• ‘Lewis... is laser focused on what he needs to deliver in the next eight races’
Lewis Hamilton has every chance of celebrating a record-extending 100th Formula One victory on Sunday, but the seven-times world champion can still take nothing for granted at Russia’s Sochi circuit.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team have won every race 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 2021 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.
“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,” said Verstappen.
“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.”
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo led teammate Lando Norris in a one-two finish at Monza but Sochi was McLaren’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.
Formula One to shrink Monaco Grand Prix into three days
Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix will scrap its traditional rest day next year and hold practice on Friday like the other races on the calendar, according to the sport’s boss Stefano Domenicali. The Italian told CNN television that the schedule for one of the glamour highlights of the season would shrink to a conventional three-day format.
Wednesday has been reserved for media activities with free practice on Thursday before a night of partying and then Friday for teams to rest and VIP guests to relax on the luxury yachts in the harbour.
The public holiday also provided a lucrative bonus for the local economy, with the teams and guests arriving in the principality earlier in the week than they would at other venues.
“Monaco will be three days, straight away,” Domenicali told the broadcaster.
“So Friday, Saturday and Sunday instead of Thursday, hold, and then Saturday and Sunday. That’s the change we’re going to introduce next year.”
The move is likely due to the expected addition of Miami in May, making a record 23 race calendar with Monaco’s street circuit likely to follow on from Spain. The condensed programme would make it easier logistically. Monaco Grand Prix organisers said that while Formula One will hold a three-day event, it would still be four days of action in the principality with support races being held on the Thursday. Domenicali said the 2022 calendar would be announced after a World Motor Sport Council meeting in Paris on October 15. He would not confirm speculation about South Africa featuring on it, with Kyalami hoping to make a return for the first time since 1993. “We received interest from Kyalami to be back in the calendar,” he said. “Of course we have discussed with them in order to see if they are ready from the technical perspective, the financial perspective, to be inserted in the calendar, so discussions are there.”
Saudi Arabia is making its debut this season, with a first race in Qatar also expected to be announced to fill a gap in late November.
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