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Russian Grand Prix Preview

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Track: Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia.
Scheduled number of laps: 53
Circuit length: 5.853 km (3.637 mi)
Race distance: 310.209 km (192.791 mi)
Race start time: 12:00 BST
Lap record: 1:40.896 (Valtteri Bottas, 2014)
2014 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG Petronas, 1:38.513
2014 Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG Petronas
Tyre Compounds: Soft, Supersoft, Intermediate, Wet
Most Wins: Lewis Hamilton (1)

Formula 1 is returning to Sochi this weekend, as the resort city will host the second running of the recently established Russian Grand Prix.

Last year’s inaugural race wasn’t exactly the most thrilling: another Mercedes 1-2 with hardly any action at the front amounted for a forgettable and uneventful race that surely wouldn’t be remembered for long. Lewis Hamilton made history as the first Russian Grand Prix winner after being mostly unchallenged from start to finish, except for the run to the the first corner when Nico Rosberg attempted to gain the better line but ended up locking up his front wheels and then subsequently pitting early to get rid of the flat-spotted tyres. This ultimately proved to be decisive to the outcome of the race, as the German had to play catch up with the rest of the field, leaving Hamilton with a comfortable lead.

Last year, the track’s asphalt was uncharted territory to both drivers and F1 tyre supplier Pirelli that opted to bring the soft and medium tyre compounds. Surprisignly, Nico Rosberg was able to pull off a 52 lap stint on a single set of medium tyres, prompting Pirelli to revise their tyre choices for this year and throw the soft and supersoft compounds into the mix in an effort to spice things up. The track surface itself has seen a degree of weathering since last Octoboer, which could potentially result in drivers exprencing slightly less grip than expected on the normally grippy surface.

And if there’s one team on the grid that doesn’t welcome uncertainties, it’s championship leaders Mercedes AMG Petronas. Team executive Niki Lauda has expressed his concernes in an interview for The Times, stating that the Sochi asphalt is similar in nature to the tarmac in Singapore, where his team mysriously struggled for grip all weekend and was way off the pace of the Ferraris and Red Bulls. Lauda fears the repeat of the Singapore nightmare, adding that the championship “is not yet done and it’s not that easy”. The weather conditions, though, which were partially to blame for Mercedes’ Singapore woes, are quite different in Sochi and could favour the German team that is looking to clinch a second constructors title if they outscore Ferrari by just three points this weekend.

The Maranello outfit itself looks poised for another strong weekend with their recent advancements regarding engine and chassis. Things are looking promosing as well for the Mercedes customers Williams, Force India and Lotus who are all hoping to make good use of their power advantage over the rest of the field in Sochi. If the Mercedes works team doesn’t struggle, Williams might as well put up a strong fight with Ferrari for the second-row in qualifying, aided by the few extra horsepower they have in the back of their cars. Renault-powered Red Bull and Toro Rosso both suffered at this track last year and are hoping for a better scenario this time around. Local hero Daniil Kvyat qualified a brilliant fifth in 2014 and all eyes will be on the Russian driver to deliver a great result in front of the his crowd. Putting up a great performance will be crucial for the Russian in his quest to secure a drive for Red Bull in 2016 (assuming the team doesn’t exit the sport altogether) and relieve the pressure that he carries on his shoulders. With Red Bull’s recent upturn in competitiveness and reliability, both cars could very well fight for places as high as the top five. Toro Rosso, meanwhile, will be happy if they finished in the top 10.

McLaren will introduce a new spec engine this weekend, having used their remaining four development tokens. The new engine will only be applied to Fernando Alonso’s car, meaning that the Spaniard will face yet another 10-place grid penalty. The Woking-based team, with the problems they are currently facing, is set for another torrid weekend in what’s been a season to forget.

At the back of the grid, Roberto Merhi will once again step into the Manor car, replacing Alexander Rossi who reverted back to GP2 for this weekend.

Formula One McLaren mercedes Russia Sochi Grand Prix

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