Russian Grand Prix preview

Sebastian Vettel’s title ambitions are on life support, as the Formula 1 circus rolls into the Black Sea resort of Sochi for round 16 of this season’s championship. The Ferrari driver had been expected to win in Italy and Singapore but missed his chance and now must deny Mercedes a fifth successive win at what has become a stronghold for the Silver Arrows.

Mercedes all-conquering in Russia

The world title fight was expected to be a lot closer than it currently is at this point, given Monza and the Marina Bay Circuit had been dubbed Ferrari tracks. However, as has been the case for much of his career, Lewis Hamilton hadn’t read the script and took the chequered flag on both occasions to move 40 points clear of Vettel.

The British driver has won four of the last five races to once again pull away from his German rival, much like he did in the second half of last season, and is expected to add to his tally in Russia this week.

Given Mercedes have won all four races at the Sochi Autodrone since its addition to the schedule, it is no surprise to see Hamilton as the 2.10 favourite for victory.

The four-time world champion won the first two editions of the Russian Grand Prix, while Nico Rosberg triumphed in 2016, before Valtteri Bottas took the honours last year. The Finn loves this track and has a good record having also claimed a podium place when driving for Williams in 2014.

Bottas is still searching for his first victory of the season and were he not out of the title picture, the 8.00 on offer for the win would represent good value. However, with him recently saying he’s ready to be a team player by helping Hamilton’s title bid, 1.68 for a podium finish is the smarter choice.

No second chances for Ferrari

Ferrari had their best showing at a Russian Grand Prix last year, locking out the front row of the grid in qualifying before getting jumped by Bottas at the start.

Vettel, who started from pole, eventually chased Bottas down and was 0.617 seconds behind when he crossed the line, giving the Italians cause for optimism that they can break Mercedes’ stranglehold on this race.

Given the lack of overtaking opportunities in Sochi, qualifying is vital and Vettel is 2.45 to grab pole position once more, with Hamilton the favourite at 1.68.

Red Bull problems open up top-six market

Avoiding the Red Bulls this weekend is probably a sound strategy, given both their drivers need engine changes which will result in grid penalties, while they have never finished higher than fifth in Sochi.

Red Bull’s issues open the door to the likes of Force India, Renault and McLaren to target the top six.

Renault performed well in Azerbaijan, which shares similarities to the track in Russia, and Carlos Sainz is 4.00 to finish in the top six, while his team mate Nico Hulkenberg is 3.70.