From the cityscape of Singapore, Formula 1 heads to another picturesque setting as Sochi’s Olympic Park plays host to the Russian Grand Prix this Sunday.
Meandering its way past several of the spectacular arenas built for the 2014 Winter games, this will be the fifth race held at the Sochi Autodrom. In that time, Mercedes has gone undefeated with Lewis Hamilton winning the first two before Nico Rosberg was triumphant in 2016 and then Valtteri Bottas claimed his first victory a year ago.
This season, it has been pushed back to a late September slot on the calendar and the German manufacturer face a Ferrari team that pushed them close in 2017 and a Sebastian Vettel desperate to get his championship chances back on track, sitting 40 points behind Hamilton.
About the race
Sochi shares some attributes consistent with Albert Park or Canada as a more traditional circuit, but with street track characteristics with walls lingering yet rarely threatening around the lap.
The most notable section is through the long Turn 4 which is effectively a straight that circles the Olympic cauldron and medal plaza and in the first few years was more challenging although in today’s higher downforce designs that is no longer the case.
Action has often been muted with overtaking proving very difficult and that is mainly because of the lack of tyre degradation drivers suffer, indeed this year Pirelli has brought the Hypersoft along with the Ultrasoft and Soft compounds to Russia.
12 months ago, an underwhelming weekend by Hamilton paved the way for Bottas to take the win but Vettel pushed the Finn all the way, so what’s in store this year? Here are our picks.
Top driver picks
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes ($31.1m)
Though it’s possible Ferrari’s power advantage could help them overhaul Mercedes, there’s enough going for the Brackley-based team for them to still be considered the favourites.
The flowing second sector with medium-speed turns should see the Silver Arrows thrive and their pace in Singapore proved the twisty final sector, made up of chicanes and 90-degree right-handers, won’t be much of a weakness either.
Ensuring the tyre has enough grip for those final corners is going to be crucial to a fast lap in qualifying and that is another area where Mercedes has improved.
As a result, with confidence at a high, it’s hard to look past Hamilton taking another step towards a fifth F1 crown.
Esteban Ocon, Force India ($9.7m)
Due to a reason we’ll explain later, the midfield teams have a good chance for a strong result this weekend in Sochi.
Despite their difficulties at Marina Bay, Force India has emerged as possibly the fourth best team right now and that is why Ocon is our man of choice.
It is always very tight between himself and teammate Sergio Perez and in the fantasy standings it is the Mexican that has the advantage, but the Frenchman is over a million dollars cheaper and that is our reason here as Esteban has had the pace over Perez more often than not.
Romain Grosjean, Haas ($5.4m)
Likewise, Haas are now regular top 10 contenders and should go well around the Sochi Autodrom.
Grosjean has also cut out the mistakes from earlier in the year with four points results in the past seven races and at $5.4m, he is an absolute bargain for your fantasy team.
Worst driver picks
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull ($19.3m)
For Red Bull, the trip to the Black Sea coast is unlikely to be an exciting one on a circuit that has often been their weakest in the four years that F1 has visited.
This year, the Milton Keynes squad has opted to take grid penalties with both cars ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix next month, a race they consider their last opportunity for victory.
Therefore, either Ricciardo or Max Verstappen could be considered a ‘worst driver pick’ but the Australian is having a more difficult time in his final races with the team so that’s why he’s the driver named here.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren ($10.2m)
Alonso failed to start this race last year after breaking down on the formation lap and while that is unlikely to happen again this year, McLaren is likely to return to their struggles down the grid.
Singapore provided a rare positive for the Spaniard, finishing best of the rest, but don’t expect it to be the start of a late-season turnaround on a circuit that won’t suit the draggy characteristics of the MCL33.
Top team pick
Despite their strategy problems in Singapore and the likely strength of Mercedes in Sochi, Ferrari remain our pick at a price $2.7m cheaper than Mercedes and just as likely to challenge for victory.
That being said, if you have the money at hand, the German manufacturer is probably the team you want with two drivers that could well finish 1-2 if their Italian counterparts disappoint once again.
That’s all for our picks and preview for the Russian Grand Prix, now all you need to do is pick your team and play.
Be sure to pick a team and win your share of guaranteed cash prizes watching the Russian Grand Prix, including a seat in the $20,000 Formula 1 guaranteed game.