The Formula 1 circus heads to Sochi’s Olympic Park in Russia for the fourth round of the 2017 season. After a great race in Bahrain, can Russia finally deliver a good Grand Prix?
A Two-horse race?
We’ve only completed three Grands Prix in this new era for Formula 1 but it appears that this year’s championship is between two of the sport’s most successful drivers. Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari have won seven of the last nine F1 drivers’ titles and have been the standout drivers in 2017. They’ve achieved a 1-2 in each round so far and I wouldn’t bet against them continuing that streak in Russia.
Mercedes have won all three of the races in Sochi but their advantage over the rest of the field this year is less than the previous three. We haven’t seen a wheel-to-wheel battle between the two this season but it’s surely only a matter of time before we do.
Whether Vettel will achieve his first victory in Sochi or Hamilton will claim a hat-trick of wins in Russia is anybody’s guess but this season is shaping up to be a battle on the scale of Schumacher-Hakkinen almost 20 years later.
Will tyres play a role?
For race-day, the weather is predicted to be sunny and relatively warm for the time of year but Sochi’s billiard-table smooth surface hasn’t punished the tyres in the past. Indeed, Nico Rosberg completed almost the entire 2014 race on one set of tyres. That coupled with the increased durability in Pirelli’s rubber should mean that we have another one-stopper on our hands. Some may see that as being dull, but nobody will dread the fact that these harder tyres should allow the drivers to follow more closely, push to their limit and have more battles up and down the field.
It may seem as if there has been less overtakes in 2017, but some of those that have been pulled off have been stunning, remember Vettel on Daniel Ricciardo in China? It’s a controversial subject but I’d much rather see one “old school” pass than 10 DRS overtakes.
Renault scored their first points of the season at the previous round in Bahrain thanks to Nico Hulkenberg. The French works team have had to endure a slow start to their return to the sport (as a constructor) but upgrades in Bahrain proved to be successful, scoring points on merit at a circuit which is generally regarded as a “power track”. Renault also had their best result of 2016 in Russia when Kevin Magnussen held on to a well-deserved seventh place.
With the Hulk a regular in Q3 and Jolyon Palmer making his first ever appearance in the top 10 shootout last time out, Renault could and should score points once again around Sochi.
Can Alonso finish a race?
If you thought Renault’s return to F1 was bad, Honda’s re-entry has been apocalyptic. Despite an improved 2016 car, McLaren’s 2017 car is an absolute dog. Saying that though, they actually went a day without a mechanical breakdown (I know, I never saw it coming either!) at the mid-season test in Bahrain last week. However, Fernando Alonso has been showing his quality by running around in and around the top-10 in a car that shouldn’t be anywhere near the points.
Mechanical failures have prevented Alonso from finishing any of the first three rounds. While the Sochi Autodrom isn’t hard on cars mechanically, it is one of the worst tracks for fuel consumption. Rumour has it that the Honda is the thirstiest of all the F1 engines, which if true, would mean that yet another spanner has been thrown into the works for McLaren-Honda.
Practice 1: Friday 11:00-12:30 local / 9:00-10:30 UK
Practice 2: Friday 15:00-16:30 local / 13:00-14:30 UK
Practice 3: Saturday 12:00-13:00 local / 10:00-11:00 UK
Qualifying: Saturday 15:00-16:00 local / 13:00-14:00 UK
Race: Sunday 15:00 local / 13:00 UK