F1 Raceweek: Hope for struggling McLaren and Red Bull in Russia?

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While Ferrari and Mercedes have embarked on what promises to be one of the most intense Formula One title battles, there are contrasting fortunes lower down the grid ahead of the Russian Grand Prix.

McLaren's great toils have been well documented, but Red Bull have struggled to cling onto the coattails of the leading two teams in 2017.

Fernando Alonso will hope for his first finish of the season, having spent much of the time since the Bahrain Grand Prix discussing his trip to the Indianapolis 500.

As teams begin to unpack in Sochi, we examine the talk of the paddock.

 

RED BULL STILL STRUGGLING

Max Verstappen's podium in the wet in China remains an outlier for Red Bull in 2017, as Ferrari and Mercedes appear to have outdone them in the pre-season development battle.

Despite the return of Adrian Newey to the front line, the issues on the Red Bull appear to be chiefly aerodynamic - problems compounded by the Renault engine's comparative weakness in power to the leaders.

Sochi was a tumultuous race for Red Bull last season as Daniil Kvyat's tangle with Sebastian Vettel prompted Verstappen's promotion from Toro Rosso.

The Dutch teen went on to become F1's youngest race winner in Barcelona, and he and Daniel Ricciardo may have to wait for Spain again to end their pain of being marooned on the third row, with Helmut Marko recently promising a "significant step forward" after Russia.


HELP FOR HONDA

Alonso's Indy 500 circus has taken some of the heat away from McLaren after their disastrous campaign, but the build-up to Russia has seen positive reports coming out of the embattled constructor.

It has been suggested that the F1 Strategy Group could agree to soften punishments for using engine parts throughout the season. Stoffel Vandoorne is already facing a grid penalty if he changes an engine, having reached the seasonal limit of four after just three events.

Meanwhile, reports have also claimed that Honda could enter into a partnership with constructors' champions Mercedes in an attempt to bolster their flagging F1 project - a move that could put noses out of joint at the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull.


MERCEDES DOMINATE BAHRAIN TEST

There was not the usual flurry out of the paddock after the Bahrain Grand Prix came to a close as teams were remaining at the Sakhir circuit for an in-season test.

Mercedes were quickest on both days, with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton outdoing Ferrari, having been beaten by Vettel's prancing horse on race day.

With numerous test and junior drivers in action, teams' output across the two days was varied.

The McLaren suddenly came to life in the latter part of day two. It says much about the squad's terrible season to date that Eric Boullier described Vandoorne completing 81 laps and going fourth-fastest as "a bit strange".


A TASTE OF THE FUTURE

And Renault spent the time in between races to offer a possible car of the future on the 40th anniversary of the French brand's presence in F1.

A transparent cockpit and helmet that shows drivers' emotion, LED lighting on the cars displaying lap times and performance and a car safer than ever all feature in their vision.