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PREVIEW: 2019 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix – Sochi Autodrom

5 Mins read
Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The sixteenth round of the 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship will take place this weekend at the Sochi Autodrom circuit in Sochi, Russia. This is the sixth running of the Russian Grand Prix after the race made its debut on the Formula 1 calendar in 2014.

The race is based in the city of Sochi, a top beach resort on the Russian Black Sea. The Hermann Tilke designed track is built on the internal roads of the Olympic Park of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The track features a number of ninety-degree corners with long straights.

Lewis Hamilton won the inaugural Russian Grand Prix. The Mercedes team has won all five races at this venue.

What happened at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix?

Sebastian Vettel scored his first victory of the 2019 season with an opportunistic win at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix aided by the strategy of the Ferrari team.

Charles Leclerc was on pole position for the third straight race in a row. Hamilton joined him on the front row. Vettel and Max Verstappen started on the second row. Valtteri Bottas and Alexander Albon were on the third row.

Carlos Sainz, Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris and Antonio Giovinazzi started at the front of the grid. Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from qualification and started at the back of the grid.

Leclerc made a good start to lead Hamilton into Turn 1. All the top drivers managed to safely negotiate Turn 1 in the positions they started in. Hulkenberg and Sainz came together at the start and suffered damage.

Leclerc established a comfortable lead of 1.5 seconds over Hamilton and managed the pace to make the tyres last. Vettel pitted early among the leaders and the undercut was effective.

After the first set of pit stops, Vettel was now leading his team-mate Leclerc who protested over team radio about his strategy. Mercedes gambled on a safety car that never came and pitted Hamilton late. Hamilton rejoined in fourth place and on a track where track position is important, the Briton was on the backfoot.

The three safety cars that followed and the difficulties of overtaking at this track resulted in the drivers finishing in the same positions they were in after the first pit stops.

Vettel was able to preserve his race lead and take his first win since the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix. Leclerc finished in second place to complete a Ferrari 1-2. Verstappen completed the podium places.

Mercedes had to be content with Hamilton and Bottas finishing in fourth and fifth positions respectively. Albon finished in sixth position.

Norris was “best of the rest” as he finished in seventh position. Pierre Gasly, Hulkenberg and Giovinazzi completed the top 10 positions.

What happened at the 2018 Russian Grand Prix?

Hamilton secured a controversial win at the 2018 Russian Grand Prix and extended his lead in the 2018 drivers’ championship over Vettel to fifty points. Hamilton recorded his seventieth career win and his eighth win of the 2018 season.

Bottas started from pole position after he eclipsed the championship contenders in qualification. Hamilton joined him on the first row. Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen were on the second row. Kevin Magnussen and Esteban Ocon lined up on the third row. Leclerc, Sergio Pérez, Romain Grosjean, and Marcus Ericsson started at the front of the grid.

Bottas made a good start with Hamilton and Vettel jostling behind him through Turn 1. Hamilton stayed ahead of Vettel in the early exchange. Leclerc made a good start as he overtook Magnussen on lap 2 to claim fifth position.

At the back, Verstappen made a storming start from nineteenth position and made up six places on the first lap. By lap 3, the Dutchman was in the points. Verstappen on this day was not taking any prisoners and by lap 8 was in fifth position behind the top 4 drivers.

Hamilton secured the win after the Mercedes pitwall gave Bottas team orders to let Hamilton through on lap 25. A crest-fallen Bottas finished in second position. Vettel completed the podium places, as his title hopes faded significantly on a weekend in which Ferrari lacked pace.

Räikkönen finished in fourth position, as Verstappen and Ricciardo finished in fifth and sixth positions respectively. Leclerc with another sparkling drive finished in seventh position and “best of the rest”. Magnussen, Ocon, and Pérez rounded off the top 10 positions.

The Circuit

The 5.848 kilometer Sochi Autodrom circuit has 18 corners (medium and slow speed corners) and two long straights.  The track has minimum elevation changes with expansive run-off areas.

The first sector requires a low downforce setup and the last two sectors requires a higher downforce setup. So a medium downforce setup is a compromise to balance the requirements of the different sectors.

Credit: Pirelli Media

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

Sector 1 from Turn 1 to Turn 4 features the 750m radius left-hander at Turn 3. Sector 2 from Turn 5 to Turn 12 has a series of right-handed corners that ends in a long straight. Sector 3 from Turn 13 to Turn 18 has Turn 13 which is difficult on entry and a series of ninety-degree corners that leads to the start-finish straight.

There are two DRS zones this year at this circuit with few overtaking opportunities. The first DRS detection point will be before Turn 1 with the first DRS activation point after Turn 1. The second DRS detection point will be before Turn 10, with the second DRS activation point after Turn 10.

Tyre Strategy

The white-striped hard tyres (C2), the yellow-striped medium tyres (C3) and the red-striped soft tyres (C4) nominated for this race is from the middle range of Pirelli tyres. This was the same compounds of tyres nominated in eight previous races.

The drivers have chosen eight or more sets of the soft compound tyres (C4) in the thirteen sets allocated to them.  The Ferrari and Red Bull Racing drivers have chosen nine sets of the soft compound tyres. Mercedes drivers have chosen eight sets of the soft compound tyres.

The smooth asphalt on the relatively new surface at this circuit leads to low tyre degradation. A one pit stop race is a norm at this circuit.

The cool temperatures and a chance of rain over the race weekend could lead to variable tyre strategies. The seldom used circuit has improved grip as the race weekend progresses.

Credit: Pirelli Media

What should we look out for this year?

Ferrari has finally fulfilled the potential they showed in pre-season testing with three pole positions and wins in a row after the summer break.

The Ferrari SF90 has performed well at power circuits like the Sochi Autodrom circuit. The upgrades to the car has improved the downforce levels and led to an improved performance as was shown at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Mercedes was on the backfoot in Singapore and lost ground because of a poor strategy in the race. The perfect record of the Silver Arrows at the Russian Grand Prix is under threat from their arch-rival Ferrari this year.

Red Bull Racing had moved into second position in terms of performance behind Mercedes with good in-season development before the summer break. But after the summer break, Ferrari has thrown down the gauntlet and is the favourite on current form.

McLaren leads the midfield battle even as the Renault F1 team has closed the gap in recent races. Haas F1 had another non-scoring race in Singapore as their struggles continue.

Hamilton (296 points) is now leading team-mate Bottas (231 pts) by sixty-five points in the drivers’ championship. Leclerc (200 points) is in third position even as he is dead even in points with Verstappen in fourth position. Vettel (194 points) rounds off the top 5 positions in the drivers’ championship.

Mercedes (527 points) lead the constructors’ championship by 133 points over Ferrari (394 points). Red Bull Racing (289 points) retains third position. McLaren (89 points) has consolidated its fourth position. Renault (67 points) is now in fifth position in the constructors’ championship.

What’s the schedule?

Friday 27 September

08:00 GMT / 11:00 Local Time – Free Practice One
12:00 GMT / 15:00 Local Time – Free Practice Two

Saturday 28 September

09:00 GMT / 12:00 Local Time – Free Practice Three
12:00 GMT / 15:00 Local Time – Qualifying

Sunday 29 September

11:10 GMT / 14:10 Local Time – Race

How can I keep up with the action?

Follow all the action at the Checkered Flag with our extensive coverage, quotes and analysis of every session of the Russian Grand Prix.

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Avid Formula 1 and Motorsport fan for a very long time. Love researching and writing about F1. An Engineer by profession. All-round sports nut
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