By Neil Leverett
- Round 16 of the 2019 Formula 1 season rolls into Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix
- Lewis Hamilton still retains 65-point World Drivers’ Championship lead despite going win-less in three races
- Ferrari look to record fourth consecutive season win, after Sebastian Vettel’s controversial win in Singapore last weekend
SOCHI, RUSSIA – As Round 16 of the 2019 season rolls into the Black Sea region, will Lewis Hamilton take advantage of further and growing team unrest at Ferrari in Sochi this weekend?
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Tensions simmer on the Black Sea
As the 2019 Formula 1 season hurtles towards its’ latter stages, Round 16 rolls into Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix this weekend, with tensions high in the paddock after a controversial end to the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend.
Sebastian Vettel picked up his first of the term in the Lion City a week ago – the German’s first in over a year – after Ferrari team orders instructed Charles Leclerc to allow his teammate to pass him in pitting.
Leclerc was understandably irate having once more been forced to tow the Prancing Horse party line, and did not mince his words during the race last Sunday, but now regrets his on-radio outburst, as he told BBC Sport.
“My reaction was well over what it should be and it shows I still have a lot to learn.”
Whilst the Monagesque driver seems to have cooled significantly – having been denied a momentous third successive win in 2019 – questions surely remain whether both Ferrari drivers are on a united front, as the underlying ill-feeling at the Italian manufacturer shows no sign of dissipating.
Flash in pan for Vettel?
Ferrari have been the dominant force since mid-season resumption in Belgium, underlined by Vettel’s win at Marina Bay. But was this just a one-off for the former World champion who has struggled for from and has been largely usurped by his younger team cohort this term?
There is no doubt Vettel has been left in the shadows this season by many of his rivals, and Leclerc’s rise himself has forced the four-time champion to go back to the drawing board – as well as injecting some much-needed life into a flagging F1 season.
But, having ended his win drought – albeit with more than a small amount of intervention – Vettel is a man if nothing else who is hard to shift when he gets into the groove. Though Ferrari’s main man sits in fifth place in the standings in 2019, over 100 points behind his great rival Lewis Hamilton and also six behind Leclerc.
With the latter again fastest in first practice – followed by Max Verstappen‘s surprise pace-setting in second practice – Vettel now must prove he can back up his win in Singapore by perhaps more legitimate efforts in Russia. Race day on Sunday may tell us much about Vettel’s mindset.
Hamilton poised to pounce
With a potential powder keg across the paddock, Hamilton still remains the firm favourite to win his sixth world title in December, still holding a 65-point advantage in the race to Dubai, as the Briton does.
A period of three races without a win however is something of a rarity for Hamilton since 2016’s McLaren-Mercedes’ early monopoly on F1, and failing to podium for only the third time this campaign last time out, the 34-year-old’s predicted romp to victory may not come so unblemished.
Having seemingly dealt with the threat of the ever-consistent Verstappen and with the gap to Mercedes’ number two Valtteri Bottas still requiring the bridging of a sizeable gap, Hamilton still looks to be unchallenged to win a third successive world crown.
For the Briton however, that will sit rather uneasily having traditionally held an iron fist over the chasing pack in the second half of the season, and as tensions rumble elsewhere, Hamilton will look to capitalise this weekend.
Since its’ return to the calendar, the Brit has won three of five races staged in Russia, and with victory 12 months ago in Sochi, Hamilton may see this as the perfect occasion to regain his stronghold, despite current concerns over the McLaren’s performance.
The 2019 F1 Russian Grand Prix Grand Prix takes place in Sochi, Russia this weekend, with the race on Sunday at 12.10pm UK time.
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