2019 Russian Grand Prix preview - Can Ferrari win at Mercedes' favourite track?

25-09-2019 14:03 | Updated: 25-09-2019 14:50
by Nicolás Quarles van Ufford
General
2019 Russian Grand Prix preview - Can Ferrari win at Mercedes' favourite track?

It's another back-to-back on the calendar this weekend as the Formula 1 circus travels to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix this weekend, meaning it's time for another preview!

Throwback

Last season, the Russian Grand Prix was all about Mercedes, as it tends to be in recent years. 2017 race winner Valtteri Bottas had put his car on pole position again, as he had done in 2017, and got away terrifically from the rest of the pack.

The Finn hadn't won a race yet at that stage of the season and it looked he was finally going to get one, before Mercedes handed out a team order to Bottas to switch positions with Lewis Hamilton so the Brit could win the race and extend his championship lead from Sebastian Vettel. It was gut-wrenching for Bottas, who really needed that win after a very difficult year full of bad luck and subpar performances. 

After the race, that ended in a Hamilton-led Mercedes one-two, Bottas looked defeated and completely demoralised on the grid and on the podium, with Hamilton also admitting he didn't like winning the race that way. It proved to be a catalyst for the coming races for Bottas, who performed very badly in the five races after Sochi.

Behind the Silver Arrows and the rest of the Big Three teams, a young talent named Charles Leclerc put in a stunning performance for Sauber to finish seventh and lead the midfield, something which was unprecedented for a team like Sauber. Leclerc had already been confirmed as a Ferrari driver for 2019 at that point, and the Italian team must've felt justified in their decision after that blinder of a performance from the then 20-year-old.

Expectations

As previously mentioned, Mercedes have been extremely dominant in recent years at the Sochi Autodrom. They've won five times in a row there now and will probably be favourites heading into the weekend. It suits the German's car very well, as the track is a nice mix of straight-line speed and technical sections. It's bang in the middle between downforce-heavy and power-heavy, as the Mercedes package tends to be.

However, Ferrari have proven their SF90 is more than just a straight-line monster in Singapore. It can eat up corners now as well, and Vettel already grabbed pole position in 2017 for Ferrari. The Scuderia are on a three-race winning streak as well, giving them all of the momentum and confidence. If they can find that perfect balance in Russia, they could be extending that streak to four. We wouldn't be surprised.

Predictions

Having said that, though, we do think Mercedes will be the team to beat here. There is a lot of value in having won recent races at a track, let alone the last five editions. Bottas seems to particularly love the track as well with his back-to-back pole positions there, and his almost back-to-back wins (if not for that team order).

We don't reckon Red Bull will be near the top, as the Bulls will likely take grid penalties so they'll be at the top of their game for the upcoming Japanese Grand Prix, Honda's home race (their factory is literally next to Suzuka and the track was originally built by Honda!).

Ferrari will take the fight right to Mercedes and it'll be close, and something extraordinary would have to happen if someone other than the two leading teams stood on the podium. Although he hasn't won since Baku, 12 races ago, we fancy Bottas to take the flag this Sunday.

Top 5 prediction

1. Valtteri Bottas

2. Charles Leclerc

3. Lewis Hamilton

4. Sebastian Vettel

5. Max Verstappen

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