The Formula 1 World Championship moves on to Sochi Autodrom for the fourth round of the season, the Russian Grand Prix, where fans can expect another Ferrari/Mercedes battle.

The Circuit

Sochi Autodrom

Sochi Autodrom
Location Sochi, Russia Circuit Length 5.848 km / 3.634 mi
Opened 2014 First Grand Prix 2014
Capacity 55,000 spectators Direction Clockwise
Turns 18 Lap Record 1:39.094 – Nico Rosberg (2016)

The Sochi Autodrom is a 5.8-kilometre semi-street circuit designed by Hermann Tilke, with the layout winding its way around the Olympic Park complex built for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

As is typically the case for many ‘Tilkedromes’ the facility itself is state of the art and features a number of his traditional hallmarks. In many ways, it resembles two of his more lamented creations – Valencia and Abu Dhabi – with a number of high-speed sweeps and walls placed reasonably close enough to punish any mistakes.

Unfortunately, the layout did not look particularly conducive to overtaking – despite the placement of two DRS zones – and the inaugural event proved to be one of the dullest races of the season.

The subsequent events in 2016 and 2016 proved to be rather more action-packed, although the event still carries the whiff of this being more of a propaganda exercise for Russian president Vladimir Putin than an actual sporting spectacle.

The Event

2016 Russian Grand Prix

2017 Formula 1 VTB Russian Grand Prix
Event Dates 27-29 April 2017 Free Practice Session 1 Fri 11:00-12:30
Free Practice Session 2 Fri 15:00-16:30 Free Practice Session 3 Sat 12:00-13:00
Qualifying Sat 15:00-16:00 Race (53 laps) Sun 15:00-17:00
Driver Steward Mika Salo Pirelli Tyres Ultra Soft / Super Soft / Soft
2016 Pole Winner Nico Rosberg 2016 Race Winner Nico Rosberg (pictured above)

Session times quoted in Moscow Standard Time (GMT + 03:00)

Rewind to 2016

The fourth round of the 2016 championship season saw Nico Rosberg continue his steamrolling run that ultimately culminated in the German’s maiden World Championship crown, with the Mercedes driver claiming his seventh successive victory.

Rosberg’s cause was aided by yet more bad luck for his teammate Hamilton, who failed to take part in the final segment of qualifying when his Mercedes developed a failure in the turbo charger. It was the same issue that had sidelined the Englishman from qualifying at the preceding race in China, consigning him to a tenth-placed starting position on the grid for Sunday’s race.

Vettel was second-quickest in his Ferrari, but he was demoted to seventh thanks to a five-second grid penalty, which promoted Bottas to a front-row start.

Vettel’s grid drop would come back to haunt him on the opening lap of the race. The four-time World Champion was hit from behind by Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat – with whom he’d had a run-in at the race before in China – and incredibly he was hit again by the Russian as the pack made their way through Turn 3. The contact turfed a furious Vettel into the wall and instant retirement, prompting an expletive-laden radio rant.

Kvyat would later be given a ten-second stop/go penalty, and his woes were further compounded in the lead up to the next Grand Prix in Spain when Red Bull demoted him from the primary team to the junior Toro Rosso outfit in place of Max Verstappen. The Dutch youngster would, ironically, go on to win his first race for the team…

Hamilton had managed to stay clear of the Turn 2/3 drama on the opening lap and worked his way up to fifth – in part thanks to cutting through the Turn 2 run-off. He quickly disposed of fourth-placed Felipe Massa’s Williams at the restart, but it took until after the first cycle of pit stops before he could overtake the sister car of Bottas for third.

The sole remaining Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen had a slower pit stop, promoting Hamilton to second place behind Rosberg. The Englishman set about carving into Rosberg’s lead as the championship leader came across lapped traffic, but then his water pressure started to climb and so he had to back off to protect the power unit.

That allowed Rosberg to cruise to a comfortable win while Hamilton was able to keep Räikkönen at bay for second place. Fourth and fifth went to the Williams duo of Bottas and Massa respectively.

The Form Guide

The 2017 Formula 1 World Championship season has finally delivered fans a proper inter-team battle between the sport’s two powerhouse manufacturers: Ferrari and Mercedes.

With victories in Australia and Bahrain, Sebastian Vettel leads Lewis Hamilton – the victor in China – by seven points, while the Prancing Horse leads the Silver Arrows by just three points in the Constructors’ Championship standings.

So far, temperatures have been a factor: Vettel won in the hotter Australia and Bahrain rounds, while Hamilton’s win came at a cooler Shanghai. Temperatures are forecast to not rise higher than 22°C over the entire weekend as Sochi continues to emerge from its winter, which should suggest that Mercedes – which has never been beaten here – would be the favourites.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas claimed a maiden Formula 1 pole position last time out in Bahrain, but faded in the race as he chewed through his tyres. The Finn has a good record at Sochi, qualifying third-fastest in his Williams in 2016, so he should not be discounted on a track that is much gentler on tyres.

Red Bull Racing has seemingly trimmed the gap to the frontrunners, cutting a 1.8-second qualifying deficit in Australia down to less than a second in Bahrain. In race conditions, however, the RB13 has still been found wanting, with its best-placed car at least half a minute down on the winner at each event so far in 2017. The Sochi Autodrom’s long straights will not help the team’s cause, with its TAG Heuer-branded Renault power units still not quite a match for the rival Mercedes and Ferrari motors.

There will once again be a tight midfield scrap between Force India, Williams, Scuderia Toro Rosso and Haas, who are covered by just nine points from fourth to seventh in the Constructors’ Championship battle. If Renault could get its race pace sorted this weekend with its new front wing it is bringing, then it could be a five-way battle.

Neither Sauber nor McLaren – both with horsepower deficits – are expected to feature this weekend; the latter outfit will simply be praying that its MCL32 cars can see the chequered flag.

Russian Grand Prix Weather Forecast
Friday Sunny 10°C – 21°C Saturday Partly Cloudy 12°C – 21°C Sunday Night Clear 11°C – 22°C

Images via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.