The F1 circus returns to Sochi this weekend and the landscape is completely different since the last time the drivers visited the Russian circuit.

Usually, it is Mercedes and Ferrari going toe-to-toe but now it appears to just be Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, with a sprinkling of Max Verstappen now and again. However, this season hasn’t been about the front runners as such, but more about the ‘best of the rest’.

The elusive third step on the podium has been graced by a multitude of different drivers and has been key in defining the midfield battle. We’re also coming off the back of two of the most exciting races in decades, with Pierre Gasly getting his maiden victory for Alpha Tauri at Monza, and Alex Albon stepping onto the podium for the first time at Mugello.

Mercedes battle

The Russian Grand Prix is always a thrilling watch with a difficult and turning track that can easily catch drivers out. Qualifying has been hard for the Mercedes pair in the past, with Hamilton and Bottas only having one pole each to their name. In fact, Hamilton hasn’t managed pole since the inaugural race in 2014. Despite these qualifying struggles, the Brit has still won the race four times, and is 4/9 to do it again this weekend.

The ‘Flying Finn’ Bottas tends to be quick around the Sochi Autodrom and will be fancying his chances off the back of some tough weeks. Last time out was a fresh blow after requesting the opposite strategy to Hamilton during their pit windows, only to be given the same one. Bottas will be hoping to bounce back here at 10/3.

Straight to the (Racing) Point

Mercedes have won every single Russian Grand Prix and if all goes to plan, they look incredibly difficult to stop. However, that third spot on the podium has proved hard to get for Red Bull over the years. They have never managed to get a driver on the podium in Sochi and after two poor races for Verstappen, he’ll be all guns blazing to get his season back on track and is 8/13 for a podium finish.

Only two teams other than Mercedes or Ferrari have managed to make it on the podium at Sochi. It was Bottas who piloted Williams to a third-place finish back in 2014, but with their current issues, they’ll be more interested in trying to get their first points of the season. George Russell had an excellent opportunity in Mugello to do this but narrowly missed out. He is priced at 5/1 to get his maiden Formula One points this weekend.

The other team are Racing Point (then known as Force India). Sergio Perez was the last non-Ferrari/Mercedes driver to stand on the podium in Russia and he has a great chance of doing it once more. The Mexican has been dealt a heavy blow after it was revealed he would be being replaced by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel at Racing Point next season and he will be out to prove to other teams still in the market for a driver that he still deserves a drive in F1.

Perez is in a car that has already been on the podium this season when team-mate Lance Stroll got third at Monza, and he was rapid in the first part of the season. With a strong car, the Pink Panthers could cause Red Bull some issues. Perez is favoured at 7/2 to step onto the podium over his teammate Stroll, who is priced at 11/2.

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