Russian Grand Prix

The actions of Russia in the conflict in Ukraine have been condemned by much of the world community and where, in the past, military actions by other countries would have been initiated – making the conflict even worse – the approach today is to use other non-military means to ‘persuade’ Russia to stop. Economic sanctions are one powerful approach which has had an effect on Russia and various organisations have also taken actions to alienate the country.

The motorsports community has also taken a stand, which started with many of the drivers in Formula 1 expressing an unwillingness to take part in the Russian Grand Prix scheduled as Round 17 in September. The Formula 1 organisation has gone further and terminated the contract with the organisers of the Russian Grand Prix – and not just for this year. The official position is that there will no longer be a F1 event held in Russia although that can well change in future.

The Russian Grand Prix was first run in 2014 and held for 8 years until 2021. The races have been run on a street circuit in Sochi, the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Mercedes-AMG team has won every year, with Lewis Hamilton winning 5 times, Valtteri Bottas twice and Nico Rosberg once.

Will there be a replacement?
The slot for the cancelled Russian Grand Prix could either be left empty, which means a 2-week gap betwee the Italian GP in Monza and the Singapore Grand Prix. If the organisers must have their 23 rounds, then they would either look for another venue in Europe or even consider one in Asia. Vietnam was preparing for its first-ever F1 race but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it and it may well try again to be a host. And don’t forget Malaysia also has a F1-ready track…

FIA’s decisions
The FIA – the governing body of international motorsport – has also announced a number of decisions made in relation to the Ukraine conflict. In accordance with the International Olympic Committee recommendations, motorsport events will not be allowed (until further notice) to take place in Russia and Belarus, and no flag/symbol or anthem of Russia/Belarus is to be used in international/zone competitions.

Drivers, competitors and officials are also affected by the same decisions as no Russian/Belarusian national teams can participate in international/zone competitions (eg FIA Motorsport Games). However, Russian/Belarusian drivers, individual competitors and officials are still allowed to participate in international/zone competitions only in their neutral capacity and under the ‘FIA flag’, subject to specific commitment and adherence to the FIA’s principles of peace and political neutrality. The FIA also forbids any display of Russian/Belarusian national symbols, colours, flags (uniform, equipment and car) or the playing of associated anthems at events.

Additionally, representatives from Russian/Belarusian FIA Members are to step aside temporarily from their roles and responsibilities of elected officers/commissions’ members. No FIA grant will be awarded to the Russian/Belarusian FIA Members, and no existing FIA grant funding will be paid to them as well.

“I want to thank the Council members for their prompt action in deciding these measures in the interests of sport and peace. We stand in solidarity with Leonid Kostyuchenko, the President of the Federation Automobile d’Ukraine (FAU) and the wider FIA family in the country. The measures taken today recognise the authority of the FAU in Ukraine and are also aligned with the recommendations recently made by the International Olympic Committee. We are in active discussions with our members as we continue to extend our compassion and support in their time of need. We sincerely hope for a peaceful resolution to their intolerable hardship,” said the new FIA President, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, after chairing an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council.

URAKALI and Nikita Mazepin
Among the current teams taking part in Formula 1, there is one Russian driver and one major sponsor – Nikita Mazepin and Urakali, which is a major sponsor of his American-owned team, Haas F1. Understanding the sensitivity of association with anything Russian, Haas removed Urakali’s name from its racing cars before the final day of testing in Spain. Incidentally, Urakali, a fertilizer company in Russia, is owned by Mazepin’s father.

The URAKALI name disappeared (below) from the Haas F1 racing car on the final day of testing in Spain. URAKALI is a Russian fertilizer company owned by Nikita Mazepin’s father.

Nikita Mazein, 23, may not get a chance to continue racing in F1 after having started last year.

Mazepin’s future with the team has also been uncertain. There are rumours that the 23-year old driver who began driving in F1 last year will likely be dropped by the team although the FIA has stated that it is possible for him to race as a ‘neutral’ party. If he is removed, his place alongside Mick Schumacher could be taken by Pietro Fittipaldi, the team’s reserve driver.



Max Verstappen had to start from the back as he took a penalty, and while going on the formation lap, he had a battery problem and was concerned he might not be able to start. However, by the time he reached the starting grid, it seemed to go away.

Lewis Hamilton, starting from a few places back, was crowded as he moved forward and without room to manoeuvre, he very quickly slipped to seventh. Perhaps he was being more cautious to avoid any more unnecessary incidents…

McLaren’s Lando Norris, who had pole position, had a clean start but before Trun 2, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz had managed to catch up and slipped past to take the lead from the British driver.

The two Scuderia AlphaTauris had a poor start, dropping backwards in the field. Verstappen meanwhile was steadily slicing through traffic and moving upwards. By Lap 6, he was 14th after passing Valtteri Bottas and 18 seconds behind the leader, while his team mate was up in seventh.

Up front on lap 10, Norris was narrowing the gap to Sainz and staying in his mirrors. 7 seconds behind, Williams George Russell was watching Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll who was just a second behind.

After lap 12, the drivers started to report their tyres going or gone, and visits to the pits started with Stroll being the first to do so on lap 13. Fortunately, the rain that had been expected did not arrive. Sainz came in on lap 15 and Norris, in spite of worn tyres, took over the lead.

