Formula One champions Mercedes have led every lap of every Russian Grand Prix since the race made its debut around Sochi’s Olympic Park in 2014 but Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will aim to break that streak this weekend.
The four times world champion is enjoying his best start to a season since he was at Red Bull in 2011, leading Lewis Hamilton by seven points after two wins and a second place from the first three races.
Another win, at the street circuit where the German finished second in 2015, would signal Ferrari’s best opening four races since 2008.
“Things start to click and hopefully that sort of success now in the first couple of races helps us to build up some sort of momentum that maybe these guys (Mercedes) had in the past,” said Vettel after winning in Bahrain on April 16.
Hamilton, presented with the winner’s trophy by Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2014 and 2015 before now-retired Mercedes team mate and champion Nico Rosberg won from pole position last year, felt the pain in Bahrain.
“We’re going to push hard together, re-gather as a team and come back fighting,” he said after collecting a time penalty and finishing second.
Mercedes, who still look faster over a single lap in qualifying, have done plenty of homework since then but recognise they have a battle on their hands.
“In this season with these new regulations, you can’t take anything for granted,” said team boss Toto Wolff.
“The trophies of previous years don’t guarantee that we’ll be winning in Russia when you have a very fierce competitor like we do in Ferrari. We’ll take it one step at a time.”
Hamilton saw team-mate Valtteri Bottas take a career first pole position in Bahrain and the Finn has a good track record in Sochi too, setting aside a last lap collision with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in 2015 while battling for third place.
Bottas set the first fastest lap of his career there in 2014, on his way to third place, and it is a layout that he likes.
“I have always been comfortable there so we will see. It’s a completely different type of track again, completely different kind of temperatures, different asphalt so many different things. We’ll see,” he said. Red Bull, the only team to beat Mercedes last season, have yet to reach the podium in Sochi but both Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Dutch teenager Max Verstappen are hoping for more excitement this time with cars loading more G-forces than previously.
“I expect this year for the track to be grippy and with these cars it should be quite fast,” said Ricciardo. “I would say it’s going to be more enjoyable than it has been so I’m looking forward to that.” Behind them, Force India’s Sergio Perez is chasing his 14th successive scoring finish while Sauber and McLaren have yet to open their accounts for the season.
Toro Rosso’s Spanish driver Carlos Sainz has a three-place grid penalty for his Bahrain collision with Williams’ Canadian rookie Lance Stroll, who has yet to see the chequered flag.
F1 statistics for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix
Lap distance: 5.848km.
Total distance: 309.944 km (53 laps).
Race lap record: One minute 39.094 seconds, Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 2016.
2016 pole: Rosberg 1:35.417.
2016 winner: Rosberg.
Sebastian Vettel’s victory for Ferrari in Bahrain was the German’s second in three races this season. That is Ferrari’s best start to a season since 2008 when they won four of the first five races.
Champions Mercedes have won 52 of 62 races since the introduction of the 1.6 litre V6 turbo hybrid power units in 2014.
Mercedes’ triple world champion Hamilton has 54 career victories, putting him second in the all-time list behind Michael Schumacher (91). Vettel has 44, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso is on 32 and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen 20.
Ferrari have won 226 races, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 65 and Red Bull 52. McLaren and Williams have not won a race since 2012.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas took his first career F1 pole in Bahrain, ending a run of six in a row for team-mate Hamilton.
Hamilton has 63 so far, leaving the Briton two short of the late Ayrton Senna’s career total and five behind Schumacher’s record 68.
Mercedes have been on pole in 59 of the last 62 races and for the last 18 in a row. Williams hold the record of 24 successive poles, set in 1992/93.
Hamilton’s second place in Bahrain was his 107th podium finish. He is second on the all-time list behind Schumacher on 155. The Briton is on a run of eight successive podiums. Schumacher holds the record of 19.
Force India’s Mexican Sergio Perez has finished the last 13 races in the points, the longest current run among those on the grid.
Only Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India have scored with both cars in every race this season.
Renault scored their first points of the season in Bahrain with German driver Nico Hulkenberg.
Sauber and McLaren have yet to score in 2017.
Mercedes are the only team to have won in Russia so far, with Hamilton triumphant in the first two Russian Grands Prix and Rosberg taking the third. Mercedes have also led every racing lap (159 in total) at the circuit.
The race was first held in 2014 as a legacy of the Winter Olympics that year.
Bottas took the first fastest race lap of his F1 career in Sochi with Williams in 2014. The Finn last year became the first non-Mercedes driver to start on the front row in Sochi.
The layout is designed by Hermann Tilke and runs clockwise around the Olympic Park venues, partly on public roads. There are 12 right and six left-hand corners.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat is the only Russian racing in Formula One at present although Sergey Sirotkin will drive in today’s practice for Renault. Kvyat has yet to finish higher than fifth in his home race.
Hulkenberg has crashed out on the first lap of the last two Russian Grands Prix.