It’s off to Sochi this weekend, and Mercedes will be looking to bounce back from their disappointment in the desert after Vettel and Ferrari triumphed in Bahrain. Mercedes have had the edge in outright one lap speed but have suffered over long runs, tyre wear an issue particularly in warmer temperatures. A combination of the low wear nature of the Sochi track surface and lower track temperatures this weekend should remove any concerns Mercedes have in that regard, and given their dominance in Sochi since it arrived on the F1 calendar in 2014, this has to be a race where Mercedes should be expected to take victory. Still, we were denied a straight fight between Vettel and Hamilton in the cooler conditions of China after the safety car caught Vettel out, and while it is tempting to believe Mercedes will simply return to dominant form in Russia, they will have to be on their toes to fend off a resurgent Ferrari. To this end they will be hoping for Valtteri Bottas to have a smoother race than he had in Bahrain, when after taking his first ever pole position he was immediately on the back foot as technical trouble on starting grid saw him badly struggle at the start of the race with less than ideal pressure in his Pirellis. Bottas has been a star a Sochi during his stint with Williams, taking fastest lap en route to third place in 2014, and bringing the fight to Ferrari (and Raikkonen in particular) in 2015 and 2016 (read more).
Last years race saw Mercedes Nico Rosberg nab his fourth win in a row to start the season, as trouble hit all his main rivals. Lewis Hamilton’s frustrating start to the season continued, with the gremlins at his Mercedes again in qualifying, a problem with his MGU-H meaning he would be unable to set a time in Q3, and have to start from 10th place. Rosberg had an easy run to pole then, and would be joined at the front of the grid by the Williams of Valtteri Bottas, after Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari was handed a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change. At the start of the race, Vettel made a good start, getting the better of the two Red Bulls, but his joy would be short lived, as he was rammed mercilessly from behind twice in the opening three corners by Daniil Kvyat. First Kvyat bounced Vettel into the sister Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo at Turn 2, with Ricciardo then connecting with Sergio Perez’s Force India, then Kvyat would wallop into Vettel again at Turn 3 as Vettel slowed, this time spinning the Ferrari into retirement! Out came the safety car, in came the Red Bulls and Sergio Perez for repairs! When the race resumed Rosberg pulled steadily clear, with Bottas quickly regaining second place from Kimi Raikkonen after losing out on the initial start. Lewis Hamilton showed the strength of the Mercedes to move serenely through the field up to second position, but his hopes of chasing down Rosberg, already severely dented by the time it took to work his way past a stubborn Bottas, would evaporate completely when Lewis Mercedes started to experience falling water pressure, with Lewis having to be content to back off and come home in second place. Despite Bottas best efforts, Raikkonen would get by for the final podium position, the pace of the Ferrari telling as Kimi got the jump in the pit lane, with Valtteri taking a spirited fourth place for Williams.
Of the active drivers only Lewis Hamilton has tasted victory here then, winning in 2014 and 2015 before Nico Rosberg ended his run last year.
The first race to carry the title Russian Grand Prix was staged back in 1913 in St. Petersburg, with the race won by local racer Georgy Suvorin driving a Benz 29/60 PS (Benz, as in future Mercedes-Benz). The following year a further race was stage, with Germany’s Willy Scholl claiming victory behind the wheel of a Benz 55/150 HP. Added to the success of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the 3 F1 Russian Grand Prix to date, and Mercedes can claim to be unbeaten at the Russian Grand Prix for more than a hundred years!
Attempts to have a round of the formula one season held in Russia date back to the early eighties, when Bernie Ecclestone tried to get a street race off the ground in Moscow, with the race even figuring on the provisional calendar for 1983. Non-committal support from Soviet leadership scuppered that race, but that didn’t stop Bernie’s dream of a Grand Prix in Moscow, with a proposal to build a new purpose built racing track at the Tushino Airfield near Moscow being announced in 1987, although this project would also fail to materialize, and as the Soviet Union collapsed the chances of a Grand Prix in Russia faded. The dream to hold a race persisted, but lack of finance prevented any tangible signs of a race happening, as through the 1990s a number of proposals to create race tracks to stage a Russian Grand Prix continued to surface, but all failed to materialize.
Into the 2000s, and attempts to finally bring a Grand Prix to Russia stepped up a gear, with both Moscow and St Petersburg looking to get the prize of a place on the F1 calendar. In Moscow there were plans from 2000 to develop a new track at Nagatino Island on the Moskva river which were supported by the Mayor of Moscow, but ultimately collapsed on financial grounds.
There were also abortive talks of building a track near the Pulkovo Airport in St Petersberg in 2001, then further attempts in Moscow, with an ambitious development dubbed the ‘Monaco of the North’ proposed in 2003 falling by the wayside as the contractual reality of dealing with Bernie Ecclestone put paid to the developers hopes. Further proposals in Moscow also fell by the wayside without any hint of a track actually being built, until finally one project appeared to succeed, with work beginning in 2008 on a Hermann Tilke designed track dubbed the Moscow Raceway. It seemed there was finally a home for the Russian Grand Prix, but the closest the track has come to seeing Formula One was getting a slot on the calendar for the World Series by Renault, with the series opening the track for business in 2012 – where among other things it witnessed a pair of home victories in the Formula Renault Eurocup 2.0 for current Russian F1 star Daniil Kvyat over title rival Stoffel Vandoorne – although Vandoorne would go on to claim the championship after a season long battle! No F1 race ever materialised at the track however.
