Formula 1 next heads to Russia for round 16 of the championship where the axe could fall on Sebastian Vettel’s title challenge.
Although Vettel was expected to close the gap to Lewis Hamilton in Italy and Singapore, two disappointing mistakes – one his own fault, the other belonging to Ferrari – meant instead he arrives at the Sochi Autodrom 40 adrift.
The German is in desperate need of a victory, or even a DNF for Hamilton. Or both. While 125 points will remain in play after Russia, it is impossible to picture Hamilton throwing away a possible 47-point lead, especially as that would mean he could finish runner-up in all the remaining races and still win the title, even if Vettel wins all five.
The bad news for Vettel is that Sochi is a track that belongs to Mercedes. The German manufacturer is technically undefeated at the Russian Grand Prix since 1913. That, though, is just six races.
After two events early in the 1910s at Saint Petersburg, Russia returned to the calendar in 2014 with Hamilton coming out on top after starting from pole position and leading every single lap.
Last season it was his team-mate Valtteri Bottas’ turn as he clinched his first-ever grand prix victory, holding off Vettel to win by 0.6s.
It was otherwise a race of failures. Fernando Alonso failed to start, Ferrari failed to convert their first front-row lockout for almost a decade into a victory, Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer failed in their fight, Kimi Raikkonen failed to understand how the race was playing out and Lewis Hamilton failed to reach the podium for the first time in nine races.
In the Sochi edition of the race, the Russian Grand Prix has twice been won from pole position with the lowest winning starting position on the grid Bottas’ P3. However, in 2014 Nico Rosberg raced from the back of the field after an unscheduled pit stop on the first lap to finish second.
Sochi, though, is not known for its epic races and last year’s event was voted the worst grand prix of the season by many F1 pundits. This year both Liberty Media and the Russian organisers will be hoping for better.
That could be up to F1’s midfield to determine.
Mercedes and Ferrari are expected to tussle at the front in what could be a two-team battle as Red Bull are being taken out of the mix by engine penalties. Both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are set to take the hit this Sunday.
In 2015 Sergio Perez put his Force India on the podium while a year earlier it was Bottas in a Williams that finished third. Both teams will be wanting a repeat performance, the latter will surely know it is a position or seven too far. As such it promises to be a difficult home debut for Sergey Sirotkin, although he will at least line up on the grid as a F1 point-scorer thanks to his P10 at Monza.
Nico Hulkenberg, Alonso and Kevin Magnussen are battling for best of the rest in the Drivers’ Championship, the trio separated by four points while Renault want to put more space between themselves and the rest of the midfield as they hold down fourth place.
For Marcus Ericsson it could be a difficult weekend from an emotional point of view given that he learnt earlier this week that he would be losing his Sauber drive at the end of the season. While for Ericsson his departure has been confirmed, for the likes of Esteban Ocon, Sirotkin, Romain Grosjean and Brendon Hartley, Sochi offers one more opportunity to shine, one more opportunity to secure a job for 2019.