Brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘Track Profile Specialist’ Alistair Hunter
Firstly, and most importantly, I would like to join all the other contributors at TJ13 in wishing Jules Bianchi a speedy and successful recovery after last weekend.
However, despite the circumstances, the show continues to go on, this time finding itself in Russia for the first time. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton leads the championship by ten points from Nico Rosberg, while their team has the honour of being 190 points ahead of Red Bull, with only a total of 215 points left to get.
The Russian Grand Prix was first held in June 1913, when Georgy Suvorin won the inaugural race in St. Petersburg for Benz motorsport. The team triumphed again in the following year, as Willy Scholl took the race victory. After that, there was no official Russian Grand Prix, although Bernie Ecclestone did attempt to set up a Soviet Union Grand Prix, before eventually starting a race in the then-communist country of Hungary instead.
This was finally changed for this year, with Sochi joining the list of former Olympic venues that now host motor racing, such as Sydney (V8 Supercars) and Beijing (formerly Superleague Formula, now Formula E), and now has the honour of being the host of Formula One in a country that only saw internationally accredited motorsport venture into in the area from 2012 at Moscow Raceway.
The circuit itself was designed by the man who can probably go down as F1’s most famous circuit designer, Hermann Tilke, and opened successfully with a round of the Russian Touring Car Championship in September. This, however, will be a much bigger event than the seventh round of the RTCC, with a lot more at stake.
The circuit is 5.853 km long and has 18 corners. Drivers will complete a total of 53 laps or 310.21km. Starting from the eastern end of the Olympic Park – adjacent to the Olympic Park Railway Station – the drivers will face a long, fast right hand turn, before braking and going anti-clockwise around the focal point of the park and past the medal plaza, and squeezing between the Bolshoy Ice Dome and the Shayba Arena as the drivers reach the 90 degree right hander at turn five.
The Ice Cube Curling Centre will be next up on the tour of Sochi’s Olympic venues as the drivers negotiate turns 6, 7, 8, and 9, while turn 10 will see the F1 drivers whizz past the Adler Arena, before reaching high speeds on the way down to turn 13. Following that, the circuit winds its way around the pit garages and almost creates a nice little rectangle at the end. Unsurprisingly as it has never seen F1 there before, there isn’t much information available, but it is available for you to view in full on Google Street View, conveniently.
Unsurprisingly, there isn’t really much history of Formula One here, so no one should have experience of the track. However, expect Mercedes to dominate, with their drivers winning 80% of the races so far this season. Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Rosberg are really the only people who should be able to stop Hamilton winning four consecutive races for the second time this year. Aside from that, not much else to say on the subject.
Pirelli and Sochi International Circuit
Formula One heads into new territory with the brand new Sochi circuit near the Black Sea in Russia: the home of the 2014 Winter Olympic games. This will be the first new circuit introduced to the grand prix calendar since Austin in 2012.
With the track only having been recently completed, there is not a lot of real data available. However, Pirelli has carried out advanced computer simulations in collaboration with the teams to prepare for the demands of a new venue and predict the likely strategies.
As a result, the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres have been chosen for Russia: a combination that was last seen at the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa.
Sochi is a medium-speed circuit with a variety of different corners, including one left-hander that has been inspired by the long triple apex Turn 8 at Istanbul Park, which takes an enormous amount of energy out of the front-right tyre. In total there are 12 right and six left-hand corners, with a 650-metre straight between the first and second turns, on which the cars are expected to hit a top speed of around 320kph.
The average lap speed will be in the region of 215kph, with the track layout designed by renowned circuit architect Hermann Tilke, whose last F1 creation was Austin in Texas.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Russia is a key territory for Pirelli, along with all the major automotive companies in the world, so we are very much looking forward to Sochi and the first Russian Grand Prix, which is a significant milestone in the sport’s history.
From a tyre perspective it should be an interesting challenge; we’ve got a wide variety of corners that should test every aspect of performance. As has been the case at every grand prix this year, we’re aiming for between two and three pit stops per race and the nomination we have made reflects this. In terms of overall tyre energy demands, Russia is somewhere in the middle, and measurements also indicate low-abrasion asphalt.
Regarding the weather, initial forecasts suggest that conditions will be temperate. Going to a new circuit is always exciting and it’s only when we get there that we will have a complete idea of what to expect, so the work done in free practice will be particularly important for everyone.”
Jean Alesi, Pirelli consultant: “With the simulation technology that exists now, it’s much easier for drivers, teams and of course tyre companies to prepare for a new grand prix than it was in my day. But there is still a big difference between virtual and reality: simulation can never replicate everything.
So it will be important for the drivers and engineers to inspect the track carefully; to understand the nature of the surface you have to touch it and feel it. On the first day in particular the track will be very dirty and difficult to drive, which makes it quite hard to get the right idea about set-up and the characteristics of the tyres.
With no previous information, it’s easy to misunderstand things or go in the wrong direction on set-up, which only adds to the challenge of a completely new venue.”
A lap with Pirelli
The circuit from a tyre point of view
Sochi is not especially similar to any of the current Formula One tracks, but it has some characteristics in common with the Valencia street circuit used up until 2012. Just like Montreal and Melbourne, Sochi is a semi-permanent facility, and it has something else in common with Montreal too, running around a former Olympic venue.
The medium tyre is a low working range compound, capable of achieving optimal performance even at a wide range of low temperatures. The soft tyre by contrast is a high working range compound, suitable for higher temperatures. Ambient temperatures ranging from 15-20 degrees centigrade are common for Sochi at this time of year.
One of the reasons why new asphalt is so slippery is that the oils used to make the bitumen rise to the surface, almost creating an invisible film on the top of the track. With time, these oils are wiped off and the surface eventually becomes more abrasive. If it rains – which is by no means impossible at this time of year – the track is especially treacherous.
Brembo and Sochi International Circuit
Totally new circuit for the F1 circus and several unknowns for the teams that, approaching the track for the first time, will have to pay close attention to the temperature of brake discs and calipers.
Sochi is not one of the most challenging circuits for the braking system, even if the management of the friction material temperature is the key to managing the race with the guarantee of consistent performance and controlled wear. The most critical aspect, with regard to the braking system, is linked to the correct sizing of air intakes that ensure the optimum operating temperature for the brakes.
The GP2 and GP3 series start their penultimate race weekends in Sochi, with Jolyon Palmer extending his lead from the last round in Italy. He won the sprint race after coming eighth in the feature race, while his closest challenger Felipe Nasr could only pick up two sixth place finishes. Palmer’s lead is 41 points over Nasr, with McLaren protégé Stoffel Vandoorne in third the only other driver who can mathematically finish top of the table.
In the GP3 series, there are eight drivers who are mathematically in title contention. Jimmy Eriksson and Dean Stoneman won the feature and sprint races respectively in Monza, but they are only third and eighth in the championship. Richie Stanaway is the driver putting up the greatest fight, but is ultimately 50 points behind the leader and Red Bull Junior Team member Alex Lynn, with only 80 points remaining.