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Lewis Hamilton is trailing Max Verstappen
Lewis Hamilton is trailing Max Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton is hanging on in the Formula One title race, but Mercedes are now ready to attack the 2021 run-in.

Seven-time champion Hamilton, chasing a record eighth crown, made a stunning start to the season, with three wins and a second-placed finish from the first four races.

In the 10 grands prix since, though, the Briton has taken the top spot of the podium just once, leaving him still waiting on his 100th win after a four-race drought.

Hamilton still entered the mid-season break with the championship lead, but a brutal triple-header saw him slip behind Max Verstappen, who recorded back-to-back triumphs before taking points in the sprint race at Monza, despite then crashing out alongside his rival.

Clashes between the pair have been frequent this year, but a short break before Sunday's Russian Grand Prix has allowed the contenders to focus again.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said ahead of Sochi: "Our aim is to pull together a strong weekend, starting in FP1 and building one session at a time.

"Lewis is in the 10th championship battle of his F1 career, and he is laser focused on what he needs to deliver in the next eight races.

"As for Valtteri [Bottas], he's driving better than ever, like we saw in Monza – and he will be flat out every weekend.

"There's a calm determination about the team right now and the business end of a season, fighting for championships, is exactly what we enjoy the most."

Mercedes still lead the constructors' championship ahead of Red Bull.

LAST TIME OUT

Neither Verstappen nor Hamilton finished in Italy after a remarkable crash that saw the Dutchman's car land on top of his rival's halo.

Both drivers were forced to retire, with Hamilton telling of how he was "so grateful I am still here" and "incredibly blessed that someone was watching over me".

"I don't think I've ever been hit on the head by a car before," he said. "And it is quite a big shock for me."

With the two leading men ruled out, McLaren capitalised with a stunning one-two – their first since the 2010 Canadian GP.

Having just slipped behind rivals Ferrari in the standings, it was a huge result for the British outfit, as they moved back up to third.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN RUSSIA

It will be interesting to see how Verstappen and Hamilton approach this race, surely keen to avoid a repeat of Monza but also unable to risk taking their foot of the pedal in this tense tussle.

Mercedes have won every previous Russian GP, although they have been the outstanding team in each of those seasons. Now they face a real challenge.

The battle between McLaren and Ferrari is just as tense, although Bottas is maintaining a gap to Lando Norris after finishing third twice.

TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS

Mercedes dominant – With four wins for Hamilton, two for Bottas and one for Nico Rosberg, Mercedes have a 100 per cent record in Sochi. No team have won more races at a single grand prix without failing.

Hamilton at home – Hamilton has reached the podium in seven of his seven entries, registering a record four wins. His worst result was fourth in 2017.

Bottas from behind – Five of the seven winners have started on the front row, with Bottas' two victories after qualifying third the exceptions.

Ferrari frustration – Only in Abu Dhabi (12) have Ferrari made more appearances without winning ever than in Russia (seven). They have had two pole positions, two fastest laps and six podiums.

Tight at the top – The gap of five points between Verstappen and Hamilton is the closest the top two have been after 14 races since the 2016 battle between Hamilton and Rosberg (two points).

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 226.5
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 221.5
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 141
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 132
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 118

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 362.5
2. Red Bull – 344.5
3. McLaren – 215
4. Ferrari – 201.5
5. Alpine – 95

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