Sochi, the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, adds another impressive event to its repertoire in the form of the inaugural Russian Grand Prix. Vladimir Putin appears to be a Formula One fan, the track near the Black Sea reportedly funded by the Russian government with a lot of input from the President. Fittingly, Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin will make his debut at his home track behind the wheel of a Sauber on Friday. The mood of the Grand Prix will be more sombre than usual, with Marussia driver Jules Bianchi still in a critical condition after a crash in Japan resulted in a severe head injury.
The safety car was a familiar sight at Suzuka, with drivers tailing behind the silver Mercedes from the start and ending the race in a similar format when Typhoon Phanfone’s wrath became too much and the Grand Prix was red-flagged. The ominous dark clouds and the subsequent deluge managed to shake up the race, but not enough to prevent Hamilton from taking his first win at one of his favourite tracks. Rosberg started ahead of his teammate but by the time the race was suspended, he found himself once again staring at the backside of Hamilton’s Mercedes, securing the eighth one-two finish for the team. Vettel nabbed himself another podium, but talk surrounding the German champion mainly revolved around his Red Bull departure and move to Ferrari. Alonso, the driver allegedly making way for Vettel, had a dismal visit to Japan. Electrical failure sent the former champion out of the race early and left him awkwardly parked on the track. Ricciardo finished just shy of the podium while Button had an impressive race for McLaren, finishing fifth. The two Williams slotted in behind him while Vergne in ninth separated the two Force Indias that once again made it into the points. The race was marred both by the torrential rains, as well as Bianchi’s horror crash into a safety vehicle that had gone out to aid Sutil after he had aquaplaned and sent his car into a barrier just before the Grand Prix was cut short. The sheer volume of water on the track made driving conditions nearly impossible.
Popular circuit architect Hermann Tilke was enlisted to design the Sochi Autodrom that winds through the Olympic Park in the Black Sea resort town. At 5,853km the track is one of the longest on the calendar but is reportedly blindingly quick, with the cars reaching speeds of 320km/h. The circuit utilises a good portion of public roads and is said to be similar to Singapore’s Marina Bay and Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina. The smooth, unused track surface will challenge the drivers, with the times sure to improve over the weekend as more rubber is laid down by the medium and soft Pirelli compounds. The brand new track evens the playing field a bit as all the teams, regardless of speed, will be forced to learn a new layout and adapt their strategies. The circuit is fast though, and with apparent decent overtaking opportunities it should favour the quicker cars. Sochi is marketed as a resort town and unlike the usual thoughts that come to mind of Russians drinking vodka in the cold, the town is warm and sunny, so the string of rain-ridden races seems to have come to an end. The safety car will probably pop up at some point during the race, the fresh track coupled with a good haul of tight corners lends itself to drivers sliding off the circuit if they fall victim to distraction.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 13/20
Nico Rosberg 2/1
Daniel Ricciardo 12/1
Sebastian Vettel 14/1
Valterri Bottas 22/1
Fernando Alonso 33/1
Felipe Massa 40/1
Jenson Button 100/1
Lewis Hamilton (13/20 a win, 1/5 a podium)
Hamilton increased his lead in the Championship in Japan but Rosberg’s second place finish ensured it wasn’t by much. The British driver has spent a lot of time on the top step of the podium this season and, in all honesty, sitting through “God Save the Queen” after every race is becoming a bit tedious. Hamilton looks set to continue his dominant streak, but as he attempts a hat-trick of consecutive wins in Russia, Rosberg will be calculating his next move and looking to score maximum points. Bet on Hamilton to take a podium and add it to your exotics this weekend. .
Sebastian Vettel (14/1 a win, 7/4 a podium)
A new track provides a new challenge and Vettel isn’t a quadruple World Champion for nothing. He seems to be getting the hang of the new 2014 setup, albeit a bit late in the season, but he is starting to score decent points. He’s been on the podium two weeks in a row and a third week isn’t unattainable. His new gig at Ferrari may be the fresh start the Champion needs; his season hasn’t been up to his usual standard, with his teammate emerging as a strong contender for the checkered flag ahead of him. Some of the German’s usual spunk has returned, so put some money on him to grab a podium position in Russia.
Jenson Button (Top 6 Finish, 18/10)
Button had a decent race in Japan but don’t expect anything spectacular from the McLaren driver. He’s yet to achieve a podium this season and that feat seems nearly impossible for a former World Champion who has become all too familiar with mid to low end points finishes. His Formula One future is still unconfirmed, but with Alonso rumoured to be joining McLaren, Button’s seat could be under threat. A team like the British motor racing giants expect great results and if Button fancies keeping his drive next year he’s got a lot of work to do in the final four races. Bet on the Brit to secure a Top 6 finish in Russia, he’s managed a few of them this season.
POLE POSITION/WIN: Nico Rosberg 27/20 & 2/1
Sometimes second place is good enough, especially if it’s a frequent occurrence. Rosberg led the championship for a good portion of the season while employing this strategy before his unfortunate DNF in Singapore led him to lose his grip on the top of the points table. Rosberg is a crafty fellow though, and seems to have a rather aggressive nature when it comes to getting past his teammate. Narrowly beating Hamilton’s pole winning lap in the final seconds of qualifying is also something that appears to be on his permanent to-do list. The Championship battle has narrowed with only the two Mercedes drivers in contention, but the competition between the two is fierce and incredibly heated at times. Either one could go on to raise the most coveted trophy and take the Driver’s title, but this weekend my money is on Rosberg to take Pole and the Checkered flag at the inaugural Russian Grand Prix.
Think we’ve got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this one is going to play out.