Russian GP preview | Will rain add more twists to the Verstappen/Hamilton duel?

22-09-2021 09:12 | Updated: 22-09-2021 10:50
by GPblog.com
F1 News
Russian GP preview | Will rain add more twists to the Verstappen/Hamilton duel?

The Russian Grand Prix is just around the corner. Max Verstappen hopes to limit the damage despite a grid penalty of at least three places, but history shows any attempt to fight back is unlikely with Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes being so strong at the venue. All F1 races in Russia have been won by Mercedes. Read everything you need to know ahead of this weekend in this preview from GPblog.

Sochi Autodrom

After the 2014 Olympics, the circuit around the Olympic Park was finally used as a Formula One circuit. The circuit was designed by F1 house architect, Hermann Tilke, and was used for the first time in 2014 for the Russian Grand Prix. The circuit has never been a favourite of fans and drivers, as it is not very challenging.

The Sochi Autodrom has a combination of long straights and a variety of corners, but most of the corners are exactly 90 degrees. Only the combination of bends 2,3,4 and 5 can be called unique. The long turn is reminiscent of the unique corner at Istanbul Park.

Russian GP

In 2014, the first official Grand Prix of Russia was held at the Sochi circuit. In 1913 and 1914 there was already a race organised in Russia, but at that time the F1 championship did not exist. These races in Saint-Petersburg were won by Georgy Suvorin and Willy Scholl. The Russian and German drivers both did this in a (Mercedes) Benz car.

In that respect, Russia is really the territory of Mercedes. No other team has ever won here. In 2014, the first official victory went to Lewis Hamilton, who went on to win the race three more times. Valtteri Bottas won twice in Russia, while Nico Rosberg won once.

Twice the pole went to another team, and on both occasions it was Ferrari. In 2017, Sebastian Vettel took off from pole and in 2019, Charles Leclerc did the same. With a strong engine, they were able to compete for the win, but Mercedes proved too strong each time.

Max Verstappen doesn't have a great list of results in Russia. The Dutchman finished second in 2020, although that was mainly due to a penalty for Lewis Hamilton, who had made the practice start in the wrong place. Bottas was elusive for Verstappen throughout the race. Maybe this year will be different.

Formula 1 in 2021

In 2021 everything is different in Formula 1, with a real title fight between Red Bull Racing and Mercedes. Red Bull, with Honda, have managed to put together a package that will allow them to compete for victory in any race. Straight-line speed remains Mercedes' weapon, but Red Bull is not that far off.

After the crash between Hamilton and Verstappen, the Dutchman will travel to Russia with a grid penalty of three places. It is expected that Verstappen will opt for a new engine here as well, which will also mean that he will take an additional penalty. Sergio Perez will hopefully be able to take some points from the Mercedes drivers.

Weather forecast

It's not the best weather in Sochi at the moment for a Formula 1 race. On Tuesday there was already footage of a flooded paddock, and in the coming days, it will not get better. According to Weather.com the chance of rain on Friday is 59 percent, on Saturday 100 percent and on Sunday also 74 percent.

The temperature will not allow the track to dry quickly. On Friday and Sunday, the maximum temperature in Sochi will be 19 degrees, while on Saturday it is not even expected to get warmer than 17 degrees. The temperature in combination with the rain could mean that a completely different team will emerge here.

Forecast for the Grand Prix

The weather forecast is perhaps the reason why Red Bull Racing wants to wait with a new engine for Verstappen. The Belgian Grand Prix showed that the RB16B is very good in the rain. If the Sochi circuit is going to be a slippery slope, Verstappen may want to start from the front with his old engine.

Normally Mercedes is by far the favourite in Russia. Red Bull has indeed shown that it can come close on tracks like these, but Mercedes has the faster car. The three-place grid penalty doesn't help either. If Max qualifies ahead of Hamilton in the rain, he will probably be behind him in the race.

Normally you could say that Mercedes should get a 1-2 here. Russia is the last race where Mercedes is really the favourite. If the team wants to get ahead of Red Bull's favourite races, it has to happen now. With rain, however, that will be a very difficult story.

Schedule for the 2021 Russian Grand Prix

Friday

First free practice: 09:30 - 10:30

Second free practice: 13:00 - 14:00

Saturday

Third free practice: 10:00 - 11:00

Qualification: 13:00 - 14:00

Sunday

Race: 13:00 - 15:00

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