Five Things to Remember for the 2021 Russian Grand Prix
With grid penalties, new engines and a close fight in the championship, here are a few things to keep in mind as we head to Sochi this weekend.
1. Mercedes are unbeaten in Russia
Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1
From 2014 when Formula One cars began racing around Sochi, Mercedes have taken victory at every Russian Grand Prix. A total of seven victories so far makes this Mercedes' most successful track in their time at Formula One. They even took victories back in 1914 and 1915 in Russia as Benz, a time before the merge with the Mercedes brand.
Of those seven victories, Lewis Hamilton has secured four of them whilst teammate Valtteri Bottas has taken two, including his maiden Formula One victory back in 2017 as well as his latest victory last year.
With Hamilton five points behind in the driver's championship as well as the confidence that Mercedes have around this track from their previous success, this might be the opportunity for the seven-time world championship to reclaim the lead in the Driver's Championship. The British driver has not won a race since taking victory on home soil back in July this year, so Hamilton will be eager to change that this weekend.
Meanwhile, Mercedes will look to extend their lead in the Constructor's Championship after outscoring their main title rival in the last race. Of course, Red Bull will have other ideas...
2. Verstappen will drop three places on the grid for the race
Credit: Red Bull Racing Honda
Following the collision at Monza between the championship rivals, the stewards deemed that Verstappen was predominantly to blame for the incident and handed the Red Bull driver a three-place grid drop for this weekend's race. This means that Verstappen's best qualifying position for the Russian Grand Prix will be fourth, assuming he can take pole position on Saturday.
However, assuming Verstappen does take pole in qualifying, starting in fourth place may not be such a disadvantage as one would expect. The slipstream has proven to be exceptionally powerful on the run down to Turn 2. Take 2019 for instance, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was able to take the lead of the race on the opening lap after benefiting from teammate Leclerc's slipstream.
There is also speculation as to whether Verstappen may take a fresh engine this weekend, which would likely result in the Dutchman starting at the back of the grid. It wouldn't be the first time Verstappen would have to storm through the field in Sochi. In 2018, Verstappen would recover to fifth from the back of the grid, including a sensational first few laps to quickly get back into the points.
3. Ferrari introduce their new Power Unit
Credit: Scuderia Ferrari
On Wednesday, Ferrari announced that they will be introducing their new power unit for the Russian Grand Prix. With the focus being on getting the new 2022 regulations right, it will be key for Ferrari to acquire as much data as possible around the new engine upgrade, making the practice sessions ever so more crucial for the team this weekend.
However, the new engine will only be placed into Charles Leclerc's car this weekend. Ferrari have justified that this is to prevent the risk of damage to the electronic components within the car following damage sustained in the Hungarian Grand Prix after contact with Lance Stroll. Nevertheless, a new engine outside of his pool will mean the Monegasque driver will start from the back of the field this weekend.
Carlos Sainz is also expected to take the new engine at some point this season, but no confirmed date has been announced as to when this will happen. This weekend will be beneficial for Ferrari to compare the results of the old engine in Sainz's car against the new engine fitted into Leclerc's car this weekend.
4. Bottas took his last victory in Russia
Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1
Despite taking eight podiums so far this season, the 2020 Russian Grand Prix is currently the last time that Valtteri Bottas has stood on the top step of that podium. But on the track where he took his first victory, he has a lot of things going for him heading into this weekend that can help change that statistic.
Firstly, he has a fresh power unit in the back of his Mercedes after he took an engine penalty during the Italian Grand Prix. A fresher power unit than his teammate Lewis Hamilton might be able to give him the edge over Hamilton in qualifying if these two are competing to start on pole for the race, especially with Max out of the picture due to his penalty. However, Bottas has only out-qualified Hamilton twice this season, so Bottas will need to deliver the perfect if he wants to start out in front.
Secondly, Bottas' confidence took a good leap after the Italian Grand Prix. He took pole position for the sprint race before leading every lap of the 100km race. Whilst he wouldn't start on pole for the race due to his engine penalty, Bottas drove a great recovery race to finish on the podium after benefiting from Sergio Perez' penalty.
With seven races left at Mercedes before he departs to Alfa Romeo next season, Bottas will be keen to deliver a win or two in 2021, and a track that has brought several highlights for the Finnish driver over the years is a great opportunity to do so.
5. Kimi Raikkonen is back
Credit: Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN
After missing the previous two Grand Prixs after testing positive for COVID-19 symptoms, Kimi Raikkonen will return to racing this weekend at Alfa Romeo. The former world champion was at home isolating but let fans know via Instagram that he was doing well.
His seat was occupied by Alfa Romeo's reserve driver Robert Kubica, who drove a Formula One car for the first time in a race since the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Polish driver performed well in Raikkonen's place despite not having as much experience driving the 2021 Alfa Romeo C41 car.
Raikkonen, who retires at the end of 2021 after nineteen seasons in Formula One, will be looking to help steer Alfa Romeo in the right direction for the remainder of the season to get them best prepared for the new regulations taking shape in 2022.