It’s another back-to-back for the Formula One drivers as they’ll head further west this weekend for the Russian Grand Prix. Last week, they were in the far south for a race on the streets of Singapore. Now, they’ll be further north for a race in Russia.
Here’s the race preview.
How To Tune In
Coverage – 6:30 a.m. ET
Lights Out – 7:05 a.m. ET
TV – ESPN 2
Distance – 53 Laps/192.459 Miles
Race – 16 of 21
Track – Sochi Autodrom
True Test For Mercedes To See If They Lost A Step
Mercedes drivers won the first eight races of the 2019 season. If you go back to last season, they reached victory in 10 straight races and 16 of their last 19 tries. Furthermore, six of those first eight Grand Prix’s this season, they came home 1-2.
But, over the last five races though, they’ve had just one victory.
Lewis Hamilton closed 2018 out with 10 top two finishes over the final 12 races. He started 2019 off with eight straight and nine in the first 10 races. That’s 19 top two finishes over a span of 22 races. Over the last five races run, he has just two.
Valtteri Bottas had seven top two finishes in the opening 10 races of this season too with a worst result of fourth in Montreal. That was his only start that he didn’t at least finish on the podium. Over his last five races, he has scored only two podiums. Three of the five races, he’s finished fifth or worse.
Their advantage may have stopped once summer break ended, but these signs point to the start of the end actually happening in Germany.
Since summer break ended, Ferrari has won in each of the last three races. They finished 1-2 last weekend in Singapore. Red Bull Racing with Max Verstappen has three top three finishes in his last five.
Mercedes, is struggling to even get to a podium.
Hamilton’s results have faded. He went from second in Spa, third in Italy to fourth in Singapore. Bottas, went from third to second to fifth himself.
Now, it’s the ultimate test to see where they stand. Singapore was a dominating track for them in the past as they went there winners of three straight and four of five. Instead, neither finish on the podium on Sunday.
In Russia, the site of this weekend’s race, Mercedes has won literally every race that they’ve been running at the Sochi Autodrom. Hamilton, won in 2014, 2015 and last year. Bottas, won in 2017. Nico Rosberg won the other race in 2016.
Hamilton, was only fifth, fourth and third respectively in practice but qualified second. Bottas, was fourth, third and fourth respectively in practice and rolls off fourth on Sunday.
If they can’t win on Sunday, or rather look pedestrian compared to Ferrari and Red Bull, then they may have a problem on their hands. While I do think that Hamilton is too far ahead to realistically get caught and passed in terms of points, LeClerc, Vettel and Verstappen may have something for 2020.
Leclerc, was quickest in two of the three practice sessions and even earned the pole as well.
Can Ferrari Win 4 Straight?
Its been since 2008 since Ferrari has won four straight F1 Grand Prix’s. Kimi Raikkonen won the second race of the season in Malaysia and the fourth race in Spain while Felipe Massa won in Bahrain and Turkey. Four wins in five races. They’d only go on to win four more races the rest of the season.
This year, it took 13 races before Ferrari could catch a win. Now, they haven’t lost since.
Charles LeClerc won the first race after summer break in Spa. He won a week later on Labor Day weekend in Italy. Last weekend, it was Sebastian Vettel’s turn in Singapore. In fact, LeClerc finished second to give them a 1-2 result.
Furthermore, LeClerc has now won straight pole positions too. That’s a feat that hasn’t happened since the 2000 and 2001 seasons by Michael Schumacher.
Mercedes is obviously struggling but since the Russian Grand Prix came back to the calendar in 2014, the Silver Arrows have won all five races.
Vettel, finished third in this race last year and second in 2017. But, if you go back to 2015, he does have three podiums in four tries in Sochi. He’ll start third on Sunday after being third, fifth and second respectively in practice.
LeClerc, finished seventh last year with Sauber but has three straight top two finishes on the season.
Kimi Raikkonen drove the second Ferrari car the last three years in Russia and finished third, third and fourth respectively.
This could be another Ferrari weekend.
Red Bull Has Struggled In Russia
This weekend could be a Mercedes vs. Ferrari fight. The reason? Red Bull Racing has struggled in Russia. Max Verstappen has never finished on the podium in four Sochi starts. When Daniel Ricciardo raced for RBR, his best finish was sixth which happened last year. In fact, he only had two top 10 finishes in five tries.
Daniil Kvyat also struggled on his home track. He finished fifth in 2015 but that’s his only top 10.
Combined, RBR has three top five finishes in Russia, none being better than fifth itself.
Verstappen, finished third last weekend in Singapore but that’s his best finish since summer break ended. He was second and first respectively in practice on Friday but only fifth on Saturday and qualified just ninth. His teammate Alex Albon does have four top six finishes in his last five tries on the season, but none of them have seen him bring his No. 23 Honda home further up than fifth. He crashed in qualifying and starts 18th.
Toro Rosso struggled too. Pierre Gasly will roll off 11th with his teammate and hometown hero Daniil Kvyat starting last (20th).
Its been a great weekend so far for McLaren and Renault. Four of the top 10 starting spots belong to these teams.
Carlos Sainz Jr. only has one top 10 finish in four Russian Grand Prix tries and hasn’t scored points since before summer break but will roll off fifth on Sunday. His teammate Lando Norris starts seventh and has points in three of his last four races run.
For Renault, Nico Hulkenberg starts sixth and was in the top eight of all three practice sessions. He’s finished in the top 10 for three straight races now. Daniel Ricciardo was sixth in this race last year and will roll off 10th.
1. 16 Leclerc – I just think the speed advantage is too great right now. Leclerc, was quickest in two of the three practice sessions and earned the pole too.
2. 44 Hamilton – I do think he gets a top two. Hamilton, has improved in every session and has four top two finishes, three of which wins, in five Russian Grand Prix tries. The speed differential is just too great right now to Ferrari.
3. 5 Vettel – He nets his third straight podium in this race and fourth in the last five years. Vettel, was in the top three in two of the three practice sessions and even rolls off third on Sunday.
4. 77 Bottas – He was fourth in two of the three practice sessions. He qualified fourth. He finished fourth in this race in 2016. He has the fourth best car.
5. 27 Hulkenberg – He ends a dazzling weekend with a top five. Hulkenberg, was in the top eight of all three practice sessions and even starts sixth. With Red Bull not being their usual selves this weekend or even at this race, he capitalizes.