The championship battle continues with six rounds remaining, and Sebastian Vettel will have a fight on his hands to end Mercedes’ dominance of the Russian Grand Prix. Here are your reasons to watch all of the action this weekend!
Will Mercedes’ Russian dominance continue?
It’s looking good for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in the championship battles as we head into the Russian Grand Prix. Hamilton leads Vettel by 40 points in the title fight, while Ferrari trail Mercedes by 37 points for the teams’ honours with six races remaining in this year’s championship. Mercedes have every reason to be optimistic about their hopes for this weekend, too. The team have won every Russian Grand Prix since 2014. The Benz team even won the only two other Russian Grands Prix held in the early twentieth century, way back in 1913 and 1914.
Sebastian Vettel took pole here last season, but he was beaten to the line by Valtteri Bottas as the Finn took his maiden Formula One victory. Vettel needs to score around seven points more than Hamilton, on average, in the last six races of the season to usurp the current championship leader. More points lost this weekend would make Vettel’s title hopes seem even more unlikely as the championship reaches its closing stages.
Will Bottas bounce back?
The Finn seems to have resigned himself to a wingman role to his championship-leading team-mate in recent races, but Bottas has always performed well around the Sochi track. He’s one of only two drivers on the current grid to have never been beaten by his team-mate in Qualifying here, and he’s qualified in third on every appearance so far in Russia (though he lined up second on the grid in 2016). The only time he’s finished outside of the top four here was in 2015, when he was shunted off the circuit by Kimi Raikkonen as the pair duelled for the final podium position.
This Russian track seems like it really suits Valtteri, so it could be his best chance of taking his first win of the season on Sunday. Whether or not that will be allowed by Mercedes is another potentially intriguing sub-plot.
Red Bull charging from the back
Red Bull are yet to have much luck at the Sochi Autodrom, with none of their cars ever finishing above fifth place at the circuit. It’s a statistic which seems unlikely to change this weekend, as the team brace for more grid penalties.
A switch back to Renault’s B-spec engine in Russia after the C-spec version caused headaches in Singapore is likely to see both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo start way down the order for Sunday’s Grand Prix. Their fightbacks throughout the race may give us some entertainment, though. While Verstappen finished fifth here last season, Ricciardo is yet to secure a top six finish in the Russian Grand Prix. The team are in a league of their own in the Constructors’ Championship, 141 points behind Ferrari and 193 ahead of Renault.
Four different faces in FP1
Sauber completed their 2019 driver line-up on Tuesday as they announced Antonio Giovinazzi would partner Kimi Raikkonen next season. The move sees Marcus Ericsson step aside to a third driver role as the Ferrari junior driver takes his place. Giovinazzi will also be taking Ericsson’s seat in Free Practice this weekend. It’ll be his third practice outing for Sauber this season.
Meanwhile, at McLaren, Giovinazzi’s fellow 2019-newcomer Lando Norris will be jumping into the car for Friday morning’s session, as he gets another chance to get to grips with the team’s 2018 machinery. Russian driver Artem Markelov will also be driving for Renault in FP1, while Nicholas Latifi will be driving for Force India. The trio of Norris, Markelov and Latifi will having a busy morning as they’ll all partake in the Formula Two practice session immediately afterwards.
Sirotkin on home ground
Sergey Sirotkin will become the second Russian driver to compete in his home Grand Prix this weekend. The pace of the Williams is far from inspiring, so there may be little reason for his local fans to cheer him on. Nevertheless, the grandstand which used to be named after fellow-Russian Daniil Kvyat has been renamed in Sirotkin’s honour for this event.
Talking of Kvyat, we may hear some news about his future this weekend. Rumours suggest that a deal for his return to Toro Rosso has already been signed, with Nicolas Todt having become his manager in recent weeks. Helmut Marko had previously said that one of Toro Rosso’s drivers for 2019 would be confirmed at the Russian Grand Prix, adding to speculation that Kvyat would be returning to the drive which he lost toward the end of the 2017 season. With seats still yet to be confirmed at Haas, Toro Rosso, Williams and Force India, the Silly Season looks set to rumble on for at least a few more weeks.
The 2018 Russian Grand Prix begins at 12:10pm BST on Sunday. In the UK, coverage is exclusively live on Sky Sports F1.