Lewis Hamilton has his best chance of celebrating a record-extending 100th Grand Prix victory on Sunday, but the seven-time Formula 1 world champion can take nothing for granted at Russia’s Sochi Autodrom this time around.
Mercedes have won every Grand Prix at the Olympic Park circuit since the first in 2014, the Briton triumphant in four of the seven and current teammate Valtteri Bottas in two including last year.
Past performance has not been the greatest of indicators this season, however, with Red Bull and championship leader Max Verstappen, 24 next week, pushing harder than ever in an increasingly intense title battle.
Verstappen’s task is tougher this time due to a three-place grid penalty imposed after he and Hamilton collided and retired at the Italian Grand Prix, with stewards ruling the Dutch youngster was mostly to blame.
Hamilton has not won since his home British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July but Sochi could bring him that 100th win at the fifth attempt.
No other team, not even Ferrari, have ever won the same race for seven years in a row, let alone eight, but Mercedes are still favourites.
“Lewis is laser-focused on what he needs to deliver in the next eight races,” said team boss Toto Wolff ahead of the Black Sea resort’s penultimate race before the Russian round moves to St Petersburg for 2023.
“As for Valtteri, he’s driving better than ever… there’s a calm determination about the team right now and the business end of a season, fighting for championships, is exactly what we enjoy the most.”
While Red Bull have never been on pole in Sochi, a position only ever achieved by Mercedes and Ferrari drivers, Verstappen has started from the top slot in eight of 14 races so far including seven of the last eight.
None of his seven wins so far in 2021 has come from lower than third on the grid, however.
The Dutch driver, five points clear of Hamilton in the standings while Red Bull are 18 behind Mercedes, was second in Sochi last year.
Verstappen said ahead of the weekend: “We have been more competitive this year and we have a better package at the moment so it will be interesting to see how competitive we can be there this year.
“It will be of course completely different to Monza and it looks like there might be some rain this weekend… I’m definitely looking forward to going back there and seeing what we can do. The penalty is of course not ideal but nothing is lost, that´s how I look at it,” added the Red Bull driver
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo led teammate Lando Norris in a one-two finish at Monza but Sochi was his team’s only non-scoring race of the 2020 campaign.
They will also be hoping past performance is no guide to current form, with both drivers fired up by the team’s first win since 2012 and first one-two since 2010.
Ferrari, fighting McLaren for third place, will also be in the reckoning for solid points with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
Facts & Stats by Reuters:
Russian Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom
Round 15 of the world championship.
Lap distance: 5.848km. Total distance: 309.745km (53 laps)
2020 pole position: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes one minute 31.304 seconds.
2020 winner: Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes
Race lap record: Hamilton, 2019: 1:35.761.
Race Start time: 26 September 2021, 1200 GMT/1500 local
RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX
Mercedes are the only team to have won in Russia since the first race in Sochi in 2014. The run of seven is a record for most consecutive wins at the same grand prix.
Hamilton won in 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019, Nico Rosberg in 2016 and Bottas in 2017 and 2020.
Ferrari are the only team other than Mercedes to have started on pole in Russia. They did so in 2017 with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc in 2019.
Mercedes and Ferrari have taken 18 of 21 podium places in Russia to date. The only exceptions were Bottas, third in 2014 for Williams, Sergio Perez third for Force India in 2015 and Max Verstappen’s second for Red Bull in 2020.
Bottas started on the front row in Sochi in 2016, took the first race win of his F1 career there in 2017 and was on pole in 2018. He won again in 2020 with fastest lap.
The layout runs clockwise around the 2014 Olympic Park venues, partly on public roads.
The Russian Grand Prix is due to be hosted at St Petersburg’s Igora Drive circuit from 2023.
Rookie Nikita Mazepin, with Haas, is the only Russian driver on the current starting grid.
Hamilton has a record 99 career victories, of which 78 have been with Mercedes, from 280 starts. He has been on the podium 175 times.
Championship leader Max Verstappen has won seven races so far in 2021, to Hamilton’s four and one each for Red Bull’s Mexican Sergio Perez, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Ferrari have won 238 races since 1950, McLaren 183, Mercedes 119, Williams 114 and Red Bull 72.
Ricciardo’s win at Monza, his eighth in the top flight, was McLaren’s first since 2012 and their 183rd in F1.
Hamilton has a record 101 career poles and has won 59 times from pole. He has had three poles so far in 2021.
Verstappen has been on pole eight times this year, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fastest in Azerbaijan and Monaco qualifying. Bottas was on pole in Portugal.
Verstappen is five points ahead of Hamilton. Mercedes lead Red Bull by 18 points.
George Russell has scored for Williams in three of the last four races. The team had failed to score a point for two years before that.
Hamilton can become the first F1 driver to win 100 grands prix.
Monza was the first race that both Hamilton and Verstappen failed to finish this season.
Hamilton’s DNF was his first in 63 starts.
McLaren’s win at Monza came 170 races after their last victory, the second-longest wait between wins for an ever-present constructor.
The record is held by Ligier, who went 231 races without a win between 1981 and 1996.