Just six races to go, 40-points of the pace and a circuit that Mercedes thrive on, Sebastian Vettel is certainly staring down the barrel in this year’s Formula One Championship race coming into the Russian Grand Prix. With just six rounds to go the German has to use Sochi to kick start a winning run if he harbors any hope of securing a fifth Formula One World Championship. This will unquestionably be a tall order for the German, especially when you consider Hamilton’s form over the last six races which includes four wins. Can Vettel get back into the championship race at a circuit dominated by Mercedes? Check out our Russian Grand Prix preview and predictions.
Mercedes Petronas Singapore Grand Prix Debrief
What Happened at the Singapore Grand Prix?
Lewis Hamilton came into Singapore knowing the race could very well be about damage limitation, with the packages of Red Bull and Ferrari superior on the twisty low downforce circuit. Much like Monaco, pole position around the streets of the Marina Bay Circuit puts any driver in the hot seat for the checkered flag, a strategy that Mercedes must have focused on. Well if they didn’t, Hamilton certain did. The defending champion scorched around the streets of Singapore to secure pole in a lap he described as “one of the best I can remember.”
In the context of the season and the fact that he went on to win the race, that lap could very well have been the defining moment of the season and a possible fifth World Championship. Hamilton went on to control the race finishing nine seconds clear of Verstappen, with Vettel coming home third. Just to underline the characteristics of the circuit, the top six came home in the same order they started in, with Hamilton establishing a 40-point lead in the process.
Bright lights, big city… one mega lap!
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 15, 2018
About the Sochi Autodrom
The Russian Grand Prix made its debut on the F1 roadshow back in 2014. The original site for the race was set to be just outside Moscow before President Vladimir Putin gave the green light for the purpose-built Sochi Autodrom, situated on Russia’s Black Sea coast, to be constructed.
The 5.848km circuit is the fourth longest on the season, with Spa, Baku and Silverstone the only ones that boast longer distances. With spring firmly set in, temperatures will not be as demanding on the drivers as they were in Singapore, with tyre management over the 58-laps becoming key to the team’s strategy.
Some high speeds can be achieved around the circuit, especially on the run down to turn two, a demanding 90-degree right hander which leads into a left-turning horseshow followed by a sudden change in direction to the right at turn four.
A combination of sharp corners and short straights then follow, and it is only until after turn eight that drivers are able build up the speed with the slight right-left arc at turns 11 and 12.
Tight corners and short straights then come back into play, with a clean entry into the final turn 18 a priority for the drivers if they want to capitalise on any potential overtaking opportunities in the early stages of the next lap.
Sochi F1 Circuit Guide with Valtteri Bottas & PETRONAS
What To Expect in Russia
With four wins in four years for Mercedes since the inaugural race, expect the Silver Arrows to be the team to beat again this weekend. At the moment it is all about Lewis Hamilton who is arguably in the form of his life. The defending champion is currently 40-points clear of Vettel and looking for a fifth win in six races at a venue he has taken top spot on the podium in both 2014 and 2015.
Valtteri Bottas registered his maiden Formula One win in Sochi last year after his exceptional start took him to the front of the pack, so I expect the Finn to arrive with some confidence.
Ferrari could mount a big challenge this weekend. Last year they occupied the front of the grid, Vettel finishing second from pole position, followed by team-mate Raikkonen. I do expect the Italian outfit to dominate qualifying and possibly repeat their front row lockout of last year, however I did expect them to do the same in Singapore before “that lap” by Lewis Hamilton.
Be interesting to see how Red Bull get on this weekend. Sochi has never been a happy hunting ground for the team, and they could also start this weekend with both Ricciardo and Verstappen taking grid penalties.
The team have confirmed this week that both drivers will revert to the Renault B-Spec engine, a unit that is more powerful but less reliable. Team Principle Christian Horner stated that they are happy to accept the risks for this weekend in order to mount a challenge in the last third of the season at circuits they believe their package is better suited to than both Merc and Ferrari.
Incidentally both McLaren and Renault themselves have declined to run the new unit.
Temperatures are expected to be around 24 degrees with no rain expected, slightly cooler than the last two races. This will play into Ferrari’s hands who seem to get their tyre temperatures up a little quicker than the Mercedes.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 26, 2018
Russian Grand Prix Predictions
I have to look at this race like I would do when punting on the US Masters, by considering past form of the player at the Augusta National and the current form of the player coming into the tournament.
Mercedes with four wins from four in Russia, Hamilton two wins at Sochi and then his current form (four wins in the last five races) On this basis Hamilton at 6/5 to win his eighth race of the season is difficult to look past.