Russian F1 GP 2021 Preview: Verstappen to fend off Mercedes in hostile territory

After McLaren‘s unexpected 1-2 in Italy, the Formula One World Championship resumes its European tour with this weekend’s Russian F1 GP 2021 (September 24-26) at the Sochi Autodrome. 

The fifthteenth round of the season will bring a new chapter in the dramatic battle for the title between Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), both rivals with their Monza accident still fresh in their minds. 

The Dutch racer leads Hamilton in the standings by five points, but at the Black Sea’s appointment, he will have to swim against the current. In any case, we are sure to be treated to another one of their exciting duels.

Following the incident at the Temple of Speed, the FIA sanctioned Verstappen with three places at the following race, so his best position in the starting grid this Sunday will be fourth. On top of that, Sochi is Mercedes’ territory. The Germans have won there every year since the track’s premiere in 2014.

The circumstances and the stats might be against Red Bull but the truth is that the Austrian team has got Mercedes into a very fragile position this season.

Also, the long straights of Sochi could play in favour of Verstappen, as it happened in 2018 when he climbed from 19th to 5th place in the first eight laps.

If Red Bull wants to keep the Germans in check, however, Checo Perez must make a long-awaited leap in performance. His Mercedes ‘alter ego’, Valtteri Bottas is on top of the world after having claimed his eighth podium in Italy. He has also won twice in Sochi, where he always performs at a very high level. 

McLaren dreams of another success  

McLaren is facing the Russian F1 GP in its best shape of recent years. Thanks to its 1-2 in Italy, which was led by a revived Daniel Ricciardo, the team from Woking broke a 170-race long winning drought.

The MCL35M could potentially shine again this weekend thanks to its powerful engine, perfectly suited to the Sochi track. At a personal level, Ricciardo seems to have gained confidence within his new team and should keep his upward progression.

Meanwhile, his teammate Lando Norris, fourth in the standings with 132 points, will try to reclaim the third place he has occupied for most of the year. Bottas is currently nine points below with 141. 

Just as his teammate, the Briton is in great spirits after achieving the best Formula One result of his career in Monza and his fourth podium of a season where he is truly shining. 

Ricciardo and Norris, who finished fifth and eighth respectively in their previous visit to Sochi, will also be thinking about the Constructors’ classification, where they are leading the battle for third place with Ferrari with 215 points against 201,5.

Ferrari, on the hunt for McLaren’s third place 

The Scuderia will be introducing important changes at the 2021 Russian GP in an attempt to close the gap with their English rivals. Charles Leclerc‘s car is going to be fitted with a brand new engine, the fourth of the season, despite the ensuing penalty, which will push the Monegasque back to the bottom of the starting grid.

The new engine incorporates the 2022 hybrid system, which could give him an extra 10-15 hp, a crucial advantage in their quest to close the distance with the British team. The #16 has always performed well in this track.

He finished seventh with Sauber in 2018 and was third and sixth over the following two years. He has also never been beaten by a teammate in Sochi. All of these favourable factors, together with his unexpected fourth place in Italy are enough reason to be optimistic. 

His teammate Carlos Sainz, who was sixth in his Ferrari debut in front of the Tifosi, must not commit the same mistakes of previous rounds. As expressly requested by Maranello’s chief executive, Mattia Binotto, the #55 needs to demonstrate he can go the whole weekend with no mistakes or accidents. 

Images of Russian F1 GP 2021: F1.

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