Russian Grand Prix preview: Can Ferrari break Mercedes' Sochi grip?

Russian Grand Prix track graphic

Sebastian Vettel can breathe a sigh of relief after finally banking his first win of the season in Singapore.

The most under-pressure driver on the grid heading into the heat of Marina Bay managed to pull a much needed victory out of the bag - with a little help from a pit-stop undercut on Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc.

Leclerc couldn't convert his three consecutive pole positions into a triple winning streak and felt his team's strategy call to bring him in for a set of hard tyres cost him the chequered flag.

Despite the team-mate tensions, Singapore was the first time since 2008 Ferrari had won three consecutive races. A stat even more surprising considering this was a circuit the Scuderia were expected to struggle at.

"Obviously it is always difficult to lose a win like that but at the end it's a one-two for the team so I'm happy for that," runner-up Leclerc said.

Four-time world champion Vettel looked close to tears as he accepted the winner's champagne. "It was a bit sweaty. I'm very happy," he joked.

Mercedes' less than perfect day at the office didn't do much to derail the title race; Lewis Hamilton still leads the rest of the pack on 296 points.

A third-placed finish for Max Verstappen in the Red Bull means the Dutchman is now level on points with Leclerc on 200 apiece.

Time to turn off the floodlights off and pack the fireworks away for another year, there's a 4,156-mile trip to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix to make.

F1 dreams do come true

Designed by German engineer Hermann Tilke, the Sochi Autodrom forms part of the legacy of the 2014 Winter Olympics, with the street circuit layout emerging from the internal roads that led to the Olympic Park.

Located on the iridescent Black Sea, Sochi is a popular beach destination for fans who fancy a bit of autumn sunshine alongside their racing fix.

After a few false starts in sourcing a venue - a project near Pulkovo Airport and a location just outside Moscow failed to get off the ground - former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's 30-year desire to hold a race in Russia was finally granted with a little help from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The roadshow doesn't come cheap, however - it was reported in the build-up to the inaugural event in 2014 that Russia was paying $50m a year for the race, believed to be the the largest hosting fee of any grand prix.

Lewis Hamilton, President Putin and Sebastian Vettel on the podium
President Vladimir Putin also does a line of traditional Russian hats for podium drivers to enjoy

Putin is a regular attendee at the race, handing out the winning trophies and trying desperately to dodge the oncoming spray of expensive champagne.

With a combination of long straights and 18 fast corners to contend with, it's not yet made it on to the list of all-time favourite circuits for fans and drivers.

Turn Three, however, does provide a thrill for the spectators. With a 161 degree rotation and 789 metres in length, the left-hander takes approximately 10 seconds to navigate through the whole turn.

It also zips past the Daniil Kvyat Grandstand, named in honour of the Russian driver who was born in Ufa, the capital city of the Republic of Bashkortostan.

Daniil Kvyat
Daniil Kvyat in the Toro Rosso drives past his home crowd and stunning Sochi backdrop

What's the form guide for Russia?

In the five races that have been held in Russia, Mercedes have reigned supreme in every one.

Hamilton has three wins at the Sochi Autodrom and took a giant step towards his fifth World Championship with victory in 2018.

Last year's event also saw Valtteri Bottas feel the full force of Mercedes team orders, as the Finn was told to let Hamilton by to protect against the threat of title rival Vettel.

The order was particularly hard to swallow for Bottas after he had edged out his British team-mate by 0.145 seconds to take his first pole position at the track a day earlier.

It hasn't all been Russian doom and gloom for Bottas though, because the 30-year-old won his maiden Formula 1 race there in 2017.

If Leclerc is hoping for a fourth pole position in a row in Sochi, he'll probably have to out-qualify a Mercedes again to do it.

Vettel managed a front-row spot on the grid with his Ferrari in 2017 to break the cycle of Hamilton and former team-mate Nico Rosberg claiming the honour for the Silver Arrows three years on the bounce.

It was also a lockout for Ferrari as then team-mate Kimi Raikkonen joined the German on the front row.

From Russia with love - what are the drivers up to?

Valtteri Bottas
After a tough Singapore GP, Valtteri Bottas is fully focused on the next race
Formula 1
The name's Hulk... Nico Hulkenberg. The Renault driver is getting acclimatised to the chilly conditions with a trip to Moscow ahead of the race

How to follow on the BBC

BBC Sport has live coverage of practice, qualifying and the race, across the website and BBC Radio 5 Live. There will be live digital coverage on the BBC Sport website and app - including audience interaction, expert analysis, debate, features, interviews and audio content.

You can follow all the action and the latest news on the BBC Sport F1 page and via the BBC Sport app, and catch up with analysis and interviews with the BBC Radio 5 Live Chequered Flag podcast.

Russian Grand Prix coverage details (all times BST)
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageOnline text commentary
Chequered Flag podcast: Russian Grand Prix review - download here once the race has finished
Friday, 27 SeptemberFirst practice08:55-10:35BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 08:30
Second practice12:55-14:35BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 12:30
Saturday, 28 SeptemberFinal practice10:00-11:00BBC Sport website & appFrom 09:30
Qualifying13:00-14:00BBC Sport website & appFrom 12:00
Sunday, 29 SeptemberRace11:30-14:00BBC Radio 5 Live From 10:30

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