The Formula One circus moves to Russia this week, with round four taking place at the Autodrom in Sochi, a host city for the next year’s FIFA World Cup.
The spectacular circuit, just over 5.8 kilometres in length, sits in the Olympic Park and has witnessed three Mercedes victories since the Russian Grand Prix was added to the race schedule in 2014.
Lewis Hamilton, successful here in 2014 and in 2015, finds himself in second place in the current standings, seven points behind Sebastian Vettel, who picked up maximum points for the second time this season in Bahrain.
That reverse can largely be attributed to tactical errors.
As can Hamilton’s defeat in the opening round in Australia. And while seemingly enjoying his early-season duel with the Ferrari driver, it’s likely that the usual Mercedes dominance will re-emerge in Russia.
The Sochi circuit is less demanding on tyres than Bahrain and, with overtaking far from easy, it’s difficult to imagine Hamilton surrendering the advantage he is likely to gain in qualifying.
Vettel fought hard to hold off the late charge of Hamilton in Bahrain after a brilliant start had seen him jump past his arch rival going into turn one.
An early pitstop gamble and some subsequent good fortune contributed to the win but the overriding impression was that the Ferrari is still inferior to the Mercedes in the pace department.
Hamilton’s teammate Valterri Bottas sits third in the Championship and will be disappointed that he couldn’t convert his pole position into maximum points in Bahrain.
That has been the hallmark of his season so far – impressing in either qualifying or in the race but not both. It’s only a matter of time before it all clicks into place but he might have to play second fiddle to Hamilton again.
He appeals as the forecast option, to finish second to his teammate.
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari’s second driver, couldn’t quite overhaul Bottas and claim a podium position in Bahrain and he continues to perform below expectations.
Red Bull, who have experienced problems with their engines and lack of downforce this year, have just one podium finish after three races and it’s difficult to see either Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen prove threatening in Russia.
Chinese Grand Prix selections
Winner: Lewis Hamilton (9/10)
Exact Finishing Order: Hamilton / Bottas (5/2)