Preview: Could Max Verstappen increase his Championship lead at the Russian Grand Prix or will Hamilton achieve his 100th win
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(Motorsport news) Formula 1 is heading to the Sochi Autodrom for the 2021 Russian Grand Prix with the title race between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen more intense than it has ever been. Verstappen has a three place grid drop after the collision with Hamilton’s Mercedes at Monza, which means the Dutchman would be at a significant disadvantage heading into the weekend in Russia. This means that even if Verstappen finishes first in qualifying, the highest he will start the race will be fourth. It will be the first time the Red Bull driver will not be in the top 3 this season, finishing seven out of the last eight races in pole position.
The man to watch out for at Sochi is neither Hamilton or Verstappen but Valtteri Bottas. The Flying Finn won the race last year, has never started outside the top 4 in seven attempts in Russia and showed a blistering pace in Italy by being fastest in Friday qualifying and Sprint. Red Bull will not be too downhearted by Verstappen’s penalty as the long straights and DRS zones will help their fast car catch up and they would undoubtedly remember when the Dutchman started the race in 19th position in 2018 and finished fifth within the first eight laps.
However, it’s Mercedes who look favourites at Sochi Autodrom, having won every race at the venue since 2014, leading for 309 out of a possible 340 laps. Hamilton has already won four races and will hope to capitalize on Verstappen’s grid penalty by gaining points in the Drivers Championship. Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris of McLaren will also be hoping to maintain momentum in Russia after finishing first and second at Monza. In a power sensitive circuit, the McLaren MCL35M is expected to be competitive and a possible podium finish might be on the cards.
Ferrari will be debuting their new power unit in Russia, which means that Charles Leclerc will be forced to start at the back of the grid. As per the regulations, Ferrari are restricted to one upgrade of each component every year and have been running the 2020-spec hybrid system. The introduction of the new hybrid system will help Ferrari gain experience for the 2022 car project amidst new technical regulations. Unfortunately for Leclerc, the Monaco based driver has already used up his permitted allocation of power units this season, which means the new upgrade will automatically trigger a grid penalty. Carlos Sainz is expected to use his old power unit in Russia and the new upgrade in Turkey, which will also result in a grid penalty as and when the upgrade is implemented.
One thing is for sure, it’s going to be another action packed weekend full of drama, excitement and controversy in the most competitive Formula 1 Championship in years. Be sure to tune in on Sunday, 26th September from 5:30 pm onwards.