The Tuscany Grand Prix, held a fortnight ago, saw Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes emerge victorious, with teammate Valtteri Bottas in 2nd, to make a 1-2 finish. This marked the 3rd 1-2 finish by the Brackley-based Mercedes factory team for the 2020 season.
In Formula 2, Nikita Mazepin scored victory on Saturday’s Feature Race, with the young Russian earning his second Feature Race victory, while Sunday saw Christian Lundgaard win the Sprint Race. The race win was the Danish rookie’s second Sprint Race victory in Formula 2.
This weekend, we find ourselves in the Sochi Autodrom, located in Western Russia, a 3,222km journey by road from Mugello in Italy. Ahead of any on-track action in Formula 1 & 2, we have compiled a list of things to look out for, as the weekend unfolds ahead, and on-track action begins!
The Circuit – Sochi Autodrom
This weekend’s Russian Grand Prix will be held at the Sochi Autodrom. The track, formerly known as the Sochi International Street Circuit and the Sochi Olympic Park Circuit, is a semi-permanent race track in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi in Krasnodar Krai, Russia. The track snakes round the Olympic Park utilised for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, with the starting grid being located in the northern section of the area, just south of the Imeretinsky Kurort railway station.
The track features 2 configurations, the semi-permanent Grand Prix Circuit, and the permanent short circuit. The Russian Grand Prix will be held on the semi-permanent layout, which features 18 turns and has a length of 5.848 km, including 2 DRS Zones, located on the start/finish straight, and the curved backstretch.
The official lap record stands at 1:35.761, set by Lewis Hamilton in 2019, while the outright fastest lap was set by Valtteri Bottas in 2018, with a 1:31.387.
Will Ferrari’s upgrade package stall the team’s slide down the standings?
Last week, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto revealed that Ferrari would bring updates to the SF1000, although he downplayed the effect of it.
“There will be small upgrades, but this will not change the big picture,” Binotto said. He also added: “”I think we are at the moment out of pace in the race, and we are somehow wearing too much the tyres. The upgrades will not be the ones that address it.”
The Scuderia’s upgrade plans come off the back of a torrid run of races at Spa-Francorchamps, Monza and Mugello where the team struggled for competitiveness. Not only was the team’s lack of engine power being exposed on the straights, the car was also suffering from a lack of aero efficiency. This resulted in several set-up compromises, which came at the expense of tyre wear.
This has seen the team fall from 5th in the standings to 6th through the 3 races, with a meagre 5 points payout across the 3 weekends. At the moment, 13 points separate Ferrari from 7th placed AlphaTauri. With the long straights at Sochi, and high speed turns, things do not look rosy for the Pracing Horses, based on it’s performances at Spa, Monza and Mugello.
Will Russia see Ferrari further humiliated as it gets pushed to 7th by AlphaTauri? Or will Ferrari’s upgrade package do just enough to prevent it? We will see, once we have cars on track?
Can Bottas breathe life into his title charge?
The Sochi Autodrom is a place that holds a mix of good and bad memories for Valtteri Bottas. The track was where Bottas scored his first fastest lap, in the 2014 edition, and his first victory, in 2017. The track was also the site of a controversial team order, which saw Bottas being asked to cede his lead to Hamilton, an order the Finn did not expect.
Bottas arrives in Russia, with a single win, 2 poles, and 135 points. His biggest rival, and teammate, Lewis Hamilton on the other hand, arrives in Russia with 6 wins, 7 poles, and 190 points. The gap has been growing at nearly every race, and Bottas is aware his title chances are steadily decreasing as he continues to finish behind Hamilton each race.
Russia has been a place where his happiest, and darkest moments in the sport have occured. Can Bottas add yet another happy memory in Russia, by using Sunday’s race to breathe life into his title charge? We shall see on Saturday & Sunday.
Ahead of the Russian Grand Prix weekend, the announcement broke that Nobuharu Matsushita would depart MP Motorsport, for some “fresh challenges elsewhere”. Matsushita’s departure allowed Ferrari Driver Academy Member Giuliano Alesi to make the switch from HWA Racelab, to fill in the vacant seat, allowing Formula 3 veteran Jake Hughes to make the step up to Formula 2.
Giuliano Alesi – Is this Alesi’s last chance at FDA?
For 2020, the Ferrari Driver Academy is represented by 5 drivers, with 2 rookies and the 3 remaining drivers entering their 2nd full season in F1. Of the 5 drivers, 3 are in title contention, with one of the drivers, Robert Shwartzman, being a rookie. Alesi is one of the 2 drivers who is not in title contention, with the other driver being a rookie, Marucs Armstrong.
Alesi finds himself dead last, among the FDA drivers in the standings, ahead of the Russian F2 round, with a single points finish to his name, 6th at the season opener at Austria. While Alesi’s poor performance could be in part due to his team, HWA Racelab, his case is simply not helped by his past racing record.
Alesi spent 3 years in GP3, with a best finish of 5th in the championship in his second year. However, he finished 7th in his third year, and was defeated by rookies, including his teammate Pedro Piquet. The remaining races at MP Motorsport for Alesi to prove to Ferrari that he is worth retaining; to do this, he must equal, if not outscore Drugovich…
Felipe Drugovich – Is an F1 opportunity about to come knocking?
Felipe Drugovich has had a spectacular Formula 2 rookie season. Drugovich showed pace with his MP Motorsport team out of the gate, with strong showings in testing. He followed this up with an impressive qualifying in Austria, which saw him start on the front row of the grid. He finished 8th on his F2 debut, before winning the Sprint Race, while setting the fastest lap on the next day.
Drugovich currently sits in 10th in the standings, with 1 pole, 1 fastest lap, and 2 Sprint Race victories. He also outscored his teammate, the vastly experienced Nobuharu Matsushita, 79:42. If Drugovich can comprehensively outscore and beat Alesi, he could be called up for a test for Ferrari, and find himself on the road to a potential F1 seat…
How will Hughes perform on his second-tier single seater debut? After spending a full 5 years competing in various Formula 3 series, Jake Hughes finally makes the step up to Formula 2. Earlier in the year, Hughes admitted he was unable to move up to Formula 2, due to a lack of budget.
The Brit will certainly have a steep learning curve ahead of himself, due to a lack of action in the car relative to the competition in the field, and the large differences between F2 & F3 machinery. Juri Vips was also in a similar position when he stepped in for Sean Gelael at DAMS. The Estonian had never driven an F2 car before his debut weekend, and was able to get up to speed with the car. He finished 11th three times before he earned his first points at the Mugello Feature Race, following it up with a podium in the Mugello Sprint Race.