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Upcoming Russian Grand Prix: Advantage Mercedes?

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YOU’RE unlikely to find many F1 fans that will sing the praises of the Sochi Autodrom in Russia.

While the venue, formerly the host of the Winter Olympics, is a seaside holiday destination, the G1 track is not one that will infuse excitement into most races. Nevertheless, the 2021 Formula 1 season makes its next stop in Russia for the 15th round of the season.

Though it might not be an inspiring venue, it does have big points up for grabs for what has been one of the most closely fought and intense championships for quite some time. Both championship protagonists, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, arrive on the back of yet another contentious incident. The Monza clash has been litigated to within an inch of its life both for and against both drivers.

The fact remains, however, that Verstappen emerged from the weekend with a three-point gain to lead Hamilton by five points atop the driver’s championship. But Verstappen also received a penalty after being adjudged, by race stewards, as having caused the Monza collision.

As it stands, wherever Verstappen qualifies in Russia, he will drop down a further three places. Due to its excessively long and flat-out run to turn one, the Russian Grand Prix circuit is one that allows for overtaking. It is for this reason that the inevitable power unit change, and subsequent grid drop, for Verstappen may have been earmarked for this race. It is believed that at some point in the remaining races that Hamilton, too, will have to fit a new power unit and incur the same grid penalties.

There is a chance, however, that Mercedes could try to eke out the lifespan of the current power unit components in Hamilton’s pool.

But doing so would mean running the risk of suffering a potential mechanical failure. And in a championship as closely contested as this one, losing points to the opposition could well tip it in their favour.

The good news for Merc is that the Sochi Autodrom is a track on which Valtteri Bottas excels. Add to this that the Russian Grand Prix has been somewhat of a stronghold for Merc, it looks as though the deck is stacked for a good weekend. But if we know anything about Formula 1 in 2021, it is that it has been nigh on impossible to predict. If Verstappen is to start from the back of the grid, Red Bull will look to Sergio Perez to, at least, delay the process of Mercedes. But the Mexican has struggled of late and doesn’t go into the weekend with the highest of expectations.

McLaren too, powered by Merc engines in 2021, could bring themselves into the equation.

Elsewhere, Kimi Raikkonen has, via Instagram, announced that he will be returning to the cockpit for this weekend’s race. The Finn has been self-isolating since testing positive for COVID-19 at the Dutch Grand Prix. It’s his Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi though that’s under pressure to keep his seat for 2022.

The Italian has shown some moment of real potential in the last few races but it might be too little too late. It is believed that a host of drivers are duking it out for the seat alongside Bottas.

Chinese F2 driver Guanyu Zhou is believed to be the front runner for the seat.

Since its first race in 2014 there haven’t been many memorable moments at the Russian Grand Prix. But surely, with the tantalising battle that is this year’s title fight, even Russia has the potential to deliver a race worthy of the 2021 F1 championship.

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