Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Shanghai International Circuit, 2017

Hamilton’s chance to hit back and four more Russian GP talking points

2017 Russian Grand Prix

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Sochi looks likely to be a ‘Mercedes track’. Will Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel be tied at the top of the points again on Sunday?

Here’s five major talking points for this weekend’s race.

Tied at the top again?

While Ferrari were always a good tip for Bahrain, Sochi should be a Mercedes track. Temperatures will be on the lower side and the frequent acceleration zones will play to the strength of their engine, particularly in qualifying.

With one-stop strategies a likelihood for the race, Mercedes can lock out the front row and limit Ferrari’s opportunities to attack them.

Their record at this track is formidable, and a win for Lewis Hamilton this weekend could put him and Sebastian Vettel tied at the top of the drivers’ standings once more.

Kvyat’s homecoming

Start, Sochi Autodrom, 2016
Kvyat had a nightmare home race last year
Last year’s Russian Grand Prix was not a good one for the home favourite. It probably represented the nadir of Daniil Kvyat’s career.

Two clumsy errors within seconds of the start compromised the race for three of the four Red Bull-run cars, and left a furious Vettel in the barriers. The ramifications didn’t stop there: Kvyat lost his place in Red Bull’s top team to Max Verstappen.

To his credit after a bruising 2016 Kvyat has showed good form for Toro Rosso over the opening races. A bit of circumspection on lap one this year wouldn’t be a bad idea, however.

Renault tackle race pace problems

Over the off-season Renault have gone from struggling to get out of Q1 to regularly featuring in Q3. The RS17 is clearly a substantial step forward over its predecessor.

However, as the team’s technical director Bob Bell recently explained, they are having trouble realising its full potential over a race stint. Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer are yet to finish a race higher than they started.

A new front wing which was tested in Bahrain is among the attempted solutions they will try this weekend. They will also run Russian test driver Sergey Sirotkin again during first practice.

Can McLaren reproduce test reliability?

Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2017
Vandoorne’s McLaren surprised by not breaking down
Much to McLaren’s surprise, Stoffel Vandoorne’s Honda power unit ran reliability throughout the final day of testing in Bahrain. It covered 81 laps, well more than a race distance, and the team were even able to chase performance a little, ending the day fourth-quickest.

Exactly why the car ran so well is something of a mystery, and one they are eager to replicate. But until they get to the bottom of exactly why 2017’s most troublesome car suddenly decided to behave itself, they may not be so easy.

After this weekend’s race Fernando Alonso will head back across the channel for his first IndyCar test ahead of his Indianapolis 500 debut.

First corner carnage

Turn two – the first real corner at the Sochi Autodrom – has been the scene of lap one crashes in the last two Russian Grands Prix. Will it happen again this year?

There’s good cause to expect it will remain a trouble spot. Drivers have a long run to it from the start and arrive there with cold brakes. As overtaking has proved difficult at Sochi, the desire to grab extra places on the first lap is strong.

And the ample run-off at the exit of the corner has proved a scene of controversy as well. For this year new 50mm high speed bumps have been added at turn three to discourage drivers from cutting the corner.

Over to you

What are you looking out for in the Russian Grand Prix? Who do you think will be the team to beat?

Have your say in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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32 comments on “Hamilton’s chance to hit back and four more Russian GP talking points”

  1. Definitely expecting Mercedes to be the team to beat here. It’s time for Bottas to finish in the top 2. With qualifying ahead in Bahrain, can he replicate that here? I say anything other than a Mercedes 1-2 would surprise me.

    1. Unfortunately, I think you are bang on there. The overtaking opportunities are few and far between, with many (in previous years) implemented on the straight (with DRS).
      If the DRS proves ineffective (fingers crossed), we may be left with who has the most straight line speed – ie. playing into Mercs hands.
      Won’t be too surprised if the other Merc powered teams challenge (and beat) the Ferrari and Red Bulls this weekend.

    2. I was disappointed that Mercedes used team orders at Bahrain, it made no difference to who won the race, only to who got second and third places.

      1. Dunno @drycrust I think they needed to at least try to challenge for the win, and Bottas didn’t have the pace to do so. Hamilton may have been a long shot but Bottas was nowhere

  2. I am expecting a strong result for Bottas here. He’s gone well here in all three races and nearly got pole for Williams there in 2014. He’ll carry the confidence from his Bahrain pole forward into this weekend you would think. Hopefully he can string together good race stints too. If you were picking places where he was likely to get his first win before the season started, Sochi would be pretty high on the list.

    1. But you would also have picked a 1-2 finish for Merc in all the previous races.

    2. GeeMac…..It looks as if Bottas wouldn’t have taken pole position at Bahrain, if Lewis’s DRS from turn 10 to 11 would have engaged, and worked. Especially since Lewis lost pole position to Bottas, by only .023 of a second.

