TALKING POINTS OF THE RUSSIAN GP | RACING NEWS | AUTO REPORTER
Mugello headed the halfway point in the 2020 Formula 1 season, and now we head to the first standalone race of the year in Russia. So as F1 plans for what could be a vital weekend in Sochi, we take a look at what we're suspecting to be the main talking points when the enclosure meets on the coast of the Black Sea.
Hamilton eyes Schumacher's record
Some records look untouchable when set, and Michael Schumacher's record of 91 Grand Prix victories indeed was one of those. That's not an underestimate either, because Schumacher took the former mark of 51 wins – held by Alain Prost – and almost doubled it.
And yet we head to Sochi with Lewis Hamilton just one victory apart from matching Schumacher's benchmark. Given the current form, you'd be a bold person to bet against him bettering it soon.
Whenever it happens, there will surely be similarities. Still, Hamilton is likely to face loads of questions about the number in the build-up to the race, while scholars will be debating just where he stands with the all-time greats, and how unique matching Schumacher will be.
Ferrari upgrades incoming
It's appropriate to say the last triple-header was not the common productive for Ferrari, as they secured only five points in total over the three races at Spa, Monza, and Mugello.
The importance of power unit performance at the first two venues of that run is reflected in the case that all five points came at Mugello. Still, also then, a return of eighth and 10th in a race that featured just 12 finishers was merely something to get too excited about.
Ferrari is confident that other tracks will suit their car properly as the season goes on, but are also practical that they have shifted further back in the midfield and that the vehicle needs updating. There will be upgrades in Russia, but Team Principal Mattia Binotto has already informed fans not to expect too much of them.
Perez's F1 future
We missed a trending topic in Mugello was Sebastian Vettel's confirmation as an Aston Martin driver for 2021. Talks surrounding Vettel's future had been circling for months. Still, once the deal was actually done, everything moved very quickly, and it all goes Sergio Perez without a seat for next year.
The Mexican has given his lineage with eight career podiums, and at 30, he's in his prime, so it will be an engaging proposal for the teams yet to finalize their driver line-ups for next year.
Perez is not alone, either, with the driver who substituted him at Racing Point in Silverstone – Nico Hulkenberg – also a strong talent who is on the run. There are many good opportunities for the teams further down the grid who have just observed the driver market fun unwrap elsewhere.
Growing frustration for Verstappen
As Hamilton has been closing in on Schumacher's win record, he has also been dragging comfortably clear of any title threat from Max Verstappen. But that is as much down to authenticity woes at Red Bull than Hamilton's performances.
After Spain, Verstappen was developing as a little bit more than an irritant for Hamilton, as he was always finishing in the top three and had shown he could sneak a win. He kept the stress on flawlessly also in secondary machinery. His retirement from the first round in Austria reached out as frustration, as it enabled the gap to be much more vital than it might have been.
But then in Monza and Mugello, there were two more retirements to add to the record, with Verstappen hindered by power unit concerns at both races. Technically it was communicated on Lap 1 that dropped him from the race in Tuscany. Still, Verstappen was previously diving down the field due to a lack of power on the run to Turn one after an extraordinary opening getaway.
For the first time in the Red Bull-Honda era, Verstappen's patience is getting examined, so it will be exciting to see how he reacts this weekend and during the season.
As exciting as Mugello was, there was a troubling bit when several cars crashed when the Safety Car restart early on, letting the race's first red flag. The FIA was interested in highlighting that leader Valtteri Bottas did nothing wrong with his control of the circumstances, but warned 12 drivers for their driving, saying it all linked to the occurrence.
Some drivers were crucial to how late the Safety Car lights were switched off, pushing Bottas into a late restart, and said it is being done for entertainment purposes, something FIA race director Michael Masi vehemently denies.
It will be a topic through this weekend's drivers' briefing, and if there's a specific way of evading a repeat, we could see new guidelines given as a result.