Hamilton praying for rain as Mercedes aim to rule again in Russian Federation

Lewis Hamilton walks through the paddock prior to the start of the first practice session at the Russian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton walks through the paddock prior to the start of the first practice session at the Russian Grand Prix

Once again, it was a competitive session with Charles Leclerc topping the times, just ahead of Max Verstappen. The Dutchman will face a five-place penalty in Sochi so needs to make the most of qualifying to avoid being well down on the grid.

Mercedes, he insisted, would continue in an incessant pursuit of improvement. The Dutchman was 0.335 ahead of the Ferrari man, while Bottas was next, 0.646secs off the pace.

"But I need to control myself more and, how can I say it politely?"

"We will not be favourites at the next six races", he said.

"It started off good, then it kind of tailed off, and then it was a bit better towards the end of the second session", he said. "It's insane because you're constantly trying to follow the track progression, and as the track progression goes up, the balance shifts, so you make some changes". You only have a few opportunities to change with the setup [during practice].

"It's going to be tough day tomorrow, but I hope it's going to be raining", he said. "It is not my job to worry, but we are conscious of the position we are in. But tomorrow we are on the good side of things". "There's definitely a load of work for us still to do, but hopefully we can get that done well and put the frustrations of today behind us and retain the good bits that we saw". "It's mostly the balance throughout the qualifying lap". But it is tricky to set up the vehicle, because the first and second sectors are quick and once you arrive in the third sector, the tyres are not in the best shape anymore.

The key question ahead of the weekend is whether Ferrari can keep up the strong performance they showed in scoring a one-two in Singapore last weekend, on a circuit where they had not expected to be strong.

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The big anomaly in Russian Federation is that Ferrari's long-run pace also looks good.

Friday's practice form seemed to back up Allison's assessment.

Ferrari were unexpectedly quick in Singapore, their auto performing strongly through the slow corners, and appear to have made a real step forward.

The 32-year-old said yesterday: "I don't think that you should interpret too much from these messages". I think we understood in terms of set-up as well. Two, I think the package we had in Singapore was going in the right direction, so giving us more downforce, more grip overall.

The only shame is that Red Bull is unlikely to be a part of the fight. In the vehicle it's always very hard.

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.

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