Russia F1 Preview: Mercedes, Bottas or Ferrari?
The teams arrive at the Russian Grand Prix this weekend after two days of testing in Bahrain. While there were no headline-topping times, the additional Mileage would have allowed the teams to try some new upgrades and setup changes with this weekend in mind. It will also have allowed them a slight pause to take stock of where they are after a frantic first three races and pre-season testing. All of this combined should mean that most if not all will be better prepared for the weekend ahead.
The Russian GP has been held at the resort city of Sochi since its inception in 2014. At 5.8km, the circuit is one of the longest on the calendar and has a nice mixture of corners with some long straights. It’s not too dissimilar from Bahrain actually, although at this time of year it should be a lot cooler. It’s not an abrasive track, which has meant that Pirelli will be brining their ultra soft tyres for this weekend just like they did in Australia.
A Mercedes driver has only ever won it so far with Lewis Hamilton winning the first two races and Nico Rosberg last year. Could we see another team winning this year I wonder? Could perhaps Ferrari break the Mercedes domination here? Key to winning will depend on which team can use the ultra soft tyres best. We saw in Australia that Ferrari won by making better use of the softer rubber at the beginning of the race. This was also borne out in Bahrain too.
What Mercedes will have going for them is that Sochi is very low wearing and easy on the tyres. They would not have been sitting still too, and I’m sure most- if not all of their time during the two-day test- would have been spent doing setup changes to try and get their rear tyres to degrade less on the long runs. Add on the fact that they will be stronger in qualifying and it should be enough to make them slight favourites over Ferrari for the win.
The big question is which of the Silver Arrows for the win? Valtteri Bottas may have taken his first pole position at Bahrain but his performance in the race will have left more questions about whether he has the ability to win on merit over his teammate; Lewis Hamilton. Yes I know that he had problems with tyre pressures in the first stint, but that doesn’t account for his lack of pace for the rest of the race.
Bottas will be desperate to get this rectified for this weekend. It sounds brutal to say this of a driver who has just joined a team, but if he doesn’t start winning right away, he really runs the risk of becoming a no.2 driver within the team. Mercedes have not practiced this in the past (in F1 and in DTM they practice this all the time), but they didn’t have a genuine title rival then. They do now with Ferrari fighting them hard and they do not want their drivers taking points away from each other in their fight against the prancing horse.
If Bottas really wants to be considered a title rival, and be treated as one – especially by his team, then he needs to start wining now. And by now, I mean by this weekend.