Russian Grand Prix: Verstappen turns 21 with a rapper & engine penalty

Max Verstappen birthday

Having to work on your birthday may seem like a drag.

But for a multi-millionaire Formula 1 driver who is about to come of age, clocking in for a shift the day you turn 21 can't be a bad thing.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen will be handed the key of the door on Sunday against the backdrop of the Russian Grand Prix.

The billionaires' playground of Monaco may be more suitable for a birthday blowout F1 style, but for this momentous occasion the city of Sochi is handed the honour.

With the snow-capped Caucasus mountains on one side and the iridescent Black Sea on the other, the Sochi Autodrom is plonked in the middle of the Olympic Park, home of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Surrounded by futuristic-looking buildings and stunning natural scenery, this circuit feels like an episode of The Jetsons and Wish You Were Here rolled into one.

As popular beach holiday resort Russian natives to flock to, a karaoke bar is must. Max and the rest of the grid could head to Abba Bar, a neon-lit drinking hole one reviewer calls "classy karaoke". Thankfully, Sweden's finest export aren't the only songs on offer to belt out after a hard day's racing.

If a chequered flag party were to take place for the young Dutchman, then Russia's premier hip-hop star, Basta, is on the bill to perform at the now obligatory post-race concert. The Singapore GP gave fans a show packed with hits courtesy of The Killers and Liam Gallagher. Basta, according to the official website, has "rhymes and punch lines that will delight the guests". Interesting...

Valtteri Bottas and Russia's President Vladimir Putin
One of several giant babushka dolls stands guard as Bottas gets acquainted with Vladimir Putin

When it comes to who dominates the action on track, there's only previously been one team in it: Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton has won twice, his former team-mate Nico Rosberg bagged another during his championship-winning season and current partner Valtteri Bottas celebrated his maiden win in Formula 1 over a year ago in Sochi.

A special guest was on hand to congratulate the Finn on his first ever victory in 2017 - Vladimir Putin. The Russian president has been a regular attendee of the event since 2014, dishing out trophies on the podium and (accidentally) being sprayed with champagne by the top three. Luckily, the Russian Federal Guard Services snipers scattered around the building's rooftops have never been called into action.

This year's contest could be a Silver Arrows affair once again, however Ferrari have had the faster car at many circuits this season.

If Verstappen was hoping for a repeat of his 20th birthday, where he dominated the Malaysian Grand Prix to claim his second career victory, then things don't look promising. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says "Sochi will be one to forget for us", as the Dutchman will need to take an engine penalty after the problems he suffered in Singapore, with Russia the likely venue.

Russian rap courtesy of Basta coming to a chart rundown near you
Russian Federal Guard Service's snipers
Eye in the sky: Snipers patrol the circuit while the VIP guests enjoy the festivities

Flashback quiz

Russia hasn't exactly provided a stellar line-up of Formula 1 drivers in recent times.

In fact, only three Russians have graced the track since 2010.

There are no World Championship or race winners among this trio - just the three podium finishes between them.

Short and sweet this week. Only one minute on the timer.

How many can you name?

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Previously in F1: Round 15 - Singapore

Lewis Hamilton qualifies on pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix
Quali stardust: Under the twinkle of floodlights, Lewis Hamilton produced a slice of magic on his opening lap of Q3, taking pole position in a manner Mercedes race engineer Pete Bonnington called 'epic.' "It's difficult to ever say if it's your best one, but it felt the most complete lap I've ever done possibly," Hamilton said.
Sebastian Vettel shakes Lewis Hamilton's hand after the Singapore Grand Prix
Is it all over? The mountain may be too big for Sebastian Vettel to climb now after Lewis Hamilton banked his seventh win of the season and a 40-point lead in the championship. "It is not great when you come to the end of the championship and you are losing points rather than making up points. But we still have a lot of races left."

The track

A graphic to show the track layout of the Sochi Autodrome in Russia. Laps: 53

Back pocket facts

  • Citizens in the region of Ulyanovsk are granted 12 September as a day off... to procreate. Initially introduced to boost the population, prizes are now given to anyone who gives birth exactly nine months later on 12 June.
  • Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich knows how to keep prying paparazzi lenses at bay. His mega yacht Eclipse has lasers installed that act as an anti-paparazzi shield, which fire a bolt of light at a camera to obscure any potential photographs.
  • In 2013, A restaurant owner in Moscow decided to only hire sets of twins in a bid to attract new customers. The Twin Stars diner employed identically dressed siblings to serve food and drink, taking inspiration from an old Soviet-era movie called Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors.
  • Former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev once recorded an album of romantic ballads, which was then sold at auction to a mystery philanthropist for £100,000 to raise money for charity.

Drivers' social

Daniel Ricciardo
Ricciardo's sideline in farming is going well: "Amongst these pastures I go by Jack. Outback Jack. Meet my sheep."
Stoffel Vandoorne
Could Stoffel last seven rounds with AJ like Russian fighter Alexander Povetkin did at Wembley Stadium?
Valtteri Bottas
Valtteri Bottas ticked a lifelong ambition off his bucket list...Oktoberfest in Munich in traditional gear

How to follow on BBC Sport

BBC Sport has live coverage of all the season's races on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, plus live online commentary on the BBC Sport website and mobile app - including audience interaction, expert analysis, debate, voting, features, interviews and video content.

All times BST and are subject to change at short notice.

Russian Grand Prix coverage details
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageOnline text commentary
Thursday, 27 September Preview20:30-21:00BBC Radio 5 live
Friday, 28 September First practice08:55-10:35BBC Radio 5 live sports extra From 08:30
Second practice12:55-14:35BBC Radio 5 live sports extra From 12:30
Saturday, 29 September Final practice 09:55-11:05BBC Radio 5 live sports extra From 09:30 (continuous)
Qualifying 12:55-14:05BBC Sport online
Sunday, 30 September Race 12:00-13:55BBC Radio 5 live sports extra From 10:30
Monday, 1 October Review04:30-05:00BBC Radio 5 live