Formula One makes its second pilgrimage to Sochi this weekend for the Russian Grand Prix.
Erstwhile championship leader Lewis Hamilton arrives in the Black Sea resort off the back of a dominant performance in the Japanese GP. The reigning champion holds a 48-point lead going into the race; not insurmountable with five races remaining, but second-placed Nico Rosberg has rarely looked like a real threat, despite out-qualifying his rival and teammate in Japan.
Rosberg needs to win on Sunday if he is to stand a chance of overcoming his deficit. And, for that matter, he needs to finish ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the improving Ferrari or else risk dropping to third.
The Sochi Autodrom is a bit of an odd circuit, laid out around the 2014 Winter Olympic Park. Though it is a street circuit, it’s very long – the third longest track of the season – and has a reasonable margin of error. As such, it’s more like the old Valencia circuit than, say, Singapore. Hamilton dominated the inaugural race, leading from lights to flag after Rosberg had a big lock-up on the first lap.
Nico Hulkenberg set the pace in first practice on Friday morning in very tricky conditions. A circuit vehicle dropped diesel at Turns Seven and Eight the night before, the resulting mess causing a half-hour delay and catching many drivers, including Hamilton, out.
Le Mans winner Hulkenberg got his Force India round 0.052secs faster than Rosberg could manage in the Mercedes. Vettel was third, ahead of Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo. Hamilton ended up seventh after running wide on the spillage. Rain is predicted for second practice later on Friday, just the thing to make any remaining diesel residue absolutely treacherous.
As per usual, there will be intrigue off the track as well as on. Lotus has once again been locked out of its hospitality unit, amid continuing financial difficulties; it seems Red Bull has been unable to secure a Ferrari engine deal for 2016, throwing the team’s future – and that of Toro Rosso – into doubt; and everyone will want to know exactly what Bernie Ecclestone was talking about when he hinted earlier this week that a major stake in F1 could be sold by the end of the year.
The Russian Grand Prix takes place on 11 October.
Drivers’ Championship standings after 14 races
- Lewis Hamilton — Mercedes — 277 points
- Nico Rosberg — Mercedes — 229
- Sebastian Vettel — Ferrari — 218
- Kimi Raikkonen — Ferrari — 119
- Valtteri Bottas — Williams-Mercedes — 111
- Felipe Massa — Williams-Mercedes — 97
- Daniel Ricciardo — Red Bull-Renault — 73
- Daniil Kvyat — Red Bull-Renault — 66
- Romain Grosjean — Lotus-Mercedes — 44
- Sergio Perez — Force India-Mercedes — 39
- Nico Hulkenberg — Force India-Mercedes — 38
- Max Verstappen — Toro Rosso-Renault — 32
- Felipe Nasr — Sauber-Ferrari — 17
- Pastor Maldonado — Lotus-Mercedes — 16
- Carlos Sainz Jr. — Toro Rosso-Renault — 12
- Fernando Alonso — McLaren-Honda — 11
- Marcus Ericsson — Sauber-Ferrari — 9
- Jenson Button — McLaren-Honda — 6
- Roberto Merhi — Marussia-Ferrari — 0
- Will Sevens — Marussia-Ferrari — 0
- Alexander Rossi — Marussia-Ferrari — 0
Manufacturers’ Championship standings after 14 races
- Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team — 506 points
- Scuderia Ferrari — 337
- Williams Martini Racing — 208
- Infiniti Red Bull Racing — 139
- Sahara Force India F1 Team — 77
- Lotus F1 Team — 60
- Scuderia Toro Rosso — 44
- Sauber F1 Team — 26
- McLaren Honda — 17
- Manor Marussia F1 Team — 0
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By Only Motors