Formula 1

Sochi set for subdued F1 debut amid Bianchi concerns

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Sochi is ready as a subdued Formula 1 community arrives for the first ever Russian Grand Prix.

After hosting a successful Winter Olympics at the start of the year, the park around the Fisht and other surrounding stadiums has been transformed into a purpose built street circuit for this weekend's race.

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F1 prays for Jules

Normally the arrival of a new race to the schedule is met by great excitement by fans and drivers alike, however, events at the Black Sea resort are likely to be overshadowed as the sport continues to pray for Jules Bianchi as the Frenchman begins what is hopefully a road to recovery following his horrific crash in Suzuka on Sunday.

Contrary to earlier reports, the Marussia driver is not breathing unaided but remains in critical condition. Some other outlets claimed Bianchi had undergone a second operation overnight but this also turned to be false.

Drivers, teams and people throughout the motor sport world continue to send their wishes to Bianchi and any further updates, which are not expected until his family arrives in Japan, will be covered on my Twitter page (@BenIssatt) and here on GiveMeSport.

A new challenge

Looking ahead to the Russia race, as always a new venue offers a new challenge for teams and drivers.

From looking at the Sochi layout we can expect a quick circuit with two long straights and a mix of slow and medium speed turns.

The unique feature will comes in the long left-hander that is in theory a straight between turns two and four. This will put massive load through the tyres as will the middle sector that is characterised by several 120mph+ turns and a long straight.

On a qualifying lap it will also be about keeping life in the tyres for a tricky sequence of slow corners comprising of two chicanes and two 90-degree right-handers at the end of the lap. These will call for good traction so if a driver overheats his tyres through the fast corners he will lose out in this final sector.

Mercedes favourites

A new circuit, but likely little change in the pecking order as Mercedes will continue to lead from the front.

The Brackley team could make history as well as they will almost certainly wrap up the Constructors' championship becoming the first team not named Red Bull to be crowned this decade.

The long straights may also help Williams in their quest to be 'best of the rest' behind the Silver Arrows.

Before the rain hit Suzuka on Sunday, the Grove team were indeed in that position on a circuit most believed would suit Red Bull so on a circuit that will match more the strengths of the FW36 expect a good battle for the final place on the podium.

Assessing the midfield

Ferrari, McLaren, Force India and Toro Rosso will continue their epic midfield battle behind.

For Ferrari they seem to be falling back in their battle for third in the Constructors' with Williams and with speculation still rampant over the future of Fernando Alonso and now the worries over their young driver Jules Bianchi, it is proving a difficult end to the year for the Italian team.

McLaren pegged the gap to their chief rivals Force India to a point with Jenson Button's fifth place finish in Japan.

The Woking team has looked in better shape in recent races and on a more power-dependent circuit as Sochi will likely be, they too will be in the fight for good points.

As for Force India they continue the trait of being terrible in qualifying but recovering in the race. The team had both cars in the points at Suzuka, albeit in eighth and tenth, but if they want to hold on to fifth in the championship ahead of McLaren, Saturday is where they need to improve.

Finally Toro Rosso and despite being in no-mans land in the championship continue to be the pest that the other teams have to deal with.

On raw pace they seem the sixth best on the grid, but reliability continues to be their main issue, the good top speed of the STR9 will help on what looks to be a good track for overtaking, so don't be too surprised to see them battling in the points.

Daniil Kvyat set for home race

Certainly we can expect plenty of eyes to be on the man who will replace Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull in 2015, Daniil Kvyat.

The 20-year-old Russian will take part in his first home race and with the likely boost in confidence after getting the call up from the senior Red Bull team, could be one to watch in Sochi.

Time running out for Sauber

At Sauber another Russian, teen Sergey Sirotkin, will make his official debut driving in the first Friday practice session, but the team itself is running out of time in its mission to overhaul Marussia in the Constructors' championship.

Still pointless, this is the Swiss team's worst season in their history and frankly need a miracle if they are to score the three points required.

The pace is not there and even when there is a possibility of a high attrition race, like Sochi maybe, Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez always seem part of the list of retirements.

Concern at Caterham?

After the news broke of bailiffs taking equipment from their factory in Leafield, eyes will be on Caterham and whether they will be able to race normally this weekend.

On the track things looked up as they were able to beat Marussia in qualifying thanks to Marcus Ericsson and the new parts brought to Suzuka had looked to make the team a little more competitive, we can expect more developments on their situation as the week progresses.

Hamilton vs. Rosberg

At the front, however, we can expect another great battle between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

The Briton landed another blow to his team-mate's championship hopes moving 10 points clear with victory at Suzuka. Yet what Japan did prove is, after a few difficult races, Rosberg won't be beaten easily.

The rivalry, however, has certainly been taken down a notch or two given the events of Suzuka, not that both men are still desperate to be crowned champion, but Bianchi's incident has brought a new sense of realism and that amid the back and forth antics, the sport which they race and we love can still bite from time-to-time.

#ForzaJules

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