      1. Bottas still went faster than Hamilton did on his first lap. And the .023 was from Hamiltons first lap, not the one where DRS failed. On that lap, he was slower in the first sector, so there’s no guarantee he’d have got pole. Bottas will have gotten confidence from that lap, and won’t have been disheartened from the race as he had problems throughout the whole thing, so his pace wasn’t his fault. I reckon he could go well here, if he gets a smooth race.
        Australia he ended up just a couple of seconds or so behind Hamilton, in his first race for the team. Of course China he spun, his own fault, ruining his race, and then Bahrain he had problems. We’re still yet to see what he’s capable of in the race for Mercedes, and like GeeMac said, he’s gone well here in the past, so it could be interesting.

        1. I agree, I’m expecting Bottas to perform well this race given how well he has done in the past. I don’t think he will be quicker, but more on Hamilton’s level than China and Australia

        2. lewis clearly set his car up more for race pace,bottas went for quali pace,it backfired in the race.
          at no stage did he have the pace in the race…so i think bottas will learn from that,and for that reason not have enough pace to outqualify lewis.

  3. Ferrari, Seb fan
    26th April 2017, 15:49

    Vettel needs second at the least.
    I wonder if there is a crash at the start taking out a couple of drivers, could mclaren or sauber get a point

    1. Pirelli are bringing their 3 softest compounds for this race, including ultrasoft tyres for the first time. I wonder if Ferrari can use tyre choices to trump the perceived advantage Merc have in cooler conditions? The forecast is for around 22*C and sunny for race Sunday, but the track temperature might be hotter. If Vettel and Ferrari prepare well and their strategy works out, they just might get the jump on the Mercs.

      1. Ferrari, Seb fan
        26th April 2017, 20:23

        Could teams with low tyre degregation (ferrari as an example) do the race with one pitstop by going on supersoft and then switching to ultrasoft?

        1. I think Soft tyres will be the “option” here, meaning that all teams have to use that at some stage. Also, the low tyre degradation would mean that all temas are looking at just one tyre stop during the race. But Ferrari can gain an advantage by trying to go longer than Mercs on the ultrasofts (a type with which Mercs are supposed to struggle) to start with, thereby gaining a time advantage over the Mercs and undercut them at the tyre stop. Then, with fresher soft tyres and better tyre maintenance, Vettel might just be able to stay ahead of the Mercs by the end of the race.

          IMO, to make this work, Vettel has to set his fastest lap on a set of Ultrasofts in Q2 without wearing them much (thereby making that batch his race starting tyres). The try to get pole in Q3 by trying very hard with another bunch of ultrasofts. Since this is almost certainly a one-stop race, Vettel would need only the race starting batch of ultrasoft tyres on Sunday, switching them for the optional softs for the second stage.

          1. Loup
            in q2, he would only need to set a time good enough for top 010, right?

          2. They going to go longer but do a undercut? Makes no sense – I think what you are trying to say is try the overcut I.E. Australia.

  4. I don’t get why people still think Mercedes is a shoe-in for victory every race. We’ve seen Vettel prove that’s not the case and has Mercedes on their heels. To say ” I’d be surprised at anything less than a Merc 1-2″ is a little short-sighted. Granted it’s a good chance Hamilton might take pole and the win, but now that Vettel has a Ferrari that’ll be out of the mid-field chaos going into Turn 2 in Sochi, this might be the track where we finally see the Ham-Vet wheel-to-wheel battle we’ve been begging for. And if either the Merc or the Ferrari have a clear advantage, you can count on at least one safety car to reign them back in. Sochi might be an awful track but I think the race is going to be pretty intense this year.

    1. Hope you are right about everything. Definitely want to see a Ham-Vet wheel-to-wheel battle. Don’t mind even if they take out each other doing so.

      1. Another instance of those two going at each other, as per example the U.S. Grand Prix at Austin in 2012 would be rather exciting. The idea of Hamilton and Vettel taking each other out though…….WE could do without!

    2. I don’t get why people still think Mercedes is a shoe-in for victory every race. We’ve seen Vettel prove that’s not the case and has Mercedes on their heels. To say ” I’d be surprised at anything less than a Merc 1-2″ is a little short-sighted.

      I agree, but realistically Merc will have more advantage at Sochi than all 3 previous races. Ferrari need to do their homework with great care during practice and qualifying to study their cars’ relative performance with all 3 sets of tyres. They may even have to get Raikkonen to go all out on one set each during practice to tabulate lap times, tyre pressures etc and use that info to help Vettel in the race. A risky but worthwhile attempt is for Vettel to use a set of supersoft or ultrasoft tyres (the choice depending on the data collated by the team during practice) very sparingly in Q2 to get his fastest time and then try and win pole in Q3 by trashing a set of ultrasofts, a compound which Merc allegedly don’t like much.

