IT’S a Mercedes-Ferrari battle up front, with Red Bull and Force India running close behind, but the battle for the top of the midfield in the 2018 Formula One World Championship is no less fierce – probably even more enthralling – between Renault, McLaren and Haas.

 Fifteen rounds into the 21-race Formula One schedule, the US-based Haas F1 Team is fifth in the constructors’ standings with 76 points, 15 points behind fourth Renault but with an 18-point advantage over sixth-place McLaren.

 Force India was fourth, but the team underwent new ownership – and thus lost all its points and has to start from scratch.

 In the last race in Singapore, Renault was able to extend its advantage while McLaren closed the gap, awhile Haas finished outside the points for the only the second time in the last three months.

 After scoring 57 points since the calendar turned to June to contend for best-of-the-rest status behind the big three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, Haas F1 Team is in need of another points haul to reel back Renault and keep McLaren at bay. It is also firmly aiming to knock Renault off its fourth-place perch.

That opportunity beckons with the Russian Grand Prix  at the Sochi Autodrom  next Sunday (Sept 30.)

The 5.8km, 18-turn circuit on the grounds of the XXII Olympic Winter Games is a vast departure from Singapore.

That was run in stifling humidity in a city centre where in-car temperatures surpassed 50C, but Sochi, which features wide corner approaches and relatively flat kerbing in much more comfortable temperatures, with highs only expected to reach 24C.

The sole common factor will be the tyres.

Pirelli is bringing the same Yellow soft, Purple ultrasoft and Pink hypersoft tires used in the Singapore to the Russian Grand Prix.

 Haas struggled with that combination, suffering heavy front graining when its cars were on hypersofts and lost too much time changing to the longer-lasting ultrasofts.  

But it gained valuable knowledge which it will apply at Sochi, where its drivers,  Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, have both scored point-paying results. Grosjean finished eighth in 2016 and Magnussen has two top-10 efforts – a fifth-place drive in 2014 and a seventh-place run in 2016.

So, with their eyes fixed on a fourth-place finish in the 2018 constructors’ standings, Sochi can light the torch for another six-race run of points for Haas F1 Team.

‘It’s very tense,’ team principal Gunther Steiner said.

‘As we all know, Renault filed a protest against us to take some points away, which we’ve appealed against.  That gives you a good indication of how tense the battle is.

‘The other teams are trying to get as many points as possible. (McLaren driver) Fernando Alonso did very well in Singapore to catch up.

‘Force India, like us, didn’t score, so it’s all open.’

The team has done remarkably well in its short time in Formula 1. It made its debut in in 2016, becoming the first US Formula One team since 1986.