Winner of the two previous Russian Grands Prix held in Sochi, Lewis Hamilton has particular motivation for wanting to make it three in a row this weekend. The two-time defending Formula 1 drivers’ champion has seen Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg win the first three races of the 2016 season to open up a 36-point lead at the top of the championship standings. While there are still 18 races of the season remaining, it is a gap that Hamilton will be desperate to start eating into.
The Briton has certainly had his fair share of bad luck in the opening three races. Last time out in China, he was forced to start from the back of the grid after a gearbox change, and then lost his front wing on the opening lap after a collision. And Hamilton insists he is not yet panicking over his fate heading toward a circuit he has flourished on.
“There was plenty going through my head after China, as you’d expect,” he said in the buildup to the Russian Grand Prix, according to the Formula 1 website. “But, after all these years, experience has taught me to stay calm and keep pushing forwards when I get knocked back. I’ve been here before a few times now. A lot can happen over the next 18 race weekends and I have the utmost confidence in this team.”
Still, the facts state that no driver who has won the opening three races of a season has ever not gone onto land the championship. And with Rosberg also having won the final three races of last season he has every reason for confidence. Indeed, a win in Russia would see the German move level with the record of Michael Schumacher and Alberto Ascari for seven consecutive race wins and leave him behind only the nine of Sebastian Vettel.
Still, the German, who has finished second to his teammate in the championship for the last two seasons, is not getting carried away with his start to 2016.
“I would never have expected the first three weekends to go the way they have,” he said. “I’ve made the most of my opportunities and I have a bit of an advantage in the points right now—but we are only three races down and it would just take one bad weekend for that gap to disappear.”
Making the championship race more interesting, though, and certainly spicing things up for neutrals is the potential for Ferrari and even Red Bull to pose a challenge to Mercedes’ dominance.
Ferrari have endured a series of mishaps at the start of the year, but there have still been signs they are far closer to Mercedes than last season and can be a threat for race wins when they cut out the errors. Vettel, who finished second in Sochi last year and in the same position last time out in China, has particular cause for optimism.
Red Bull, too, appear a team on the rise. Dominant between 2010 and 2013, they have made a clear step forward from the huge disappointment of last season. A major upgrade is set to come at the Canada Grand Prix in June, but even in Russia they could get among the front-runners. Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo having finished third and fourth, respectively, in China, and Ricciardo lying third in the drivers’ championship, just three points behind Hamilton.
Prediction: The 2016 championship has already been made significantly more intriguing than many feared. Hamilton faces a major battle to retain his championship, and the improvement of Ferrari and Red Bull make things more complicated still. However, the mishaps that have plagued him in the last two races will surely not continue, and he could well get his first win of the season on a circuit he has prospered on in the last two years.
Winner: Lewis Hamilton
Russian Grand Prix schedule (all times EDT)
Practice 1: Friday, 3 a.m.
Practice 2: Friday, 7 a.m.
Practice 3: Saturday, 5 a.m.
Qualifying: Saturday, 8 a.m.
Race: Sunday, 8 a.m.