With the end of the 2015 Formula 1 season now in sight, today’s Russian Grand Prix has the potential to be one of the most important races in the championship battle so far.
Nico Rosberg may trail Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by 48 points at the top of the drivers’ standings, but the German enjoyed the edge in qualifying on Saturday as he claimed pole position by three-tenths of a second.
Hamilton will start alongside Rosberg on the front row of the grid, and knows that a win in Russia will give him the chance to wrap up a third world title next time out in the United States Grand Prix.
For now though, here’s what to watch for in today’s Russian Grand Prix.
What To Watch For – 2015 Russian Grand Prix
Hamilton, Rosberg ready for first lap drag race
The Sochi Autodrom is hardly the most inspiring circuit on the F1 calendar, but the long run from the start line to the first braking point at turn two will create a great drag race on the opening lap of the race.
Rosberg ruined his race by trying to pass Hamilton at turn two last year, and both drivers will have studied the 2014 footage to find areas for improvement. It will be intriguing to see how things play out on the first lap between our championship protagonists.
Can Vettel keep Mercedes in sight?
Sebastian Vettel was highly frustrated to have only qualified fourth on Saturday, but remains very confident for today’s race, believing that Ferrari will be able to take a step towards Mercedes compared to qualifying.
Although victory is very unlikely given Mercedes’ dominance in qualifying, Vettel will be doing all he can to keep the Silver Arrows in sight and – perhaps as a first step – beat Williams’ Valtteri Bottas to complete the podium.
Sainz declared fit to race
Remarkably, Carlos Sainz Jr. is set to start today’s Russian Grand Prix despite suffering a terrifying crash during practice on Saturday. The Spaniard pitched under the TecPro barriers, prompting concern for the medical crews that were sent to rescue him.
Sainz was taken to hospital but was unharmed and eventually discharged last night. After passing this morning’s FIA medical check, the Toro Rosso driver will line-up on the grid last – but simply making the start is a shown of great resolve from the youngster.
A happy 250th for Alonso?
Fernando Alonso is celebrating his 250th grand prix this weekend, but not in the fashion he may have liked to. For a driver widely regarded as being one of F1’s all-time greats, starting P19 thanks to a 35-place grid penalty and following a Q1 exit is hardly the fanfare desired.
Alas, Alonso will continue to fight as he has done throughout his racing career, and if the pace of teammate Jenson Button is anything to go by, Alonso could yet fight his way up towards the fringes of the top ten, and potentially into the points.
Mercedes looks to wrap up constructors’ championship
At no point this year has it ever been in doubt, but Mercedes may finally clinch its second F1 constructors’ championship today, wrapping it up in Sochi for the second year in succession.
To be crowned champion, Mercedes simply has to outscore Ferrari by three points in today’s race. Team boss Toto Wolff admitted on Saturday that the team does have special t-shirts to celebrate stashed away just in case they are needed, but this confidence should not be mocked. Mercedes has been a tour de force in F1 over the past two years, and such success is richly deserved.
Starting Grid for the 2015 Russian Grand Prix
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Valtteri Bottas Williams
4. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Romain Grosjean Lotus
9. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso
10. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
11. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull
12. Felipe Nasr Sauber
13. Jenson Button McLaren
14. Pastor Maldonado Lotus
15. Felipe Massa Williams
16. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
17. Will Stevens Manor
18. Roberto Merhi Manor
19. Fernando Alonso McLaren
20. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday.