The Russian Grand Prix flags off this weekend at the Sochi Autodrom. Built around the Olympic Park, constructed for last year’s Olympic Games in the city, the circuit spans 5.848 kilometres and 53 laps.
Last year saw the first ever Russian Grand Prix at Sochi, and the organisers have a 7-year deal to host the event. The Grand Prix comes after years of organisers trying to promote Formula One in Russia. Vitaly Petrov was the country’s first-ever championship driver, and Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat is now on the grid, delivering consistently strong performances.
The only Russian on the grid and one of the youngest drivers, Kvyat also had a podium finish at the Hungarian Grand Prix, finishing in second.
A bit of history
There has been a Russian Grand Prix before 2014 – although this was 100 years ago, in 1913 and 1914. The race was abandoned after World War I broke out. Midway through this, the country saw the Russian Civil War, shortly after the conclusion of which the Soviet Union was formed.
During his presidency, Vladimir Putin had lobbied for a Russian Grand Prix, going so far as to put famed F1 track designer Hermann Tilke into employ, and the German designed the Moscow Raceway, which was to host both Formula One and MotoGP races. Tilke, incidentally, also designed the track where the Grand Prix is now held.
Although the track is approved by the FIA, it has yet to host either. It has, however, played host to the Renault World Series since 2012.
The Return of Russia
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone had been keen to see a race in Russia, either in or around its capital city, Moscow. After decades of failed plans and aborted attempts, an official announcement was made in 2010 that the Russian Grand Prix would commence from 2014 at the Sochi Autodrom for a period of 7 years, concluding for now in 2020.
The first ever race was held last year at the circuit, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton winning the race from pole position. His teammate Nico Rosberg finished in second, with Williams driver Valtteri Bottas taking third.
Your guide to the track
The track is the third-longest on the Formula One circuit, with the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (the home of the Belgian Grand Prix) the longest at 7.004km, followed by Silverstone (the host of the British Grand Prix) at 5.891km.
It is one of 5 street circuits on the current Formula One calendar; the others are Monaco, Albert Park [the Australian Grand Prix], the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, which is where the Canadian Grand Prix is held, and the Marina Bay Circuit, where the Singapore Grand Prix recently concluded.
Like most other races, the Russian Grand Prix runs clockwise, taking drivers through a total of 19 turns. The track winds around Sochi’s coastal Olympic park, with drivers heading towards the coast of the Black Sea as they drive down the track’s longest straight towards the Olympic Park’s medals podium before they take the first of two 90 degree right turns on the circuit.
It also goes around the Olympic Village, sharing just over a mile of its circuit with public streets.
What you should expect this year
Mercedes have been characteristically strong, continuing a second consecutive dominant year at the races. Last year’s winner Lewis Hamilton is fresh off a victory at the Japanese Grand Prix and led last year’s race from the front; he began in pole and led every single lap of the race in his pursuit of the win.
However, Mercedes AMG Petronas non-executive chairman, 3-time World Champion Niki Lauda has said he is ‘afraid’ the team will see a repeat of the Singapore Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton retired after repeated engine trouble and teammate Nico Rosberg finished in P4 – the only race this year that saw no Mercedes driver on the podium.
Lauda told reporters he was worried. "But the championship is not over because my worry is this next race at Sochi has Singapore-type asphalt. So it's not done and not that easy. We have to work hard, stay competitive and then we are looking good, but you only look good when it is done.”
Last year, Pirelli offered drivers a choice between the medium compound as the primes and soft compound as the option for the race, which it said it did to help drivers navigate Turn 4 – the single longest corner on the entire F1 calendar.
Although Lauda has expressed trepidation about the race, Mercedes look characteristically strong coming into the race, and will likely take the win again, with similar weather expected to last year – largely sunny and clear driving conditions.
Teams may have some reservations regarding tyres, however, in the wake of recent issues with Pirelli, and although there were no issues with the reliability of tyres – Rosberg lasted 52 laps of a 53-lap race on the hard primes – there is mounting concern this year, especially after two major incidents at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, one of which involved Rosberg in a potentially threatening issue.
Tyre issues went on to cost Sebastian Vettel the podium at the race after the German lost a tyre with one lap to go in the race.
How to follow the race
Star Sports will provide live telecast on their TV Channels and live streaming as well, but sportskeeda.com will also carry live updates ahead of both qualifying and the race, which will be held this Saturday and Sunday – the 10th and 11th of October, respectively.