SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Mercedes are not placing any bets on Sunday’s Russian Formula One Grand Prix, with the five-time champions expecting a three-way battle for the win.
The German team head into the race at the Sochi circuit reeling from three straight defeats at the hands of rivals Ferrari.
The latest of those came last Sunday in Singapore where Sebastian Vettel led Charles Leclerc to the Maranello-based team’s first one-two finish since the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2017.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen joined the fray there, beating Lewis Hamilton to the final podium spot, and Mercedes are expecting their Italian rivals and the Milton Keynes-based former champions to once again mix it in the fight at the front.
“I think it would be a brave man who would put his house on any one of these three teams because it looks pretty challengingly close at the front,” Mercedes technical director James Allison, sitting alongside his counterparts from Ferrari and Red Bull, told reporters on Friday.
“So, I have no idea... which I guess is fun for everyone else but a bit more stressful for us.”
Friday’s practice form seemed to back up Allison’s assessment.
Verstappen, carrying a five-place, engine-related grid penalty into Saturday’s qualifying, ended the day with the fastest time ahead of Leclerc. The Monegasque had set the pace in the first session.
Mercedes, winners of 10 of this season’s 15 races, appeared to be further behind with Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton half a second slower in fourth and fifth.
The German team, who in Singapore finished off the podium for only the second time this season, are facing the prospect of their fourth straight defeat, something that has never happened in Formula One’s turbo-hybrid era.
Still the Brackley-based squad, whose last win came at the Hungarian Grand Prix before Formula One’s annual summer break at the beginning of August, are well on their way to a record sixth title double with Hamilton.
They have never been beaten in Russia, which joined the calendar in 2014, and have had the speed to win each of the last three races.
Their qualifying pace and race strategy, which cost them in Singapore, have proved to be their undoing.
“It’s an annoying business, Formula One,” said Allison, referring to the city-state’s floodlit spectacular, where Mercedes were regarded as favourites until Ferrari sprung their surprise.
“You can think you’re going to be good and then find that you get a whipping.”
Writing by Abhishek Takle in Mumbai; editing by Ken Ferris