The Soviet Union may not have lasted, but Bernie Ecclestone did, and in 2010 a deal was finally struck to stage a Russian Grand Prix in the city of Sochi for 2014. The deal would not have been possible without heavy government backing, and Hermann Tilke was brought in to design a course through the Olympic city of Sochi, and in 2014 we finally had a race, well, F1 came to town anyway!
The race itself was over almost before it started, Nico Rosberg locking up in spectacular fashion into Turn 2 as he attempted vainly to halt team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s title charge on the opening lap, with Rosberg flat spotting and having to pit. Nevermind, such was Mercedes dominance and the lack of tyre wear at the track that Rosberg managed to drive the entire race bar that opening lap on a single set of tyres and come home in second place behind Hamilton, with the result sealing the constructors title for Mercedes. Vladimir Putin presented Lewis Hamilton with the winner’s trophy and Mercedes powered cars filled the top 5 places in the race, with Valtteri Bottas claiming the final podium position for Williams being followed home by the two McLarens of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen.
In 2015, practice was curtailed first due to a diesel spillage on track, and further after a massive shunt for Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, who was ultimately cleared to race despite missing qualifying. The race itself saw another comfortable Hamilton win for Mercedes ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari, with Vettel lucky to avoid hitting a marshall who ran on to the track to retrieve debris from Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso, while Rosberg dropped out with a mechanical failure, with the race long battle between Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Williams Valtteri Bottas providing some entertainment behind an easy win for Mercedes, with the last lap collision between the pair allowing Sergio Perez to claim an impressive podium place for Force India. After being hit by controversy after spraying a hostess in the face on the podium of the Chinese Grand Prix earlier in the season, Lewis Hamilton showed he is an equal opportunity champagne sprayer as he started to celebrate a little too soon, catching Vladimir Putin’s jacket in the spray!
Last year saw Nico Rosberg take an easy win for Mercedes from Lewis Hamilton who had to start 10th due to engine gremlins preventing him getting a time in Q3, while local hero Daniil Kvyat ensured that neither Red Bulls nor the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel would be able to challenge Rosberg for victory after clobbering Vettel into his team mate at Turn 2 and then finishing the job in Turn 3! This year Raikkonen and Bottas managed to avoid each other on track and come home in third and fourth place for Ferrari and Williams respectively!
The track at Sochi is 5.848 km long and flat as a pancake, with less than 2 m of elevation change over the 18 corners and 2 long DRS assisted straights that make up the circuit. Tyre wear at the track is low, while fuel consumption is high, and race day temperatures will be considerably lower than those experience in Bahrain, which should suit some teams more than others!
From the starting grid there is a 450 m dash to Turn 1, the cars flat out through the gentle right hand curve, with the first DRS activation zone immediately on exit down the long straight past the pit exit, the cars reaching their fastest speed of the lap before braking hard as they arrive at Turn 2, a tight 90 degree right hander that serves as the best overtaking opportunity on the lap, and also a tight bottleneck that can lead to chaos on the opening lap – just remember Daniil Kvyat’s rear-ending of Sebastian Vettel last year!
Running wide over the kerbs on the exit the cars move back over to the right of the track as they burst towards Turn 3, a long winding high speed left handed curve. It was Turn 3 where Romain Grosjean lost control of his Lotus and smashed into the barriers while following in the wake of McLaren’s Jenson Button in 2015, and this corner will provide Fernando Alonso with the closest thing he will get to oval racing in an F1 car this side of his Indy 500 debut!
The cars fling out of Turn 3 and after a short burst they are hard on the brakes into Turn 4, a right hander that also offers an opportunity to overtake for the ambitious if they get a good run out of Turn 3 (this was the scene of the collision between Kim Raikkonen’s Ferrari and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas on the last lap in 2015!). Wide over the kerbs on exit of Turn 4 the cars accelerate down another short straight before braking into another 90 degree right hander Turn 5 (again, Bottas and Raikkonen’s battle in 2015 saw them go wheel to wheel through Turn 5).
Again wide over the kerbs on the exit of Turn 5 and full throttle as the cars flick through a fast right hand kink Turn 6, before braking hard into Turn 7, another 90 degree right hander that sees the track begin to double back on itself.
Wide over the kerbs on the exit of Turn 7 the cars drift over to the left of the track down a short straight to prepare to brake for Turns 8 and 9, a pair of left handers that open out into another short straight, the cars back over to the left of the track before braking past the second DRS detection point into the right hander Turn 10.
Wide on the exit from Turn 10 over the kerbs as the cars are launched down a long straight with DRS, the track curving gently right through Turn 11 and back to the left through Turn 12 before hammering the brakes into the tight right hander Turn 13. This was where Carlos Sainz was lucky to escape without major injury after losing control of his Toro Rosso through Turn 12 and smashing into the barriers at Turn 13 in a heavy shunt during practice for the 2015 race.
