Lewis Hamilton aims to continue Mercedes dominance in Sochi
Since the Russian Grand Prix returned to the Formula One calendar at the Sochi Autodrom in 2014, Mercedes has enjoyed total dominance.
Lewis Hamilton recorded back-to-back victories on his way to successive world championship titles, before teammate Nico Rosberg took top spot on the podium in 2016.
Last year, after Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel — locked in an enthralling title fight with Hamilton — took pole with a blistering lap in qualifying, it looked as though Mercedes’ hegemony would finally be broken.
But up stepped Valtteri Bottas, Rosberg’s replacement at the German constructor, to snatch victory away from Vettel and record his first ever grand prix win.
This track — right in the heart of the 2014 Winter Olympic village — has been a happy hunting ground for Bottas, who finished third on the podium four years ago while driving for Williams and came fourth in 2016.
The Finnish driver also should have come third a year later had he not been the unfortunate recipient of an untidy smash from compatriot Kimi Raikkonen.
But if there’s one thing this season has been it’s unpredictable, in particular over the past two weeks. Hamilton and Mercedes upset the odds in Italy and Singapore to take victories at tracks Ferrari was meant to dominate.
Despite the Briton now having a 40-point lead over rival Vettel, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he takes “no comfort” from the advantage with 150 points still to play for.
“It is better to have a lead than not, but there are plenty of points to score,” Wolff told reporters.
“(We’re) excited for the fight we will certainly have in the next six races. We’ll continue to concentrate on every single session, trying to optimize the car in every possible area and we will go for the race win.”
On Mercedes’ dominance at the Sochi Autodrom, Wolff is also taking nothing for granted ahead of his team’s attempt to make it five straight wins.
“We have a good track record in Sochi but we know that Ferrari and Red Bull will give it everything to break our winning streak,” he said.
“So we must fight as hard as ever to make are we bring home as many points as possible.”
One of those Red Bull drivers is Max Verstappen, who this week turned 21.
The icing on the cake for the “Flying Dutchman” would be ending his team’s wretched run of form in Sochi, which has seen them manage only fifth place as their best ever finish at the track.
However, that seems unlikely this weekend given that Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo are expected to receive grid penalties for Red Bull’s decision to change engines.
“Sochi will be one to forget for us,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky Sports last week after Verstappen, despite finishing second, suffered several glitches with the new engine over the course of the weekend.
Red Bull are expected to return to Renault’s B-spec engine, which provides more power than the C-spec used at Singapore but is less reliable.
“We accepted the risks when we took this engine,” Horner explained. “It’s delivered a bit more power, it’s been a bit rough round the edges.
“But we did get the increase in power from it and that helped get on the front row and achieve the second position.”