Sochi, the venue where Mercedes have dominated with stupendous consistency could well see the dominant narrative making space for a boy who’ll dominate the sport in the years to come.
In what is an excellent opportunity for Lando Norris to storm to a maiden victory, McLaren quite literally are in the driver’s seat. With a clear track ahead of them to bag a second – and lest it not be forgotten, stupendous- victory in 2021.
Followed by the quietly efficient Sainz, in his maiden season with the Scuderia and Russell in third, Sochi’s starting three could well be this year’s most admired and widely exciting troika.
What’ll happen up ahead is something only time will tell. But for now, let’s see which drivers would love to make a race to remember given not such a fantastic quali and recent race form?
The Iceman, competing in the last few races of his F1 career, will be keen to make the most of what’s left. It didn’t help Kimi, standing next to an abominable points tally of 2, that he had to sit out of Monza and Zandvoort thanks to the Coronavirus.
Yet, true to the surprising ways in which one of the sport’s icons has fought back, the Finn’s got something that’s admirable.
The old man of the grid has shown the youngsters how it’s done on race days. Despite 2021 being the year where his qualifying form has been “s*it” as how he’d himself put it, he’s still gained the most positions when compared to nineteen others on the grid (29) after fourteen rounds.
Moreover, a P16 in the driver’s standings means Raikkonen has, at least, emerged ahead of Giovinazzi, who’s constantly outpaced him on most Saturdays so far, hasn’t done too miserably.
Not that the soon-to-be 42-year-old would count it as anything but still, in the context of the race and knowing his penchant to make the most on the race days, Kimi Matias Raikkonen will be keen, albeit reticently, to make a race out of Sochi.
But can he actually do that?
Here are the previous four race results for the German Aston Martin driver, all set to start his Russian contest from eleventh on the grid.
A 12th at Italy, 13th at Zandvoort, a 5th at Spa-Francorchamps, and an embarrassing – if not controversial- disqualification at the Hungaroring.
It’s been a season where one’s witnessed shades of the dauntless Vettel of the past, the man who stormed to a fine podium at the incident-marred Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a result that should ideally have shut his critics’ mouth.
But that being said, Vettel, who’s not been able to ace his Saturday game as such this season, would look at Sochi as a great opportunity to bounce back to form and collect handy points.
That the last two races didn’t result in any should motivate the four-time world champion to get up to speed and hit back hard.
But will it be any easy given Ocon (tenth), Perez (ninth) and teammate Stroll (eighth) could possibly make life difficult for Vettel?
It’s a Bond of trust and redoubtable capability that the German would like to forge with his AMR 21 here at Sochi.
Forget not that the License to drive and excel rests with you, Seb!
Tsunoda, who starts from thirteenth on the grid, would be keen to convert his insipid qualifying result into a prominent performance at Sochi.
But hang on, P13 isn’t nearly as bad as what the AlphaTauri driver managed in the previous two Saturday battles!
Since the Italian and Dutch GP, quali runs were anything but mind-blowing.
A seventeenth on the starting grid at Monza and a fifteenth at Zandvoort suggest Tsunoda’s not exactly been having a ball on Saturdays.
This is primarily why his Sochi run is a tad bit disappointing albeit being better than the recent efforts.
But in a few hours’ time, it’ll be down to how Yuki manages his race at Sochi which will form one of the key highlights of the race, especially down to the fact that he’ll be right behind Gasly for the 53-lap run.
The last three race results for the current championship reader read- DNF at Monza, which came prior to two race wins, one each at the returning Dutch GP and the Belgian GP.
While Spa-Francorchamps’s race win may not count as a win from the purist’s perspective, the win at Zandvoort was Max back to his best. Something he’d quite like to have maintained at Monza which is when the dramatic, widely debated and rancor-causing crash with Hamilton happened.
While it ended both drivers’ race, from the perspective of maintaining the lead over the championship, it was a massive blow for Verstappen in that where it stands today, his lead over second-place Lewis Hamilton is a mere five and a half points.
It’s something he’d quite like to have build on here at Sochi had the start from the back of the grid not have hurt Max’s chances, which are seriously slated to dent a chance in his championship unless a miracle happens and the Flying Dutchman is able to storm to the top three at Sochi.
It’ll be an exciting contest to watch out for.
A fourth in qualifying isn’t the worst possible place on the starting grid- is it?
But the moment you see Mercedes, winners of every single Grand Prix here at Sochi, starting from behind a troika comprising McLaren, Ferrari and Williams, the latter, their customer team, you feel something’s amiss.
Where Sir Lewis Hamilton, second on the Driver Standings, is concerned, a result among the top three, which isn’t impossible at all, would be akin to a win given his target has to be to finish as ahead as possible over his archrival Max Verstappen.
But what shall the 53 laps up ahead unfold- a triumph for LH 44 or a disappointing race finish given those in front of the seven-time world champion are among the youngest and finest on the grid- it’ll be endlessly fascinating.
Can Hammertime strike the remainder of the grid akin to Putin’s feared reign of Russia? Let’s wait and see.
Grid Talk Podcast
Want more reaction to qualifying at the Russian GP? Never fear, the Grid Talk crew are here with their latest podcast! Ruby Price hosted Tom Downey and Louis Edwards as they analysed qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix. Both audio and video versions of the show are linked below:
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