The Sochi Autodrom may have been Lewis Hamilton’s playground in its first two seasons but it is his team-mate Nico Rosberg who heads to Russia as the in-form driver – and one with nothing to lose.
It has been an incredible start to 2016 for Mercedes’ German racer who arrives on the Sochi grid with a hat-trick of victories to his name and a 36-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship, meaning even if his W07 succumbs to an unlikely reliability gremlin – as its predecessor did last year when its throttle stuck – he will leave the track on Sunday night still P1 in the standings.
But while Hamilton cannot do anything to prevent that, he could take a chunk out of Rosberg’s lead with victory, which would be his first of the season – a strange stat when talking about the triple World Champion.
Russia could just be the place to Hamilton’s drought this year as the Brit has dominated at the circuit, winning both previous editions. He started one from pole, 2014, while the following year’s Saturday P1 went to Rosberg.
As such Mercedes have arrived at the street circuit that was built around the Olympic Park brimming with confidence as they know that this Herman Tilke-designed track is one that suits their Formula 1 cars.
It is also one that promotes overtaking.
Last year’s grand prix saw a thrilling battle in the closing laps as Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas attempted to take the final podium position off Force India’s Sergio Perez.
With the Force India’s tyres all but shot, Raikkonen and Bottas battled furiously, only to collide. Bottas retired, Raikkonen was penalised and Perez claimed a much-applauded podium position.
This season Force India will have a tougher time reaching the podium due to the rampant – but reliability-plagued – Ferrari and the resurgent Red Bull Racing. Ferrari’s decision to up the pace this season has cost them on the reliability front and, even when the cars are running as they should, they’ve paid in other ways such as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen’s first lap coming together in China.
Ferrari need to improve their all-round performances in Russia or risk being falling foul of Red Bull, who appear to have regained their 2014 form.
Should Red Bull take the fight to Ferrari, all eyes will be on Vettel and Red Bull’s Russian racer Kvyat. They verbally clashed after the Chinese Grand Prix and both will be determined to get the upper hand this weekend.
However cool temperatures and a slight possibility of rain could throw the form book out the window.