Russian Grand Prix: All you need to know as F1 heads to Sochi
There will be plenty to look out for on and off the track, including Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton aiming to strengthen his grip on the title and a potential podium cameo from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
RT Sport brings you an indispensable guide to all the action.
HAMILTON TITLE TILT
British reigning F1 champion Hamilton heads into the race at the Sochi Autodrom with a healthy 40-point lead at the top of the drivers’ standings, bolstered by his dominant victory last time out in Singapore.
Hamilton and Mercedes made a mockery of Vettel’s status as favorite for the race under the bright Singapore lights, capitalizing on questionable Ferrari team calls – including pit stop and tire choices – to take a win that many thought improbable.
That result continued Hamilton’s title tilt, which he will be looking to build on at a Sochi circuit where he has previously tasted success in 2014 and 2015 – the first two editions of the grand prix at the venue.
The two years since then have both seen Mercedes triumphs – with Nico Rosberg winning there on his way to the world title in 2016, and Flying Finn Valtteri Bottas taking the checkered flag last year, when Hamilton finished fourth.
The races are running out for Vettel and Ferrari to make inroads in Hamilton’s championship lead this season, with only five more outings after Sochi.
If Vettel is going to mount a renewed challenge, the Black Sea coast would be a good place to start.
‘A LAYOUT THAT KEEPS YOU THINKING’
The 5.8km Sochi track winds its way around the city’s Olympic Park, replete with the accoutrements from the 2014 Winter Games, including the Fisht Stadium which recently hosted games at the FIFA World Cup.
The circuit has the backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains on one side and the Black Sea shores on the other – making it one of the more scenic venues on the calendar.
This year the Russian Grand Prix falls later on the schedule, although temperatures are still forecast to be around 23C (73F) come race day on Sunday.
Drivers will make their way around the circuit 53 times for a total distance of just under 310km. The lap record belongs to Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen, who set a time of 1:36.844 seconds in last year’s race.
Speaking ahead of the 2018 edition, Red Bull star Daniel Ricciardo described the Sochi track as “a pretty unique circuit,” adding that “in some ways it feels like driving flat out in a car park, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable lap… there’s a lot going on and it’s a layout that keeps you thinking.”
Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen – who will turn 21 on the day of the race – says the Olympic Park has a “unique layout,” and that “the views from parts of the track and the hotels are really nice, on one side you have the mountains and on the other, the sea,” according to the official F1 website.
Verstappen will likely have to take an engine penalty to Russia from the Singapore Grand Prix, meaning his chances of a birthday win will be greatly diminished.
Russia, meanwhile, will be represented by Williams driver Sergey Sirotkin, who is not expected to give the home fans too much to cheer about, having picked up just a solitary point so far this season.
OFF THE TRACK
Sochi is among Russia’s most popular seaside resorts, with thousands flocking to the Black Sea coast to holiday every summer.
The beach towels will be supplemented by the torque of F1 car engines this weekend, and crowds are expected to be in the region of 150,000 across the three days of action.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin has attended proceedings in previous years – including being famously sprayed with champagne by winner Lewis Hamilton in 2015. There is no word yet on whether the Russian president will be making a guest appearance this year, however.
Race fans flocking to Sochi will be able to enjoy the array of bars and cafes that adorn the Black Sea coast near the circuit.
Rapper Basta – a hit with the locals – will bring the weekend to a close by performing at the after-race party.
Practice 1 begins on Friday, September 28 at 11.00 local time (08:00 GMT). Qualifying is on Saturday, September 29 from 15:00 local time, while the race starts on Sunday, September 30 at 14:10 local time.