By lap 17, Verstappen was up to sixth and just 3 places and 7 seconds ahead was his arch-rival, Hamilton. The Dutchman was pushing hard and clocking about a second quicker than the other drivers ahead of him. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso was next to pass and that might require a bit more effort and then he would be behind his team mate.

Rain began to fall on lap 22 and drivers who had tried their best to stretch their tyres had to start coming in. The positions began to change and though Hamilton had moved into second, he was still 12 seconds behind the leader.

On lap 24, Verstappen again reported problems, this time that he was having difficulty turning the car. His pit stop had dropped him to 12 place when he rejoined but he was trying to move back up. Hamilton had dropped to ninth and was also not bothering about the Dutchman and just wanting to get to the front.

After most of the other drivers had changed tyres, the order had also changed with Perez in the lead on lap 34 and Alonso behind him, both still staying out. Norris, Leclerc and Hamilton were within reach of each other so the battle was on to try to secure third place but Toto Wolff was urging his driver to go for a win.

As both Perez and Alonso came in on lap 37, Norris got back his lead, with Hamilton 4 seconds behind and Alonso having dropped out for a tyre change. Behind Hamilton was Sainz, a long way away with a 22-second gap.

With 10 laps remaining of the 53-lap race, Sainz was battling to hold on to this third place while McLaren’s Danial Ricciardokept trying to displace him and Perez was waiting for the two to make a mistake that he could gain from.

8 laps from the finish, the rain started to get heavy. Though Hamilton has no problem with wet tracks, he was not finding it easy to close in on Norris who was out to collect his first-ever F1 win.

The rain caused enough concern that teams called their drivers in. The track seemed to be getting slippery and Norris was seen to be running wide in corners a few times, with Hamilton getting closer each time. Hamilton was asked to come in but he chose to ignore the call. He was probably determined to be the one to take the chequered flag but Norris too was determined so both drivers stayed out. The British driver was heard to tell his engineer to ‘shut up’ when a warning came over the radio about cars ahead sliding.

Finally it happened – on lap 52, Norris went very wide and off, and Hamilton was ready to shoot by. The McLaren driver recovered and slotted into second place quickly though the next car (Perez) was 49 seconds away. The slide made Norris lose his spirit a bit and he decided he had to come in. As Perez dropped off for tyres, Verstappen suddenly found himself in second place but way behind Hamilton.

With just one lap left, it was to be Hamilton’s win in Sochi – finally reaching his 100th F1 win. Verstappen had done well to come up all the way from the back to finish second while Bottas was able to hold on to his fifth place till the end.

Race starts at 3 pm in Russia/8 pm in Malaysia

The 2021 Formula 1 World Championship takes off again after the summer break as Round 15 is run this weekend in Russia. Once again held at the Sochi Autodrome, it will be the eighth time that Russia has had a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

It’s quite a sprawling venue as the 5.8-km circuit is situated within the complex that was used for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The track is quite flat, with two long straights and a long sweep through Turn 3. However, it is largely defined by a number of tight 90-degree corners which are taken at medium speeds.

GP RUSSIA F1/2021 – VENERDI 24/09/2021 –
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Balancing act in set-up
The contrast between the high-speed sections and the slower sequences means set-up is a balancing act between top speed and good grip/traction out of the tighter corners. Teams tend to run medium to low downforce for the long straights, which places the emphasis on mechanical grip from the tyres.

The track is not used a lot during the season, so it’s often particularly ‘green’ and slippery towards the start of the weekend. This can sometimes cause the tyres to slide rather than grip, especially during Friday’s free practice sessions but, as was the case last year, graining usually reduces a lot between free practice and the race due to track evolution.

Same tyre selection as 2020
For the first time since Austria, Pirelli is bringing the 3 softest compounds in the range for the Russian Grand Prix. This is the same selection that was offered last year when the event was held at a similar time of year. The weather is usually mild but there has been rain during the week which forced the organisers to reschedule supporting events. Although the final price session was cancelled, qualifying was able to be completed.

Mercedes-AMG stronghold
Since the first Russian GP in 2014, it has always been a Mercedes-AMG crossing the finish line first. The team’s 7 wins at Sochi are a record for consecutive wins at a single event. While the Mercedes-AMG team is ahead of Red Bull Racing by 18 points, thanks to Valtteri Bottas getting onto the podium when his team mate crashed out, Max Verstappen has a 5-point lead over Lewis Hamilton. The reigning World Champion will certainly want to close that gap and has the advantage that the Red Bull driver’s carry-over penalty puts his starting position at the back of the grid.

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♦ Lewis Hamilton finally gets a win after 4 races and increasing assurance of another world championship title, possibly being confirmed in Mexico.

♦ Controversies again in the Ferrari camp led to Sebastian Vettel retiring with engine problems and Charles Leclerc losing his lead due to the virtual safety car being deployed.

♦ Red Bull’s two drivers – Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – started the race in poor form, the former having been given a penalty and the latter having had an accident in qualifying. But they managed to finish 4th and 5th (Albon moving up from 20th at the beginning) to collect points for the team.

♦ Poorly planned pit stop saw Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo immobile longer than necessary and dropping way down the field to end 13th. He must miss the lightning-quick and precisely planned pit stops at Ferrari.


(Provisional results)



Alfa Romeo F1


Next race in Japan (Suzuka) on October 13



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