Formula 1 heads to Sochi for the 10th round of the world championship this weekend following yesterday’s news that the sport will soon have a new CEO.
Can Domenicali expect a warm return?Stefano Domenicali is to return to Formula 1 as CEO in place of Chase Carey. He’s well-known and well-liked, but will Ferrari’s rivals have concerns over another former figure from the team taking a senior position in the sport?
After all, last year Ferrari said it opposed the potential appointment of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff to the same position. However Wolff was still in charge of Mercedes at the time, whereas Domenicali stood down at Ferrari six years ago.
Will Sochi produce another procession?
Since it first held the Russian Grand Prix in 2014, the Sochi Autodrom has developed a reputation for parade-like races. Last year’s contest was swung by the timing of a Safety Car period, and enlivened by hostilities between the Ferrari drivers.
Of course the expectation was also that Mugello would not produce an exciting race. But with two red flags, two standing restarts and more overtaking than was predicted, a lively afternoon unfolded.
Standing starts in Sochi almost always hand the advantage to the cars that can benefit from the slipstream due to the long run to turn one. That could be a crucial factor if we get a red flag period for a third consecutive race.
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Will Hamilton tie Schumacher’s wins record?
Hamilton’s latest win at Mugello brought him within range of Michael Schumacher record for the most victories in F1 history. Based on Mercedes’ form so far this season only one driver is likely to delay Hamilton’s bid to equal that record: Valtteri Bottas.
Had it not been for Mercedes’ team orders call in 2018, Bottas would have two wins at the circuit already. He has always shown strong pace at Sochi, and we may get one of the closer fights between the Mercedes pair this weekend.
This looks like being one of his better chances to usurp his team mate this season and close the gap in the championship. The team will also be under the added scrutiny of Netflix’s Drive to Survive team, which didn’t work out well for them in Hockenheim last year. RaceFans understands this arrangement was made several months previously, making Hamilton’s first shot at equalling Schumacher’s record a fortunate coincidence for them.
Raikkonen equals Barrichello’s starts record
Assuming Kimi Raikkonen starts the race on Sunday he will equal Rubens Barrichello’s record for most starts in F1, with 322. Raikkonen, of course, is little interested in such statistics.
But with just eight races left in his current F1 deal, the question remains how much longer the 2007 champion intends to continue in a sport he views as a ‘hobby.’ If he does step down, it could throw the likes of Sergio Perez a lifeline to remain in F1 next year.
Will Ferrari’s updates put them back in the midfield fight?
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto played down the likely impact of the upgrades the team will bring for its SF-1000 this weekend, stating they “won’t change the big picture”. However, they may be enough to put the team back towards the front of the midfield, a position they’ve fallen back from in recent races.
Sochi’s long straights will likely expose Ferrari’s drag deficit. However the car’s performance through its many medium-speed corners could prove its saving grace, particularly if the upgrade goes a small way towards easing their drag penalty.
First race for softest tyres this year
The softest compound available in the Pirelli range – the C5 – makes its first appearance this weekend. The current cars are producing extraordinarily high levels of downforce and tyre performance has been a problem at some races as a result. Warm weather is also expected on Sunday, but Sochi has historically been a low-severity track for tyres, so we may not see teams deviate from the usual one-stop strategies.
Changes to the ‘end racism’ observance?
As reported previously, changes are being considered to the guidelines on what drivers may and may not wear in response to Hamilton’s choice of T-shirt before and after the race at Mugello. The Mercedes driver wore a T-shirt featuring the message “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” on the podium at the previous race.
Formula 1’s official end racism observance has been unchanged since it was introduced at the British Grand Prix. Any changes to it at this stage are therefore likely to prompt questions.
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