Formula One’s second-last run at Sochi is sure to be an absolute thriller.
Following Formula One’s return to racing after the summer break, an eventful second triple-header wrapped up two weeks ago in Monza. After a fortnight’s rest, we are back racing at Sochi.
This weekend’s Russian Grand Prix will also be its penultimate race at the Sochi Autodrom, where racing has been held since 2014. As per the upcoming changes, races from the 2023 Russian Grand Prix onwards are set to be hosted at the Igora Drive near St. Petersburg.
With only a couple of races left at Sochi and given the wild title fight we have on our hands, this weekend’s race is sure to be another blockbuster.
Title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen come into the Russian Grand Prix just as they did into the Italian Grand Prix since both crashed out once again. Verstappen maintains his five-point lead on Hamilton, but his role in their coming together at Monza has seen the Dutchman receive a three-place grid penalty, which will give Hamilton the advantage.
A tight circuit, with multiple corners and high-speed sections, means racing at the Sochi Autodrom not only requires pace but also precision. Drivers start off at almost 300 km/h from the start line, heading into the main long straight after Turn One, which has one of the longest straights on the calendar. They have to be careful going into the tight right hander which is Turn Two. They need to take a wider line before pulling to the right, arriving at Turn Three, a left-hand bend with a maximum of 4G g-force. Following that, just before the drivers head into Turn Four, they get opportunities to pass the others and then head into the medium-speed right hander.
Heading into Turn Five, it’s a tricky road with a bump at the braking zone before going into a 90-degree right hander. The next turn is another extremely fast 90-degree right hand turn with the drivers needing to make sure they avoid the kerb which can damage their cars. This is followed by another high-speed straight where the drivers push at more than 200 km/h before smashing on the brakes for an acute left hander.
Turn Ten is again a 90-degree right hander and heads into a long straight where drivers have to take note of their exit speed to maximise and get every inch out. The next two turns are left and right curves which see the drivers breeze through them before braking hard at Turn Thirteen, where once again they need to be careful about the kerbs. Turn Fourteen precedes a 90-degree right hander corner and is a slow right-left combination.
The final few turns are a bit tricky, and drivers need to switch from a quick left and right corner into a chicane before heading into the main straight.
THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO
Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen
The championship rivals clashed once again at the Italian Grand Prix and, more importantly, neither of them finished the race. In what is turning out to be one of the most closely contested championship battles, both drivers know that every point counts and even a single point can make a difference.
Verstappen, who holds a slender lead over Hamilton with five points, encountered his second retirement of the season and will be vary of the Brit’s late season comebacks from previous championship battles that could derail his maiden championship title.
To make matters worse, Verstappen was handed a three-place grid penalty for being at fault for his and Hamilton’s latest collision, which hands the latter the advantage at Sochi.
As far as the seven-time world champion is concerned, even though he is five points behind, Hamilton knows he has the edge over Verstappen; he’s an experienced campaigner who’s been in multiple championship battles over the years against other world champions.
Heading into the final eight races of the season, both drivers know they need to maximise the points and minimise the DNFs.
Ricciardo and McLaren back on top
Hamilton and Verstappen’s crash meant the 2021 Formula One season saw a new winner. The winner, though, has had plenty of experience standing on the top step of the podium: it was none other than Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo’s win at Monza was his eighth career victory, his first since Monaco 2018, and his first since leaving Red Bull in 2018. For his team, though, it was a longer wait, as their win in Italy was their first win since 2012. McLaren have struggled throughout the turbo hybrid era and only last season onwards did they manage to make a positive approach towards the front of the grid.
With Ricciardo’s win, McLaren have taken a solid lead in the Constructors’ Standings from their fourth-place rivals, Ferrari, and the Woking-based team’s win also signifies the development they have made, which holds them in good stead as we head into the new regulations era next season.
McLaren’s win also reignites Ricciardo’s otherwise mixed debut season with them, and having gotten that first win out of the way, the Australian is sure to unleash himself and all his skill in an attempt to get more podiums and wins.
McLaren’s win also makes them serious contenders for proper race wins rather than just making the most of a great opportunity. Ricciardo was on the pace from the get-go in Monza, and even if Verstappen and Hamilton did not clash, the Australian would have been likely to take the win given the competitiveness of his McLaren. With two quality drivers in Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, the British team will be upbeat about their chances to score heavily once again at the Sochi Autodrom.
Red Bull turning on the heat
Red Bull made a significant upgrade to their power unit in the Belgian Grand Prix, which will be their final one for the season as they shift their focus entirely onto the 2022 project.
That, though, doesn’t mean they are waving the white flag; it is quite the opposite. In Belgium, Verstappen edged past Hamilton to take pole and a bizarre win, and at the following race in the Netherlands, the Red Bull driver had the better of both the Mercedes drivers with relative ease. Honda’s new upgrade to the power unit has definitely made a significant change for the Austrian team as they hunt for the Constructors’ and the Drivers’ title, which have eluded them since 2013, and it looks like this might be the season they break that drought.
Honda, in their final year as engine providers, will hope to provide Red Bull with the ultimate machinery needed to take the crown. Red Bull will be producing their own engines from the 2022 season onwards, although they will use Honda’s existing IP, which allows Red Bull to use Honda’s technology till 2025 when the new generation of power units will be introduced.
- As strong as Red Bull have been over the last few years, no team apart from Mercedes have stood on the top step of the podium since racing returned to Russia in 2014. With Verstappen handed a three-place grid penalty, it’s advantage Mercedes. Given how strong Valtteri Bottas has been at this circuit, and given his recent form, he is the likely candidate to finish Sunday at the top.
- Although McLaren managed to build a healthy lead on them in the Constructors’ Championship, the Scuderia should be confident going into the Russian weekend. Ferrari will be bringing a brand-new power unit to Sochi which they have stated will help them get crucial information for next season’s setup. The Maranello-based team have made significant progress from last year, and although the new PU means Charles Leclerc will start the race from the back of the grid, given Ferrari’s competitiveness this year, they stand as serious contenders to fight for podiums in the second half of the season.
- AlphaTauri were the only team to have scored in every race of the season heading into Italy, but a DNF and DNS for Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda respectively meant they lost that record. The Italian team will look to make up for lost points in the crucial lower midfield battle, with Gasly once again favourite to finish ‘best of the rest’ given the level at which he has been driving.
Number of Laps – 53
Circuit Length – 5.848 km
Race Distance – 309.7 km
Lap Record – 1:35.761, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes, 2019)