  5. I wonder if there’s really such a thing as a “Ferrari track” or “Mercedes track” this year. Mercedes has been nearly unbeatable in Melbourne, Shanghai and Sochi ever since the start of the hybrid era. Yet Ferrari has shown they can beat them at Melbourne and without a real Safety Car at Shanghai as well. Equally Mercedes could’ve won Bahrain, had there not been so many gremlins throughout the race (and even before the start), when everyone said hot temperatures would favour the prancing horse.

    I think (and I hope this is true for the whole of the season) we’re in for a 2007/08-style ding-dong battle between Mercedes and Ferrari where marginal shifts in performance and the smallest of errors can have massive effects on the outcome of the race result.

    1. And we can expect Vettel to say “Honestly, what are we doing here ?, racing or ping pong?”

      Jokes apart I agree with you and yes that would make an awesome season. I just can’t wait to see what happens in the upcoming races, I’ve never been so excited for the race weekends ever since the 2012s !


      1. @redbullf1

        “Love a good game of ping pong”

  6. I also think that it is advantage Merc at Sochi this weekend but not necessarily Hamilton. Bottas might have his own ideas and if he manages to get ahead of his senior teammate at the start, it could get interesting. P3 is probably the best that Vettel can hope for here unless the Mercs take each other out or Ferrari come-up with a surprise package. They might try going longer than the Mercs with the softer of the two tyre options to eke out a few seconds advantage but I doubt if it will work.
    Of course, an unexpected heatwave in the area would do nicely.

  7. While Ferrari appear strong after the first 3 races, but I think that perception will change after Sochi. I expect Vettel to be outqualified by both Mercedes, and being stuck behind Bottas in the race while Hamilton drives of in front. After the race people will realize the implications of Mercedes qualifying advantage. Over a season, this will hurt Ferrari and Vettel’s championship campaign. Ferrari will need to find another step in PU performance in qualifying.

  8. ME4ME, that hypothesis is assuming that Hamilton outqualifies Bottas, which may not necessarily be the case. Also, while Vettel getting pole at Sochi is unlikely, there is a remote possibility of that happeneing if he is willing to trash a set of ultrasofts in Q3 while trying to do so. As this is a one-stop race with teams obliged to use the optional soft tyres, Vettel can use a set of ultrasofts briefly in Q2 to set his fastest time and then start the race with the same set. Of course, Mercedes might be thinking the same thing but by the evidence so far, the Ferraris can go longer on the ultrasofts than the Mercs.

  9. A mercedes one two will see Vettel in trailing Hamilton by three points… If we go on the notion that it is a Mercedes track and Hamilton getting pole and staying in front.

  10. If we go on the notion that it is a Mercedes track and Hamilton getting pole and staying in front.

    Sochi might be a “Mercedes friendly” track, but several others might be different. Other than Canada, I cannot see any other race in the calendar that will definitely favours the Mercs. Spa and Monza might seem that way but those races are held in summer and with the Ferrari now able to almost match the Mercs in pace (at least under race conditions), Vettel will have a chance in those races.

  11. First corner carnage indeed. Saw today that they’ve changed the corner this year to avoid cheating.

    Ad infinitum.

  12. i find myself thinking a little warily of the speed bumps. they are a reasonable deterrent but surely they create the same risk of flipping a car that’s spinning into them that a gravel trap does. surely the point of getting rid of gravel was to stop the cars digging in and flipping? the way i remember it was that it was usually the grass-gravel the caused the flips – a smooth enough gravel trap was usually fine. bring back the gravel!

  13. The latest weather reports say that Sochi will be warmer than usual for this time of year. Could that favor Ferrari? I think this year has proven that past performance is not an accurate predictor of race outcomes. Everybody has made a big deal out of the idea that Ferrari is better on it’s tires at warmer locals. I tend to think that the Ferrari is also closely matched to the Mercedes except for qualifying. What we have seen so far is not just tire related. So, maybe it won’t be business as usual at Sochi.

  14. tom (@tom-2)
    27th April 2017, 8:31
    in q2, he would only need to set a time good enough for top 010, right?

    Yes, that’s right but Vettel will have to ensure that he sets his fastest Q2 time on the tyre in which he wants to start the race the following day.

    27th April 2017, 11:30
    They going to go longer but do a undercut? Makes no sense – I think what you are trying to say is try the overcut I.E. Australia.

    My apologies. of course you’re right – I meant “overcut”

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