With Formula 1 arriving into Russia for the 10th Grand Prix of the year, Mercedes has yet another chance to continue their historic run since 2014. This time, the pinnacle of motorsport arrives at a circuit in which the German team has taken every win since Russia entered the World Championship in 2014. This year, Mercedes should be even more favored to win in Sochi than in recent years.
Lewis Hamilton, who leads teammate Valtteri Bottas at the top of the World Drivers’ Championship by 55 points, will be looking to take his third straight win at Sochi, his fifth overall and, most importantly, he has the chance to tie Michael Schumacher at the top of the all-time winners’ list with 91.
The last Grand Prix in which a driver tied the record for most wins in F1 history was the 2001 Hungarian Grand Prix. In that race, Schumacher took his 51st victory to tie Alain Prost, and also tied the French driver by sealing his fourth World Drivers’ Championship on the same day.
With Mercedes winning even in 2017 with Bottas and last year with Hamilton in two GPs in which Ferrari had the fastest car around the Russian track, then a strong result for them this year would not be a surprise.
Can Red Bull challenge Mercedes?
Of course, with 14 days between the last race at Mugello and the next race at Sochi, we are expecting Red Bull to step up their game, especially from the reliability side, to compete against Mercedes and end Max Verstappen’s run of two straight retirements.
Alleged tension between Red Bull-Verstappen and Honda might not be great news to hear for those who do not want to see Mercedes and Hamilton walk away with the championship, but again, rumours are not facts.
On his side, Red Bull’s Team Principal, Christian Horner, says he “understands” the frustration of his driver with another DNF (Did not Finish), since the team had “a very fast car” at Mugello. Verstappen’s outburst after his retirement at Mugello is something “natural” for Horner. “In the heat of the moment when you have gone from the adrenaline of the start to the disappointment of ending up in the gravel trap, it is only natural to vent on the radio”.
In terms of fighting Mercedes at Sochi, Horner believes the German team will be “pretty dominant”, as Sochi is “their type of track”. However, Horner sees an area where Red Bull can attack: tyre degradation, which he calls “an interesting factor”.
“They (Mercedes) weren't stretched last weekend (Mugello) but you could hear how nervous they were (about the tyres), instructing their drivers to stay off the kerbs. So, it would be great if we can be competitive in Sochi and put them under a little bit of pressure, because that is when things can happen”.
Horner now considers Red Bull ‘outsiders’ regarding the title battle. “Championship wise, we are very much outsiders now and every race is a cup final for us. We are just going to go for it as we have nothing to lose. We are determined to get ourselves back into a position to contend for championships and we will get there”.
The fight behind the Mercs & Bulls
Compared to 2019, McLaren and Renault should very close between them since last year their cars were very close during qualifying. Of course, the fight this year might be for higher places, maybe even the podium, given one of the top three teams of last year -Ferrari- will probably suffer at the track this year.
Ferrari will bring upgrades to Sochi, but Team Principal Mattia Binotto has already said that it will not address the main problems for Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel: being “out of pace during the race” and “wearing too much the tyres”.
Racing Point, when named Force India, achieved a podium in Russia with Sergio Pérez in 2015 and has been around the Top 5 in most races this year. With Russia being somewhat of a power track, the pink equipment might be in the mix for another Top 5 battle.
Lance Stroll achieved Racing Point’s only podium of the season in Monza and was close to another Top 3 finish in the last race, at Mugello, before crashing out of the Grand Prix due to tyre failure. The Canadian is sixth in the WDC and has finished three times in the Top 4.
AlphaTauri should have strong performances from Pierre Gasly, who has scored 43 of the team’s 53 points, and Daniil Kvyat, who will be racing at his home track and is coming off of his best result of the year with seventh at Mugello.
Alfa Romeo and Williams might need special circumstances to get near the points as they have done in the last two races, while Haas continues to struggle.
2020 Russian GP Facts & Figures
The race on Sunday will be the seventh World Championship race held at Russia and the seventh consecutive at the country, which entered the World Championship in 2014.
Russia’s entrance in Formula 1 occurred at the start of the Turbo-Hybrid era, which means Mercedes dominated from 2014 to 2016 with little resistance from rivals. Hamilton won in 2014 and 2015, while Nico Rosberg succeeded in 2016.
With new aero regulations from 2017, Ferrari qualified on the front row in 2017 and had the stronger package, but a great start from P3 Valtteri Bottas meant he took the lead and did not look back, even with Vettel following closely in the late stages of the GP.
It was Bottas’ first Grand Prix win, but 2018 was different for the Finnish driver, as he started the event from Pole Position, but had to give up the win to Hamilton for the Englishman to further extend his lead in the fight for the title with Vettel.
Last year, Ferrari was on Pole Position again, this time with Leclerc, who was enjoying a fantastic run of results together with a resurgence of Ferrari’s 2019 car, the SF90. The team planned for Leclerc to give a tow to third-placed Vettel at the start so he could overtake second-placed Hamilton off the line.
