Our F1 fanatic looks ahead to this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix which is being held at the Sochi Autodrom.
After years of inertia, it seems we will finally have a competitive Formula 1 season with the opening three races seeing Sebastian Vettel claim two victories and Lewis Hamilton claim the other. While the aforementioned duo are likely to be the two who duke it out for race honours here, you can’t write off the likes of Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen who are more than capable of upsetting the applecart out in Russia.
While for most the 2017 Bahrain race weekend will conjure up memories of Sebastian Vettel capitalising on Lewis Hamilton’s five-second time penalty to claim a race victory. I differ, however, as my moment of the weekend was Valterri Bottas’ incredible qualifying lap which saw him steal pole position from his teammate. Unfortunately, Bottas was unable to take full advantage of starting on pole as the Finn only managed to bring his car over the line in third place.
I actually felt for Bottas during the main race as, while he wasn’t setting the most blistering of race times, Mercedes seemed extremely keen to get him out of the way so that Lewis Hamilton could have a crack at chasing race leader, Sebastian Vettel.
Speaking of Hamilton, the ‘Brit had his chances of winning in Bahrain curtailed by a five-second penalty which came about due to his slowness when entering the pits under the Safety Car. It really was a rookie error and the three-time world champion was rather scathing of his own performance and immediately issued an apology to his team, stating “I try to handle it the best way I can but it eats you up a little bit inside and you have just got to try and cope and move forward. Today there were certain things that if they were perfect I would have been in a much better position to fight for the win and I put myself in that position.”
While Mercedes did manage to claim second (Hamilton) and third (Bottas) position on the podium, it still wasn’t enough for them to keep hold of first spot on the Constructors’ Championship standings as Sebastian Vettel’s victory saw Ferrari leapfrog their arch rivals into top spot on the standings. Vettel’s victory – which came courtesy of a brilliant pit strategy from the Ferrari engineers – has also seen the German take a seven-point lead at the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings.
It seems the stars really are starting to align for Ferrari as Kimi Raikkonen made up for a poor qualifying showing by bringing his car across the line in fourth. And if the Finn can continue to pick up third and fourth place finishes, then the Prancing Stag may just win their first Constructors’ Championship in nearly a decade.
Bahrain proved to be a rather difficult race for Red Bull with Max Verstappen retiring with brake failure and Daniel Ricciardo unable to improve on his starting position of fifth. There was better news for Force India as both Sergio Perez (7th) and Esteban Ocon (10th) both managed to finish in the points. Sandwiched in between the two Force India’s were Romain Grosjean (8th) and Nico Hulkenberg (9th), while Felipe Mass brought his Williams home in sixth.
Russian Grand Prix | Sunday 30 April | Sochi Autodrom | 13:30
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 9/10 | Sebastian Vettel 5/4 | Valterri Bottas 15/2 | Kimi Raikkonen 16/1 | Max Verstappen 40/1 | Daniel Ricciardo 40/1 | Felipe Massa 250/1 | Carlos Sainz 500/1
Picturesque, yet menacing. The Sochi Autodrom is one of those tracks that splits opinions among drivers and fans. Covering some 5.853 kilometres, the circuit is certainly on the long side of the spectrum. It also contains some blindingly quick segments and some incredibly slow corners – like Russia itself, this track is full of contrasts.
As this is a street circuit, the tyres will play a big role here. Pirelli has opted to debut the ultra-soft compounds which can be identified by their purple walling. Most of the teams used one-stop tyre strategies last year but it will be interesting to see if they can reproduce this strategy with the ultra-softs now in play.
The weather looks absolutely fantastic for the weekend with the local bureau predicting sunny skies and mid to low teen temperatures.
Last year’s race saw Nico Rosberg claim pole as well as race honours with Lewis Hamilton finishing in second. The final podium position went to Kimi Raikkonen while Sebastian Vettel was forced to retire after he was rear-ended by Danil Kvyat.
Podium Finish – Valtteri Bottas – Yes 5/10
The Mercedes recruit certainly loves a Russian Grand Prix having claimed a podium finish in 2014 and fourth in 2016. He’s in a much quicker car now and looks a really sure bet to claim a podium position. 5/10 may not be the greatest value but this is my banker for the week.
Fastest Qualifier & To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 55/100 & 9/10
I was tempted to go with Bottas for the fastest qualifier as he does have the track form and his qualifying stint in Bahrain was highly impressive but I just feel Hamilton will bounce back this weekend. He’s one of those drivers who thrive under pressure and I feel we’ll see him at his best. It may not be the best value in the world but I would not be betting against Hamilton this weekend.