F1: Russian Grand Prix Preview

Felipe MassaOn the back of three consecutive wins, Lewis Hamilton will hope to extend his advantage over Nico Rosberg in the Formula One Drivers’ Championship with victory at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 12:00pm BST, live on BBC / Sky Sports F1).

Hamilton won in the wet in Japan last weekend, overtaking pole-sitter Rosberg on lap 29 and never relinquished his lead thereafter in an impressive performance. The victory saw him pull 10 points clear of Rosberg in the standings with just four races remaining.

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Sebastian Vettel secured his second consecutive podium finish by coming in third for Red Bull ahead of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo. An early and inspired switch to intermediate tyres helped Jenson Button to a strong fifth place finish for McLaren, in front of the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa (pictured), whose cars struggled in the wet conditions.

Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) and Sergio Perez (Force India) completed the top 10.

The results were, however, overshadowed by Jules Bianchi’s accident in the latter stages of the race. The Marussia driver lost control of his car at the Dunlop curve and careered into the crane recovering Adrian Sutil’s crashed Sauber. The impact was fierce and Bianchi is currently in intensive care after suffering a severe head trauma in the incident.

The Circuit

This weekend’s event will be just the third-ever Russian Grand Prix and the first run under the auspices of the Formula One World Championship. The previous races in 1913 and 1914 were held in Saint Petersburg, but it is Sochi that will play host to the F1 paddock this weekend at the newly built Sochi Autodrom.

The circuit is likely to require a high-downforce setup, albeit with some allowance for top-speed performance on the two straights. It is expected to provide a good technical test for the drivers, who all seem cautiously optimistic that it will prove to be an interesting track.

Current weather forecasts suggest that it will be a relatively mild and sunny weekend, with little to no chance of rain. Pirelli have selected their soft and medium compound tyres for this event.

Mercedes

Hamilton has been in dominant form in recent Grand Prix. He has three consecutive victories and three successive fastest laps to his credit, and has also qualified on pole position in two of the last three races. In Japan, he completed a clean overtake of Rosberg before driving away to a relatively comfortable victory.

With the championship lead now his, Hamilton will be keen to press home his advantage. We expect him to be very strong this weekend and it is entirely possible that he could come away from the Grand Prix having secured pole position, the race victory and the fastest lap of the race.

Qualifying

It was announced prior to the Japanese Grand Prix that Daniel Kvyat will replace Vettel at Red Bull next year on the back of an impressive debut season in Formula One. He trails his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne in the drivers’ championship, but has generally matched the Frenchman for pace despite having no experience of most of the circuits.

The Sochi Autodrom is new to every one of the drivers, providing Kvyat with the opportunity to show what is capable of given a level playing field. Both he and Vergne are hopeful that their car will be well-suited to the circuit and Kvyat will also be able to count on the support of his fellow countrymen.

Kyvat has qualified in the top 10 on six previous occasions this season and can be fancied to reach the final session of qualifying on Saturday.

The Race

Vettel is expected to be announced as a Ferrari driver for next year by the end of the month. He has already confirmed that he will leave Red Bull at the conclusion of the current season, ending a 16-year association that culminated in four consecutive Formula One drivers’ championships.

Ricciardo has generally had the better of Vettel this season, but the German driver has had the edge in the last couple of races. He finished second in Singapore and third in Japan – a place ahead of Ricciardo on both occasions.

The layout of the Sochi Autodrom suggests that Red Bull will have strong pace this weekend. Vettel will therefore be confident of securing a third consecutive podium finish.

Force India are fifth in the constructors’ championship and are desperate to hold onto that position for the remaining four races of the season. McLaren are just a point behind after outscoring them 10 to 5 in Japan and Force India really need both of their cars to score good points this weekend.

The team have secured four double points finishes in the last six races and nine in total over the course of the season. One of those came at the Marina Bay circuit in Singapore, a track to which the Sochi Autodrom has been compared by a number of the drivers. Force India therefore look well placed to again get both of their cars into the top 10 on Sunday.

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