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Which Mercedes driver will have the edge in Sochi?

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We’re now three rounds into the 2017 Formula 1 season and Valtteri Bottas is yet to outrace his far more experienced team mate, Lewis Hamilton.

Despite impressively out-qualifying the Quadruple World Champion in last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix, Bottas is still 23 points behind his team mate in the World Championship.

So, when Formula 1 hits the Sochi Autodrom for the 2017 Russian Grand Prix on the 28th of April, can the track give Valtteri Bottas the edge he is undoubtedly searching for?

The Russian Grand Prix will mark the first time in 2017 the Finnish driver travels to a circuit he’s previously been on the podium for.

In 2014, when he was driving for Williams, Bottas drove to a stunning 3rd place behind two utterly dominant Mercedes cars and took home the fastest lap award.

A similar result was undeniably possible a year later if not for a last lap crash caused by Kimi Raikkonen. At the time Bottas was running in third and Raikkonen was running close behind.

The Ferrari driver made a lunge at Turn 5, one that went very wrong and caused both drivers to spin out. Bottas’ race was over instantly whilst Raikkonen recovered to P8.

Had Bottas finished on the podium that day in 2015, Russia would’ve become just the second venue (alongside Canada) where he had graced the podium more than once.

Considering the race-ending crash wasn’t his fault, what would’ve been two podiums in Russia certainly shows he able to produce success there.

And, although most of that success was likely down to the strength of the Williams team on a low-aero, power dominated circuit – it still shows that Bottas has experienced running in the top pack at this circuit. This is something he had never previously done at any of the tracks in the first three rounds of 2017.

However, the strong counter to the argument for Bottas’ strength is the undeniably quick pace of Hamilton here. He, too, has enjoyed success throughout the three previous runnings on the Grand Prix.

Hamilton comfortably won in 2014 and 2015 whilst a mid-race technical issue in 2016 stopped his supreme advance on the leader at the time.

Unfortunately for Bottas, even if he has enjoyed success here in the past, this circuit also suits Lewis Hamilton’s driving style.

Sochi’s surface leaves little degradation on the tires and all three previous Grand Prix’s have been won on a one-stop strategy. 2014’s race even saw Nico Rosberg famously take one set of tires from lap 2 until the chequered flag flew on lap 53.

Because tire wear is not a factor in Sochi, each stint should be decided on the outright pace of a driver, a skill Hamilton is undoubtedly unrivaled in.

Hamilton’s success in the previous years in comparison to that of Bottas suggests the Briton should have the edge next weekend.

But, then again, Bottas surprisingly took pole position in Bahrain and then only finished behind Hamilton in the race because of a team order.

We didn’t expect him to pull out such a blistering result then, so even if statistics favor Hamilton in Sochi, I still wouldn’t count Bottas out either.

By – Steven Walton

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