The Russian Grand Prix track at Sochi has long straights where Ferrari's more powerful engine will rule. It also has 18 slow, 90-degree turns, where Mercedes will rule the bends.
Formula One racing moves this weekend to Sochi on the Black Sea coast, in Russia. The Russian Grand Prix – on Sunday 29 September 2019 – opened its tracks in 2014. It has been won each time by Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton in 2014, 2015 and 2018; Nico Rosberg in 2016 and Valtteri Bottas in 2017. This time, there’s serious competition from Ferrari.
Ferrari took its third consecutive F-1 victory in the Singapore Grand Prix last Sunday; Sebastian Vettel won his first race in a year. His team-mate Charles Leclerc was second. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third. Hamilton and Bottas finished fourth and fifth.
What are the prospects at Sochi?
Lewis Hamilton admitted after Singapore that Ferrari, which was quick only on fast circuits, is now competitive on all tracks. "It's going to be very hard to beat them," the Briton said. “We can't compete with them on the straights. But we have won before with not the best car." With just a week after Singapore, there can’t be too many upgrades on the Mercedes car, but setup, pit strategy, and other small but vital moves can make a difference.
Charles Leclerc claimed back-to-back wins in Belgium and at Monza, Italy, before team-mate Sebastian Vettel triumphed in Singapore. The Monaco native was in the lead till pit-stop tactics saw Vettel edge past. Leclerc hopes recent upgrades to his SF90 would prove effective in Sochi. Ferrari’s improved performance on high downforce tracks makes it more competitive on various layouts.
Sochi has been the best track for Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas across his F-1 career. Still, with its long straights, Sochi will be a tricky race for Bottas.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel is the only non-Mercedes driver to have started on pole in Sochi, in 2017. Team-mate Leclerc has outqualified Vettel for eight races in a row. But the German can spring surprises. Ferrari didn't intend for Vettel to leapfrog Leclerc in Singapore, but the pace of the German's out lap on fresh tyres caught them by surprise.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen’s best finish at Sochi is fifth place in 2017 and 2018. But he is targeting victory this year. In Singapore last weekend, the Dutchman topped the first free practice session, but finished third in the race. His team-mate Alexander Albon finds Sochi a track that he enjoys, but his glory days at Sochi were in F-2. Both hope that the course’s 90-degree turns will be their advantage.