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Heavy rains and Mercedes ambitions: FIA F1 Russia Grand Prix is underway in Sochi

Weather forecasters predict heavy rains on Saturday during the qualification session

MOSCOW, September 24. /TASS/. Sochi Autodrom, a racing track in Russia’s southern city of Sochi, this weekend is hosting the Formula One Russia Grand Prix for the eighth time and the rainy weather in the coastal city may bring changes in the fight for the 2021 FIA F1 World Champion crown.

Heavy rains engulfed Sochi on Tuesday but they ceded on Thursday, when F1 teams were accommodated at the track. Weather forecasters predict more heavy rains on Saturday during the qualification session.

Alexei Titov, the director general of ANO Rosgonki enterprise in charge of the race organization, told TASS early on September 24 that organizers had taken every measure to combat the consequences of possible rains during the racing sessions.

"Most importantly, we upgraded our drainage systems," Titov told TASS. "The heavy rain on Tuesday pointed out some weak spots and we have taken care of them."

"We are ready [to host the race] even if there is a danger of flooding because all the water will be drained away," he said. "However, we will be following all the evolving circumstances and the final decision regarding the racing sessions would be up to the International Automobile Federation [FIA]."

Following two practice sessions earlier on Friday, Team Mercedes racers dominated the track with Valtteri Bottas of Finland, who set the pace of the circuit in Sochi at 1 minute 33.593 seconds and his British teammate Lewis Hamilton clocking the circuit 0.044 seconds behind him.

Team Mercedes have won all of the Russian Grands Prix since Sochi Autodrom, which was designed by prominent Hermann Tilke, hosted its maiden F1 race in 2014. Hamilton won four races, his teammate Valtteri Bottas stepped on the top step of the podium twice and another victory went to former Team Mercedes racer Nico Rosberg of Germany.

Seven-time F1 World Champion Hamilton is seeking to grab his 100th career win in Formula 1 at the track in Sochi this Sunday, as he failed to do so in the last four of the 14 races this year. The British racer is also currently second in the 2021 F1 World Championship’s Driver Standings with 221.5 points following Dutch racer Max Verstappen from Team Red Bull with 226.5 points in the top spot.

However, Hamilton may be relaxed this weekend as Verstappen would start the Russian Grand Prix from the bottom of the starting grid, because of a penalty imposed following an engine change in his car before the race. The Dutch racer was also penalized earlier to start three places down the starting grid in Russia for his collision two weeks ago at the Grand Prix in Italy.

This racing weekend at the Sochi Autodrom track will also be a maiden home race for Russia’s Nikita Mazepin from Team HAAS, and his car is painted in the colors of the Russian flag.

The Team Haas fleet of racing cars is decked out in the colors of the Russian flag since the title sponsor of the US team is Russia’s major fertilizer company Uralkali. The company’s main owner is Dmitry Mazepin and his son Nikita Mazepin is racing this year for Team Haas alongside Germany’s Mick Schumacher, who is the son of F1 seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher.

Russian auto racer Nikita Mazepin, 22, signed a multi-year contract with Haas F1 Team in December 2020 becoming Russia’s fourth racer to compete in the world’s most prestigious auto racing series, FIA Formula 1. Following 14 Grands Prix this year, his teammate Schumacher is ranked 19th, with Mazepin dead last in the drivers’ competition taking 21st place. Both drivers have so far earned zero points.

F1 Russia GP in Sochi

Sochi Autodrom track is the only racing circuit in Russia hosting a FIA Formula One Grand Prix. Located in Olympic Park, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, the 5,848-meter long racing circuit in the Black Sea coastal area has already successfully hosted seven F1 Grand Prix races.

In late 2014, the Sochi Autodrom was awarded the trophy of Formula One’s best racing track of the year. The Race Promoters' Trophy is a rotating award, engraved with the names of other top F1 tracks dating from 1975.

The contract to include Russia in the calendar of F1 racing for the 2014-2020 period was signed in 2010 in Sochi by then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and former Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone. In early 2017, the contract to hold the F1 Russia Grand Prix was extended until 2025.

However, the F1 press office announced in June this year that the Igora Drive racing track near St. Petersburg would be hosting the Russian stage of Formula One races starting from 2023.