough to tip the balance in favour of their competitors remains to be seen.
In truth, it is very difficult to call this weekend’s race. Mercedes are the most likely winners but the Russian Grand Prix betting odds are not attractive enough to make odds-on Hamilton a worthy bet for victory.
Williams have shown strong pace throughout 2015 but have only been able to parlay that into three podium finishes to date. Felipe Massa secured two of those but it is his team-mate Bottas who has been the more consistent of the two drivers, finishing fifth or higher in eight of the 14 races to date. He leads Massa by 14 points in the standings.
Bottas qualified and finished third at last year’s Russian Grand Prix, while also setting the fastest lap of the race, and is hopeful of a repeat performance this time around. Both he and the team are confident that the circuit will be well-suited to their package and have taken encouragement from his top-three qualifying performance in Suzuka.
Bottas’ sole podium finish so far this season came in Canada in early June, but he can be fancied to secure his second on Sunday.
Force India have seen at least one of their cars finish in the top seven in all but one of the six races following the introduction of their B-Spec package in early July. They showed good pace in Suzuka, with Hulkenberg one of the strongest runners during the latter stages of the Grand Prix, and have reason to believe they will again be competitive this weekend.
Hulkenberg has scored points in each of the last five races he has finished, while Perez had scored in five of the previous six prior to his disappointing 12th place finish in Suzuka. Perez also came home 10th at last year’s Russian Grand Prix to secure the final point on offer.
With a good package underneath them, the pair have a solid chance of securing Force India’s fifth double-points finish of the year on Sunday.
F1 Russian Grand Prix Betting Tips
- Back Romain Grosjean to reach qualifying session three @ 10/11 with Ladbrokes.
- Bet on Valtteri Bottas to finish on the podium @ biggest odds of 7/2 with William Hill, Betfred, SkyBet or Paddy Power.
- Back Force India to secure a double-points finish @ best odds of 7/4 with BetVictor.