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. The Formula 2 Lap Record stands at 1:46.476, set by Nyck de Vries in 2018.
The Things to Watch Out For:
Ahead of the race, it was announced that Alex Albon would be taking a 5 place grid penalty owing to a gearbox change, which violated the 6 race per gearbox rule. This deals a further blow to Albon this weekend, the British-Thai driver having qualified in 10th, a lowly result for a Red Bull driver.
Not only was Albon over a second behind teammate Max Verstappen in Q3, who is set to start the race in P2, Albon was consistently outpaced by the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly across qualifying. Albon has to demonstrate solid race pace & results, if he seeks to retain his seat with the team for 2021.
While Red Bull has pledged it’s support for Albon, the pressure is undoubtedly mounting on him once more, and Gasly beating him in an “inferior” AlphaTauri is not a good sign for him. A pledge of support at Red Bull could well be a meaningless PR statement, as Pierre Gasly found out last year, and Albon needs to produce an excellent race today.
How many or how few overtakes will we see today? The past few races have seen a large number overtakes due to various factors that added much spice to the on-track action, even on circuits where overtaking has, or was expected to be poor. The Sochi Autodrom happens to be a track that falls into this category, with the 2017 edition of the race seeing just a single overtake.
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.
Bottas starts the race on the backfoot compared to Hamilton, with the Finn starting on the second row of the grid.
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 later today.