Round 4 of the 2016 Formula One season takes us to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix.
The Black Sea resort of Sochi has played host to Formula One twice since the Russian Grand Prix’s birth in 2014. Now though, the race enters the early stages of the championship with a new slot, but will it gain a new winner? Hamilton will be hoping that not to be the case with his title rival, Rosberg, unbeaten this year.
The story of 2016 thus far has been Nico Rosberg leading the field with consecutive victories while Hamilton finds himself seeking damage limitation. Even when Hamilton opened the first two rounds of the season with pole, the race fell in favour of Rosberg as Lewis struggled off the line. Then came China, when his MGU-H developed an issue which saw Lewis fail to set a time in qualifying and start the race from the back of the grid. Nico meanwhile secured pole and continued his win-streak, dating back to Mexico 2015.
Now Nico’s six race win streak is the fourth best ever in Formula One – overtaking Hamilton’s best of five, which he set in 2014 on route to his second world title. One of Hamilton’s five in a row even came at the inaugural Russian Grand Prix, the venue for this weekend’s race and where he would win again in 2015. A repeat of the 2015 result would do wonders for Hamilton’s title defence, as the Brit won with ease while Rosberg was forced to retire.
Joining Hamilton on the 2014 podium was his title-rival and team-mate, Nico Rosberg, along with Williams driver Valtteri Bottas. One year on, the Finn could have repeated his 2014 result had Kimi Raikkonen not opted to lunge into an impossible overtake which would end Valtteri’s race on the last lap.
This year though, Valtteri will face a harder time to reach the podium as the Ferrari resurgence continues. Opening the door for Vettel and Raikkonen to challenge the Silver Arrows for their first win of the campaign.
The track lay out can also bring Red Bull into the picture. Especially after the strong performance their men could muster in China, with Ricciardo out-qualifying the Ferrari’s before leading the opening laps of the race. Russia’s Daniil Kvyat however was the higher finisher in China, following Ricciardo’s puncture. With the Russian reaching the podium after capitalising on a space vacated by Vettel at the first corner – much to the German’s annoyance.
This weekend Daniil Kvyat will also not be the only Russian on track, with Sergey Sirotkin replacing Kevin Magnussen in the Renault for FP1. The young-Russian GP2 driver recently signed for the French manufacturer as their test driver and will drive a number of free practice sessions for them over the season. This is not the first taste of Formula One for Sirotkin after carrying out a similar role with Sauber in 2013 and 14, where he made his Formula One weekend debut driving in FP1 in Sochi in 2014.
The unmodified street circuit around the winter Olympic park in Sochi consists of 18 corners, split 12 right and six left. With the long turn three a key part of the track. The long corner has proven to be a chance for drivers to battle for position, either coming out of a move through turn two or lining one up for turn four.
The 650-metre straight between the first and second turns is another key zone itself, with DRS aiding overtakes. As for the DRS zone between the tenth and thirteenth turns, overtakes are not as easy to complete but are not impossible.
The majority of the middle and final sectors are difficult to overtake in, however the heavy braking zones for the sharp corners can open the door for a move.
For last year’s race, Pirelli brought along the supersoft and soft compound tyres but with this year’s three-compound rules, the mediums make their Russia return. The white-walled compound was initially brought to the inaugural race in Sochi, however the harder medium tyres were able to last the length of the race – as shown by Rosberg’s one-stop on the opening lap.
This however has not stopped the teams, bar Manor, from selecting just the one set of mediums as the field opts for an aggressive selection of supersofts.
For the third Russian Grand Prix Sky Sports have live TV coverage in the UK, while BBC Radio 5 cover the sessions live and Channel 4 have TV highlight shows over the weekend. (Times below are for Sky Sports F1 unless stated).
Wednesday, April 27
20:30 – F1 Report: Russian GP Preview
Thursday, April 28
13:00 – Drivers’ Press Conference – Live
20:45 – Paddock Uncut
Friday, April 29
07:45 – Russian GP Practice One – Live
07:55 – Russian GP Practice One – Live (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11:45 – Russian GP Practice Two – Live
11:55 – Russian GP Practice Two – Live (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
14:00 – Team Principals’ Press Conference – Live
14:30pm – The F1 Show – Live
Saturday, April 30
09:45 – Russian GP Practice Three – Live
09:55 – Russian GP Practice Three – Live (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
12:00 – Russian GP Qualifying – Build-up – Live
12:55 – Russian GP Qualifying – Session – Live (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
13:00 – Russian GP Qualifying – Session – Live
17:30 – Russian GP Qualifying – Highlights (Channel 4)
18:15pm – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook
Sunday, May 1
11:30 – Russian GP Track Parade – Live
12:00 – Russian GP Pit lane – Live
12:55 – Russian GP Race – Live (BBC Radio 5 Live)
13:00 – Russian GP Race – Live
15:30 – Russian GP Paddock Live
18:00 – Russian GP Race – Highlights (Channel 4)
19:00 – Russian GP Race – Highlights
20:00 – Ted’s Race Notebook