The Sochi Autodrom saw two championship contenders share the top step of the podium as they’ll battle one another for the title at the final round at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
Alexander Albon and George Russell took victories in Russia and will continue their fight for the championship going into the final round. Whilst Lando Norris, who has been leading the championship in the early stages of the season, suffered a poor weekend with no points scored and saw him drop down in the fight, demoting him down to third.
The qualifying which decides the grid for the feature race was an important one for the Carlin Motorsport driver as he needed to get ahead of Russell for the race. Norris did exactly that, qualifying in second ahead of Russell but behind Pertamina Prema Theodore Racing‘s Nyck de Vries.
But Norris’ race start was poor and all the hard work to get ahead of Russell in qualifying was distinguished. To make matters worse, Norris dropped down the field behind the two DAMS cars of Albon and Nicholas Latifi at the start. The Brit did his best in the opening laps to attempt a fightback, but during the pit stop window, Norris’ race ended abruptly after his front right wheel wasn’t secured on properly. He retired as a result.
His result in the feature race caused a huge blow for his starting position for the sprint race and his status in the championship. Another retirement for Norris in the sprint race cancelled his title chances for Abu Dhabi.
A strong stop by the DAMS team helped Albon surpass de Vries and Russell in the pit lane, which put him in the lead of the drivers who opted to start on the Supersoft tyres. The pace of Albon and Latifi proved to be strong as both cars surge their way through past cars who hadn’t stopped. Latifi was able to make his way pass de Vries late on in the race to secure a DAMS one-two. Albon’s victory pushed him up ahead of Norris in the championship, keeping what was his unlikely championship hopes alive.
Artem Markelov‘s home Grand Prix weekend has been somewhat described as a mixed bag. He took part in Free Practice 1 with the Renault Sport Formula One Team in Formula 1 for the first, but for F2 qualifying he ended up down in nineteenth place. But the Russian was motivated to deliver a strong performance for the Russian crowd, as he did just that by clawing his way to the front on the opening laps of the feature race, to at one point lead the whole race. The Russian Time driver chose to start on the soft tyres but the sudden pace by Markelov early in the race indicated that the Supersoft tyres were a tyre that quickly faded away. A broken radio provided a communication problem for the Russian team, which backfired when Markelov pitted unexpectedly, catching the team off guard. The slow pit stop dropped the Russian down the field to an eleventh place finish.
In the sprint race, we saw a tale of two halves as one stage of the race took place in the dry and in the second half, unexpectedly in the wet. Nirei Fukuzumi and Alessio Lorandi started on the front row for the sprint race, but in the run down towards Turn 2 the pair were attacked by Latifi and Russell for the lead. Fukuzumi and Lornadi went off track and use the escape road at the corner, with the Japanese driver keeping the lead whilst Latifi and Lorandi battled for second place. Their fight would only last until Turn 5 when the Trident crashed into the back of Latifi, eliminating both drivers out of the race.
Fukuzumi’s lead didn’t last long as the superior pace of Russell soon caught him and was no match against his former GP3 team-mate. Russell soon excelled and produced the pace to pull away from the Japanese driver, but his fellow rivals of Albon, de Vries, Sérgio Sette Câmara and Markelov soon followed.
The weather soon changed to wets, which became a game changer for some drivers who opted to gamble on staying out on the dries. Whilst the likes of Russell, Albon, Sette Câmara, de Vries and Markelov pitting in for wets, Charouz Racing System decided to keep Antonio Fuoco and Louis Delétraz out and occupied the lead, but the drivers on the wet tyres rapidly closed down those who gambled on the slicks. As the conditions got worsened, the two Charouz cars dropped down the field.
Russell was in control in both conditions and led away into the distance away from the Carlin of Sette Câmara and Albon. The Brazilian in the Carlin was off the pace going into the final lap as Albon aimed for one final pass to clinch seconds. The DAMS driver aimed to close down but couldn’t find a way pass the Carlin and had to settle for third. As Russell claimed his sixth victory, he edges a step closer to clinching the championship.
Niko Kari‘s F2 debut started out promising in the MP Motorsport, setting the thirteenth fastest time in practice and qualifying in sixteenth place. But two retirements for the Finnish driver ended his first weekend in the series. He’ll be hoping to end the final round in a more positive note, like last year where he won a race in the GP3 Series.
As the series reaches its climax within the deserts of Abu Dhabi, Russell can wrap it up with a podium finish, regardless of Albon’s result. A simple task for the ART driver but it can swing into the DAMS drivers’ favour if Russell finishes outside of the points or retires in race one. If that’s the case, then we could be in for some battle in the final race of the year.