From the exit of Turn 13 the cars are immediately into a right hander Turn 14, with the track opening out on exit as the cars are launched into another 90 degree left hander, Turn 15, which in turn leads the cars straight into another 90 degree right hander Turn 16. From here the cars have a short straight past the pit entry into a pair of 90 degree right handed corners Turn 17 and 18 to end the lap, with the cars taking plenty of kerb at Turn 17 to propel themselves at the short stab into the the final corner, again using the kerbs to launch themselves down the start/finish straight, with the first DRS detection point prior to Turn 1 allowing the cars launch a DRS assisted move down towards Turn 2.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI:
Formula 1 heads towards Europe with the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi, which joined the F1 calendar in 2014. The track surface is smooth, with mild weather conditions expected, so for the second time this season the three softest tyres in the range have been nominated. But it’s the first time that the ultrasoft tyre has been brought to Russia. In the past, the race has always been won using a one-stop strategy.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS
1/ Purple Ultrasoft
2/ Red Supersoft
3/ Yellow Soft
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW
- Degradation levels are among the lowest seen all season: limited demands on tyres.
- Generally mild weather conditions mean thermal degradation is contained as well.
- Turns 2 and 13 are the heaviest braking zones, with a risk of flat-spotting tyres.
- The final sector is all about traction and braking: stop-go, similar to Abu Dhabi.
- Track not used extensively outside of the grand prix, so will be very ‘green’ at first.
- Most demanding corner is Turn 3: a multiapex left-hander a bit like Istanbul’s Turn 8.
- The front-right tyre is worked hardest.
MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING
“The race follows a two-day test in Bahrain, so it will be interesting to see how the lessons learned there translate into on-track performance and tyre management in Russia. On the face of it, with Sochi being a low-severity circuit and more durable tyres this year, it should be a relatively straightforward one-stop race. However, this is the first time we are going there with the ultrasoft tyre, so the effect that it has together with the new generation of cars remains to be seen. The performance gap between the softest compounds is relatively small, so all three choices are potential race tyres in Sochi.” WHAT’S NEW? · Ultrasoft comes to Russia for the first time: well-suited to low-severity asphalt. · From Australia to Spain, teams have identical tyre allocations: seven sets of the softest compound available for the event, four sets of the middle compound, and two of the hardest compound. From Monaco, normal rules apply: teams will select 10 sets of the 13 available, with the selections announced 10 days before the race.
RUSSIA MINIMUM STARTING PRESSURES
(SLICKS) 21.5 psi (front) – 21 psi (rear)
EOS CAMBER LIMIT -3.25° (front) | -2.00° (rear)
Cooler track temperatures, low tyre wear, it has to be Mercedes right? Mercedes will certainly enter the weekend as favourites, and within the Mercedes camp Valtteri Bottas will be pushing hard to ensure he is in a position where he doesn’t get another message to let Lewis past. Hamilton has been the master of Sochi since it’s inclusion on the F1 calendar, but Bottas, who has been slowly working his way into the grove at Mercedes, was one of the standout performers at Sochi while driving for Williams, and must surely fancy his chances of taking pole position number 2 this weekend! Things could be about to get very interesting at Mercedes. After shouting from the rooftops about their championship hopes last year Ferrari have been trying to downplay their chances and Sochi should provide a solid indicator of their progress – if they can get in the mix here then they will feel confident they can challenge Mercedes all the way this season. While Sebastian Vettel’s confidence seems to be sky high, Kimi Raikkonen still looks a man at odds with his machinery, and Kimi fans will be hoping he can rekindle some of that old magic soon, if he is not to slide out of F1 at the end of the season. Red Bull fared much better than anticipated in Bahrain, and could well prove to be a thorn in Ferrari’s side at Sochi, but for now victory would seem to be out of reach. Of the midfield runners, Williams have always looked good here, and could do with Felipe Massa bringing home some points, while Lance Stroll will probably settle for just bringing it home in one piece after his frustrating start to the season. Force India would be buoyed by a repeat of Sergio Perez 2015 podium, but a run into the lower reaches of the top 10 would have to be regarded as a success at this point of the season. With fuel consumption high at Sochi it could well be a great day for fans of Alonso pit radio theatre, but will likely be another struggle for McLaren, although Alonso did manage to record sixth position here last year, which is sadly about as good as it gets for McLaren at the moment – Indy really can’t come soon enough for Alonso.
2014 – That lock up from Rosberg at Turn 2 on the opening lap – epic.
2015 – Carlos Sainz giving the thumbs up from hospital after his nasty shunt in practice on the approach to Turn 13 in qualifying saw his car buried in the barriers
2015 – Kimi vs Valtteri – a great race long duel
2015 – Vettel vs the on track marshall during the race
2015 – Drivers post race drivers press conference – to quote Lewis Hamilton ‘Best one ever’
2016 – Oh Daniil boy! Kvyat’s opening lap meltdown, and Vettel’s epic rant afterwards!
The only support race on show will be the second round of the Russian Mitjet Arctic Cup.