This week the Black Sea resort of Sochi welcomes Formula One teams and drivers for the Russian Grand Prix – the fourth round of a thrilling 2017 Formula One World Championship. With Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari leading the drivers championship after a stunning victory in Bahrain, all eyes look to Mercedes to see if Lewis Hamilton can strike back and continue the Mercedes Benz dominance of the Russian Grand Prix.
Constructed in and around the Olympic Park of the XXII Olympic Games, the Sochi Autodrom is part permanent road course, part street circuit. Recognised as one of the more technical tracks on the current F1 calendar, Sochi features wide approaches and relatively flat kerbs that allow drivers to attack the apex.
Turn three has become a signature corner, cars accelerating hard around the long, sweeping multi-apex left-hander, where anyone getting offline risks colliding with the wall. However, it’s the long high-speed run from the final corner into Turn Two that is likely to provide the most drama, with heavy braking into the tight right-hander providing a great overtaking opportunity.
The tyre allocation for Sochi is the same as that for the Australian Grand Prix, with soft, supersoft and ultra soft compounds on offer- and like Albert Park, Sochi is expected to see high evolution over the weekend as the racing line cleans up and ‘rubbers in’ at the seldom used circuit. This will present drivers and race engineers with the classic problem or preparing a car for conditions not as they are but as they are expected to be come race time.
Going into Russia, Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari hold slender leads in the respective championships over Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. The German and Italian marques appear to be closely matched this season, while each has demonstrated the ability to hold the upper hand when track configuration and ambient conditions play to their individual strengths.
The Russian Grand Prix, held on a track fundamentally unlike those raced before this year, promises to add further twists to an already thrilling 2017 season thus far.