Strategy the key to Mercedes, low hopes for McLaren: Russian Grand Prix talking points

As the teams and drivers arrive in Sochi for the fourth round of the Formula One season, the Russian Grand Prix, Graham Caygill looks at some of the things to watch for ahead of Sunday’s race.

The Russian Grand Prix is held in Sochi and has been dominated by Mercedes in each of its three years so far. Maxim Shemetov / Reuters
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As the teams and drivers arrive in Sochi for the fourth round of the Formula One season, the Russian Grand Prix, Graham Caygill looks at some of the things to watch for ahead of Sunday's race.

Strategy work for Mercedes

Mark Thompson / Getty Images

Mercedes-GP have looked like a team used to winning in the opening three races of the season. They dominated the past three years, winning 51 of 57 races, with little competition from the rest of the field. But this year, Ferrari have closed in on the German team and have caught them out on strategy twice in three races. Mercedes pitted too early in Australia, then too late in Bahrain, giving up track position both times. If they are to win the drivers’ and constructors’ double for a third year on the spin, their strategists need to do better, starting in Sochi.

Bottas needs to respond

Karim Sahib / AFP

It was a mixed weekend for Valtteri Bottas in Bahrain. On Saturday, he took his first career pole, but then struggled in the race with over-inflated tyres in the first part and then twice had to move out of the way for Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. Bottas needs to beat the Briton in a race quickly to establish himself, and a strong response after Bahrain is important.

Lesson for Sainz

Andrej Isakovic / AFP

Carlos Sainz is among the drivers already being linked with a move in 2018, with seats at Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault potentially available. The Spanish Torro Rosso driver scored points in the first two races of the year, but crashed with the Williams of Lance Stroll in Bahrain, for which he deservedly was given a three-place grid penalty for Russia. Bahrain was a rare mistake and it will be interesting to see how the Spaniard bounces back.

McLaren’s low hopes

Butch Dill / AP Photo

It is a sad state of affairs when simply finishing the race will be seen as an achievement. But that was Fernando Alonso’s thoughts in McLaren’s official pre-race notes for this weekend’s grand prix. The only hope is that last week’s test after the race in Bahrain will have at least helped Honda with some of their power and reliability issues. Another tough weekend ahead and you cannot blame Alonso for counting down the days until he has his time away from F1 to compete at the Indianapolis 500 next month.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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