What to expect from the Formula 1 Sochi Autodrom RussianGP
Round 15 of the 2021 Formula 1 calendar takes us to the largest country in the world, Russia this weekend. Sochi Autodrom is a relatively new track on F1 as it held its first F1 race in 2014. Now in 2021, Sochi is going to play an important factor in the championship battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. But the cards are stacked against Red Bull Racing as Mercedes-AMG F1 has a 100 per cent win streak on this track and both their drivers have won here. Down the order, McLaren Racing and Scuderia Ferrari will battle it out for the third position in the constructor’s championship as Ferrari bring in engine upgrades and McLaren will get to try out their Mercedes engine for the first time on this track. With all that said and more, let us now look at the things we can expect from the RussianGP.
1. Chances of rain at the RussianGP
After the rain in the BelgiumGP, pretty much every fan is scared to even wish for a wet race. In case you didn’t know, heavy rains made the circumstances so bad at Spa that the race had to be concluded after two laps behind a safety car. And the heavens have opened over Sochi and we expect rain through Saturday and Sunday.
Now here is the interesting bit. Friday is showing no signs of rain which means that the teams will not have a chance to set up the car for the rainy conditions ahead. The only realistic practice the teams might get is the Free Practice 3 session before the qualifying on Saturday. So this might put a wrench in the works of the engineers and the drivers who want to set up their delicate cars to their optimum conditions.
Finally, there is the threat of Sochi being the second race of the season which might get cancelled due to unsuitable conditions. The FIA is trying to come up with plausible solutions for the rain splatter situation that we get from these open-wheeled cars ahead during a rainy session. Till then, it is clear that the FIA is ready to cancel a race if the situations become too dangerous for the drivers.
2. A 100 per cent win record for Mercedes-AMG F1
Team Mercedes-AMG F1 have held a 100 per cent record at the Sochi Autodrome since the track's reinstatement back in 2014. The power-hungry nature of the track has always played in the hands of Mercedes as it still has the most powerful engine in the Turbo-hybrid era.
Moreover, both their drivers— Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, have tasted victory on this track and the pair has always lived up to the expectations of the team. Lewis Hamilton has won the RussianGP four times, which is a record in itself. But the latest winner of Sochi is Valtteri Bottas who displayed a dominant victory in 2020 and shut his critics with the display of some well-arranged fingers.
Now, what will be interesting to see is whether Mercedes uses team orders to swap Bottas with Lewis if a situation as such arises. Lewis is in the hunt for the 2021 championship title and would always be preferred, but Bottas is very quick here and he is not sticking to Mercedes for 2022. So it will be interesting to see how the situation pans out if it did.
3. Ferrari engine upgrades
Scuderia Ferrari has announced that Charles Leclerc would be bringing in an upgraded power unit for the RussianGP. The engine is supposed to give the SF21 a boost of somewhere around 10bhp which may not seem a lot, but every bit of improvement is important in the F1 world.
This results in Leclerc getting a penalty that would make him start from the back of the grid in Sochi. Carlos Sainz didn’t get the upgrade mainly due to strategic reasons. Starting both the cars from the back of the grid would not bode well for Ferrari and their fight with McLaren for the third place in the constructor’s championship. So, Ferrari opted to keep one car in the points contention while we get to see the other Ferrari carve its way through the pack.
4. Mercedes powered McLaren
Any fan of Formula 1 knows how devastating the combination of Mercedes and McLaren can be on track. Rewind the clocks post-2005 and you would see a shiny silver car that also became the sought-after team on the F1 grid.
Fast forward to 2021, and McLaren has yet again got Mercedes as their engine supplier and now, they have the capacity to fight for race wins if not consistent points finish. As Sochi is a power-hungry track, it will be interesting to see how McLaren would perform with the most powerful engine on the grid.
Drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo have just come from the high of a 1-2 finish in Monza and it will be interesting to see if the duo’s teamwork can sweat out the leading pack. Moreover, we will get to see if the Ferrari engine upgrade would stack up to the might of the McLaren package.
5. The ‘dangerous’ title fight
The title fight has heated up more than ever before between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. The two are neck and neck in the championship battle and both their teams have their hopes of the team championship also riding on their driver’s backs.
But their fight has become dangerous now. Their last crash at the ItalianGP was a sign that neither driver are ready to give one another an inch on the track. If not for the Halo safety device, Lewis Hamilton would have been injured really bad as Verstappen’s back wheel scraped off his helmet. Moreover, Max Verstappen has recieved a three-place grid penalty in Sochi as he was deemed the culprit for the clash between the two at Monza.
But would the duo draw a line in the sand and start respecting each other or would they battle it out and leave everything on the track? Guess we’ll find out soon enough.
With all this said, Max Verstappen leads the driver’s championship with 226.5 points while Lewis Hamilton follows with 221.5 points. Valtteri Bottas trails the two with 141 points and fights Lando Norris with 132 points for the third position. In the constructor’s championship, Mercedes leads the title fight with 362.5 points while Red Bull trails with 344.5 points. For the third position, McLaren with 215 points hash it out Ferrari with 201.5 points. Lastly, Pirelli have announced that they would bring the C3, C4 and the C5 (C3 being the Hard compound tyres and C5 being the Soft compound tyres) compound tyres to the Sochi race weekend. The Qualifying session would start at 5:30pm IST on September 25 while the RussianGP would start at 5:30pm IST on September 26. You can watch them on Hotstar and Star Sports Select. To get more updates on anything Formula 1, stay tuned to evo India!