The 2021 F1 season moves on to Sochi this week for the Russian Grand Prix, with title rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton set to renew their rivalry for the first time since their dramatic collision at Monza earlier this month
The top two in the Drivers’ Championship standings crashed out of the Italian Grand Prix on September 12 after the Red Bull of Verstappen flipped up beside Hamilton’s Mercedes as they battled for position.
Verstappen was handed a three-place grid penalty by the stewards for his involvement in the incident and that will come into effect for this weekend’s GP at Sochi Autodrom, a decision that could further boost Mercedes’ hopes at a venue where they have dominated in the past.
Sochi a Happy Hunting Ground for Mercedes
Since debuting on the F1 calendar in 2014, the Russian GP has been monopolised by Mercedes, with the Silver Arrows winning all seven previous staging’s of the race, with four of those successes coming for Hamilton and two for teammate Valtteri Bottas, who emerged triumphant in Sochi last year.
The long straights of the Sochi Autodrom certainly suit the raw power of Mercedes, and although Red Bull have bridged that gap this season, they still cannot compete with the Silver Arrows when it comes to straight-line speed.
Verstappen’s grid penalty should further boost Mercedes’ hopes this weekend, with the current World Championship leader also in line to receive further punishment if, as expected, he opts for a new engine.
Hamilton will start this weekend sitting just five points behind Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship battle, but he is priced at
4/6 to win Sunday’s race, which would also be enough to see him leapfrog his rival in the overall standings.
Perez Could Prove Red Bull’s Best Hope
Instead, Red Bull’s best hope of denying Mercedes their usual dominance in Russia may rest with Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez, who produced his best performance since the Styrian Grand Prix in June by finishing fifth in Monza.
It has been a disappointing few months for Perez, who has failed to build on his victory at the Azerbaijan GP earlier this season, but with his colleague potentially getting bogged down at the back of the grid, the Spaniard could taken centre stage.
McLaren to Build on Monza Success?
It was McLaren that benefited from Hamilton and Verstappen’s dramatic collision at the Italian GP, with the British team securing a one-two in Monza, with Daniel Ricciardo edging out teammate Lando Norris to top the podium.
That performance also saw McLaren move into third place and best of the rest in Constructors’ Championship standings, although Sochi has not been a happy hunting ground for the team in the past, as they have never finished on the podium at the circuit.
Despite playing second fiddle to Ricciardo at Monza, Norris is perhaps McLaren’s best hope to break that podium duck in Sochi, with the Brit sitting 49 points clear of his teammate in the overall standings and having secured four top-three finishes already this season.
*All odds correct at time of writing.