It’s back to daytime F1 racing this weekend, as the Formula 1 teams and their cars head to the former winter Olympics site of Sochi, on the eastern side of the Black Sea. This body of water has Turkey to the south, Georgia to the east, Bulgaria and Romania to the west, and Ukraine on its northern flanks.
The city hosted the twenty second winter Olympics in 2014 and hosted its first F1 round later the same year. It’s regarded as a difficult track, based on the road system that was designed into the Olympic village. At 5.848 kilometers in length and with eighteen turns it’s the fourth longest track in the F1 calendar. The current lap record is held by outgoing Ferrari driver Kimi Raikonnen and set last year with a time of 1:36.844.
This weekend has the potential to set the finalists in place for the 2018 season. Lewis Hamilton, fresh from his win at Singapore, is ten points shy of two wins clear of second placed driver, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with 281 points against 241. Ferrari themselves still rue the pit stop strategy that set Vettel’s chances at Singapore on a path to disaster.
It’s the minor placings that are up for grabs, with just six of the twenty race season left to go. Kimi Raikkon is currently in third but has 67 points between he and Vettel, and just three between he and fourth placed Mercedes-Benz pilot, Valtteri Bottas, on 174 and 171 respectively.
Fifth and sixth go to the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, with the latter’s form in dire need of a drivetrain that will hold together throughout the next six races if he’s to overtake his soon to be former team mate. Verstappen’s better run has him on 148, 22 ahead of the Australian’s 126. It’s daylight back to seventh, Renault’s Nico Hulkenburg enjoying some good runs.
The Constructors’ title may also be settled this weekend as well. Mercedes leads with 452, ahead of Ferrari’s 415, and Red Bull’s 274. Renault sit a distant fourth on 91 but have Haas nipping at their rear wheels on 76.
The Singapore race has set up Hamilton nicely for a 2018 crown. With 25 points for a race win, 18 for second, and 15 for third, Vettel needs an extraordinary run of good luck and Hamilton needs a series of uncharacteristic failures if the German is to have any hope of taking out the 2018 championship. Plus there was Hamilton’s brilliantly executed drive from start to finish to consider. The Brit himself acknowledges that this year has been a real team effort, with a large nod towards his engineer, Peter “Bono” Bonnington.
“Bono” joined Mercedes in 2013 after a stint with McLaren. The first season could be said, politely, to be a settling in season. That’s paid off handsomely with the duo pairing to see Hamilton wear the crown for three of the four subsequent seasons.
“I’ve had Bono by my side my whole time here at this team and you can hear our rapport when we’re in a race,” said Hamilton.
“All the guys are working tirelessly to make sure that the car is where I want it to be. They have full trust in me, [and] when I say ‘I need this on the car’, they do it.
It’s seemingly rare for a driver to be so open about the contribution the other members of a race team make to a driver’s standings. And with the Singapore victory the team’s seventh, and the fourth from the last five, could it be that Hamilton has the belief that this year’s series is his?
“But I have tremendous belief in this team. I truly believe we are more united and I think I’ve got the smartest group of guys in my team.” says Hamilton.
The Sochi Autodrom sees cars on track on Friday September 28 for the first practice session at 11:00am local time, with qualifying on Saturday at 15:00 local, before Sunday’s potentially championship setting race at 14:10 local.