Formula One inaugurates a new race this weekend, with the first Russian Grand Prix in the sport’s history.
The race will be held at the Sochi Autodrom, a street circuit laid out around the city’s Olympic Park, with hosted the Winter Olympics earlier this year. The circuit was designed by Bernie Ecclestone’s favourite architect, Herman Tilke.
Sadly the race is taking place under a cloud; it was only last weekend that Jules Bianchi suffered a serious head injury in a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Earlier this week, Bianchi’s family issued a statement stating that the French driver was in a critical but stable condition. No new information has been released.
American racer Alexander Rossi was rumoured to be standing in for Bianchi in Russia, but the Marussia team has withdrawn the no.17 car from the race as a mark of respect. Max Chilton’s car will carry ‘#JB17′ decals in tribute.
As much as everyone’s thoughts will be with Bianchi, there is still a race to run. Since this the first race in Sochi, there’s no previous form to go on. The 19-turn track is the typical Tilke-drome mix of high-speed straights and slow-ish turns.
Lewis Hamilton won the shortened Japanese GP, extending his advantage in the Drivers’ Championship to ten points over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. Hamilton was fastest in Friday practice in Sochi.
Daniel Ricciardo looks increasingly settled in third, while the battle for fourth between Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas is hotting up. Just nine points separate the trio.
In the Manufacturers’ contest, the most intriguing battle is for third place. Williams currently holds the position by 23 points from Ferrari, who suffered a points-less weekend in Japan.
With the margins so tight in the standings, the double points-counting final race in Abu Dhabi, three events hence, could become crucial. The eventual champion will need a buffer of at least 14 points over second place.
Hamilton will be very keen to maintain his current momentum and build a comfortable advantage. The Russian Grand Prix is crucial in that process.
The Russian Grand Prix takes place on 12 October.
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Drivers’ Championship standings after 15 races
- Lewis Hamilton — Mercedes — 266 points
- Nico Rosberg – Mercedes — 256
- Daniel Ricciardo — Red Bull-Renault — 193
- Sebastian Vettel — Red Bull-Renault — 139
- Fernando Alonso — Ferrari — 133
- Valtteri Bottas — Williams-Mercedes — 130
- Jenson Button — McLaren-Mercedes — 82
- Nico Hulkenberg — Force India-Mercedes — 76
- Felipe Massa — Williams-Mercedes — 71
- Sergio Perez — Force India-Mercedes — 46
- Kimi Raikkonen — Ferrari — 45
- Kevin Magnussen — McLaren-Mercedes — 39
- Jean-Eric Vergne — Toro Rosso-Renault — 21
- Romain Grosjean — Lotus-Renault — 8
- Daniil Kvyat — Toro Rosso-Renault — 2
- Jules Bianchi — Marussia-Ferrari — 2
Non-scorers: Adrian Sutil, Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari); Marcus Ericsson, Kamui Kobayashi, Andre Lotterer (Caterham-Renault); Pastor Maldonado (Lotus-Renault); Max Chilton (Marussia-Ferrari)
Manufacturers’ Championship standings after 15 races
- Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team — 522
- Infiniti Red Bull Racing — 332
- Williams Martini Racing — 201
- Scuderia Ferrari — 178
- Sahara Force India F1 Team — 122
- McLaren Mercedes — 121
- Scuderia Toro Rosso — 29
- Lotus F1 Team — 8
- Marussia F1 Team — 2
Non-scorers: Sauber F1 Team; Caterham F1 Team