Russian GP preview – Mercedes in fighting mood as Ferrari chases fourth successive win

For the majority of the season, it has looked like another relentless march to a driver and constructor double for the dominant Mercedes team.

Whilst both these things are still very likely to happen, the resurgence of Ferrari over recent races has certainly made the championship a whole lot more interesting. Sebastian Vettel’s controversial victory from Charles Leclerc in Singapore means that the Scuderia has now notched three successive wins – two courtesy of Leclerc himself.

And with the Sochi Autodrom circuit having similar street circuit characteristics to that of Singapore, albeit with a few more overtaking chances, another extremely close battle is expected – especially if Mercedes get their tactics right this time around.

“A lot of the corners are similar to one another, but they’re all very technical and finding the entry point can be quite tricky, as is getting the braking point right and finding the best way of rotating the car in order to be fast, while also looking after the tyres,” said Singapore race winner Vettel in his team’s preview.

“From a technical point of view, it’s one of the trickiest tracks we have on the calendar but it’s rewarding when you’re able to put together the perfect flying lap, especially in qualifying.”

A fired-up Lewis Hamilton, however, will be absolutely determined that Ferrari doesn’t have it all their way this time around, as the reigning champion looks to get back to winning ways and end a relative barren streak by his ridiculously high standards.

“I am under no illusion that my gap in the championship could disappear. It is not won yet,” Hamilton is quoted in Britain’s The Sun newspaper. “We need to pull our socks up and get the f*** on basically. We can squeeze more out of this car and individually we can do better.

“We don’t feel great right now but I think that is a good thing because if anyone in the team feels relaxed right now, they need talking to, because we should all be feeling the pain. We will go to the next race and try to rev ourselves up and do a better job. These next few races are going to be tough.”

Although Mercedes has won every race ever held at Sochi, the in-form Max Verstappen is certainly another driver capable of throwing a spanner in the works of both Mercedes and Ferrari after collecting yet another podium finish at Marina Bay.

“I’m looking forward to Russia where there are more overtaking opportunities, said Verstappen in his team’s race preview. “It’s a pretty flat track and you can see quickly if the car is working well through the more challenging corners.

“Ferrari were very quick in Singapore and the straights in Sochi will suit them, but I have a few ideas about our performance last weekend that we’ll analyse and hopefully improve on in Russia.”

As far as the all-important tyre choice is concerned, Pirelli is bringing ‘tyres from the middle of the P Zero Formula 1 range chosen this year: C2 as White hard, C3 as Yellow medium and C4 as Red soft’ due to the relatively smooth asphalt on one of the calendar’s newer circuits.

As such, a one-stop race is the historical norm around Sochi, Hamilton triumphant in 2018 by employing a one-stop ultrasoft to soft strategy. Yet, interestingly this year, the Englishman has rolled the dice by making a tyre choice different to the rest of the field, choosing one hard tyre, four medium tyres and eight soft tyres.

The cat and mouse tactical battle has already started, and the Russian Grand Prix promises to be another intriguing battle of strategy between the leading protagonists.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.