Talking points ahead of the Russian Grand Prix weekend

Sebastian Vettel heads into the Russian Grand Prix weekend leading Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by seven points following the Ferrari driver’s victory last time out in Bahrain.

Vettel, the four-time world champion, has won two of the opening three rounds of this season’s Formula One World Championship to cement his status as the number one challenger to the Mercedes driver this season.


Here is a look at the key talking points ahead of Sunday’s race at the Sochi Autodrom.

Hamilton out for revenge

There was certainly an air of what could have been for Hamilton as he took stock of his defeat to Vettel in Bahrain. Hamilton had the quicker machinery than Vettel in both qualifying and the race, but a number of mistakes – by both team and driver – contributed to the Mercedes driver finishing behind his championship rival. The 32-year-old Briton will be keen to make amends in Sochi as he attempts to level the score at 2-2 from the first four grands prix of a see-saw championship. Hamilton has good form in Russia – having won two of the three races staged here – while this event was the scene of Vettel’s X-rated outburst last year in which he said the f-word on five occasions inside just 10 seconds after being punted out of the race by Daniil Kvyat.

Halo takes back seat

A meeting of F1’s top aficionados on Tuesday evening determined that the shield has now surpassed the halo as the FIA’s preferred choice for improved cockpit safety. The sport’s governing body are keen to ramp up driver-head protection and had given the green light for the halo to be introduced next season. But the device courted criticism for its ugly appearance – indeed Hamilton described it as the “worst-looking modification” in F1 history – and the shield, a see-through screen which was presented to the drivers in China earlier this month, is viewed as the more aesthetically pleasing option. Tests will be carried out on the concept throughout the season.

Liberty Media slowly showing hand

It has been three months since American giants Liberty Media acquired Formula One and their approach has so far been slowly, slowly, catchy monkey. Indeed, bar the relaxing of social media rules in the paddock, they have made very few tweaks to the sport which was governed by Bernie Ecclestone for four decades. So, with that in mind it was interesting to note that one of the outcomes from the gathering of F1’s Strategy Group on Tuesday – where chairman Chase Carey made his debut – was to open future meetings to the sport’s lesser teams. Under Ecclestone’s self-proclaimed dictatorship, the talks had been limited to the top teams. But the likes of Sauber, Haas, Toro Rosso and Renault will now be invited to attend. A step in the right direction.

Will Ferrari speak to the media in Russia?

Vettel may be leading the Formula One title, but neither he, nor his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen were made available to print or broadcast journalists on the so-called media day in Bahrain. Hand Vettel a microphone and he will be prepared to speak for hours, but his decision not to in Bahrain came from above – with rumblings in the paddock suggesting it was Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene rather than the team’s overlord Sergio Marchionne – who made the call. Let us hope the FIA, or indeed Liberty, who have promised more access to fans and media alike, take action should Ferrari close shop in Russia, too.

Are Renault serious about being a force in F1?

Renault are one of the most improved teams on the grid this season. Although their power units are still lagging behind Mercedes and Ferrari, the RS17 seems to be a handy piece of kit which Nico Hulkenberg has used to good effect. The German qualified seventh in the past two races, but only scored points last time out in Bahrain with ninth place. He will sit out FP1 for local hero Sergey Sirotkin, prompting the question: should a team with serious front running ambitions force their ace driver to sit out a practice session?

Have McLaren-Honda found the magic button?

After three races of total disappointment, McLaren-Honda with Stoffel Vandoorne ended the final test day in Bahrain, a week ago, fourth fastest and eight tenths off the top time. Interestingly the team were somewhat perplexed by their sudden surge of pace, and were wary of drawing any conclusions about the times set on the day. Russia will provide a more realistic picture of exactly where they stand, with the ‘Fernando Alonso to Indy 500’ hype invariably providing an escape valve for the team’s constant bad news on the Formula 1 front.