Vettel did overtake the Mercedes driver, but he also got past Leclerc into Turn 1. The team instructed Vettel to let Leclerc pass, but the German refused to do it, alleging Leclerc was not close enough, and the situation was compromised by Hamilton being close to Leclerc, even after starting on harder tyres than the Ferraris.
Ultimately, Leclerc performed an undercut on Vettel, who then suffered an engine issue shortly after leaving the pits and had to stop on the track, forcing a Virtual Safety Car. Hamilton had inherited the lead after the Ferraris’ pit stops, but he still had to change tyres. The VSC gave him and P2 Bottas the chance to pit and come out ahead of Leclerc, thus sealing the race in favor of Hamilton and his team.
Ultimately, Hamilton won and Bottas kept Leclerc behind to give Mercedes its sixth straight win at Sochi and the fourth 1-2 for the team at the venue.
The 5.848-km track is situated around the Sochi Olympic Park, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Sochi circuit has 19 turns and only four can be considered as high-speed corners, with Turn 4 as the most noticeable and providing good chances for overtaking, given the different lines that drivers can take around the long, sweeping left-hander.
The lap records of this track are 1:31.387 min by Valtteri Bottas during qualifying for the 2018 race and 1:35.761 min by Lewis Hamilton in the 2019 race.
2020 Russian Grand Prix - Tyres
The dry tyres for the 2020 Russian Grand Prix will be the C3 as P Zero White hard, C4 as P Zero Yellow Medium, and C5 as P Zero Red soft. These tyres are Pirelli’s softer option for the year.
Pirelli explained their choice with a statement in a press release: “This choice has been made based on the smoothness of the asphalt at Sochi, which is well known for being relatively easy on the tyres”.
Mario Isola, Pirelli’s head of F1 and car racing, stated that Russia keeping its original place in the calendar made it easier for Pirelli to make a choice: “...we’ve gone a step softer with the tyre choice in order to provide extra speed and an additional challenge in terms of tyre strategy. Thanks to the current reduced tread depth, which was first introduced in 2019, the softer C3, C4 and C5 nomination this year should encourage the use of all three compounds without the drivers having to manage them extensively during the race. With last year’s strategy heavily influenced by neutralisations - plus 2020 cars that are faster than ever before - the teams will certainly have a few unknowns heading into this year’s Russian Grand Prix. Having said that, Sochi places relatively low demands on tyres, so a one-stop race should still be possible.”
Last year, Pirelli’s choice was a step harder, with the C2, C3 and C4 compounds generating a one-stop race, helped by a VSC period and another period of the proper Safety Car. Critically, the Mercedes drivers were able to beat the faster Ferraris by starting the race on the medium tyres and extending their first stint until the VSC was caused, earning a ‘free’ pitstop to achieve the 1-2.
This will be the first race of the season in which the softer option will be used.
This year, teams are not allowed to select their tyre allocation, as Pirelli will give each driver two sets of hard tyres, three sets of mediums, and eight sets of soft tyres.
The minimum starting pressures for the tyres will be 24.0 PSI (front) and 20.0 PSI (rear).
2020 Russian Grand Prix Weather Forecast
Friday, Sep 25th - FP1 & FP2
Conditions: Mostly sunny and very warm
Max. temperature: 28°C
Chance of rain: 7%
Sunday, Sep 27th - Race
Conditions: Mostly sunny and very warm
Max. temperature: 31°C
Chance of rain: 2%
Who will be on the 2020 Russian Grand Prix Podium?
The logical choice is to give one of the podium places to a Mercedes driver, Hamilton, and another one to a Red Bull driver, Verstappen. Of course, Bottas could have something to say, given this is a special track for him and he really needs to stop his eight-race drought of victories in 2020.
A fight between Hamilton and Verstappen for the win? We might see it if Red Bull and Honda can bring a solid and competitive car for their drivers. Alex Albon’s maiden podium at Mugello could give him a much-needed confidence boost for the rest of the season and can be a great asset for Red Bull to have in their title ‘fight’ with Hamilton, though it is a long shot at the moment.
Out of the top two teams, Daniel Ricciardo has been putting his Renault very close to the podium, and without Stroll’s crash in Mugello and the Red Flag period it caused, P3 was a reality for the Australian driver and the French team at the Tuscan Grand Prix.
Racing Point could have a strong weekend at Sochi and the right circumstances should give them another shot at a podium, the same goes to McLaren. The fight between these three teams should be exciting and if higher places are possible, even better.
Will Mercedes’ run of wins in Russia stop? It could well be the case, but extreme situations might need to take place for it to happen.
The prediction for the top three of the 2020 Russian Grand Prix is 1. Valtteri Bottas, 2. Lewis Hamilton, 3. Max Verstappen.
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