The F1 paddock moves to Russia for round 4 of the Formula 1 season with Lewis Hamilton looking to claw back his points deficit.
The Russian Grand Prix is held at the Black Sea resort town of Sochi where the Winter Olympics were held. The Sochi Autodrom – located some three hour plane flight from Moscow – first hosted Russia’s inaugural F1 race in 2014 despite decades of effort to get the country onto the race calendar.
The track itself is unique by integrating some of the Winter Olympic infrastructure – the iconic Turn 3 loops around the Olympic flags – with public roads. It is one of the longest circuits on the F1 calendar at 5.848 kilometres and includes many of Herman Tilke’s signature designs mixing long straights and sweeping overtaking corners in Sections 1 and 2 with some more technical 90-degree turns in Section 3.
“It’s a very modern track with a few corners that look quite similar but they are never as easy as they might look, because you have to try and drive the car on the limit each time you turn.” said Russia’s Red Bull driver, Daniil Kyvat.
“I think Turn 4 is the nicest corner, and it’s also the grandstand named after me. I see my face on that corner often during the race, and that support is really nice.”
Less Strategy, More Preservation
A range of factors conspire to make this race less likely to be determined by strategy. The relatively new and smooth surface is less abrasive on the Pirelli tyres and degradation last year was estimated at just a hundredth of second per lap for the soft and two hundredths for the super-soft. All of this means that most teams will likely do long stretches on the super-softs and make only one pit-stop.
While the track is easy of the tyres, the heavy braking and acceleration does put pressure on fuel consumption. In fact, Kevin Magnussen said in 2014 when driving for McLaren that his afternoon “was almost like a chilled-out Sunday drive” such was the need to conserve fuel. After the hustle and bustle of the opening laps expect many drivers to take their foot off the throttle and save some fuel.
Can Ferrari Make Their Mark?
With most teams likely to run the same strategy and reduce pace to conserve fuel, there is enormous importance on qualifying and securing a strong track position.
If the Ferrari’s can start at the front of the grid and have a good opening lap, it could well set them up for their first victory of the season and end Rosberg’s amazing record of six straight wins. Perhaps trying to bridge the already large gap to Mercedes, Ferrari is said to be bringing an engine upgrade to Russia.
But qualifying will not be a walk in the park at the Sochi Autodrom. The track layout makes it difficult to get heat into the front tyres for the flying qualifying lap while still ensuring the rear tyres don’t overheat.
Time for Hamilton To Make a Move
There are still 18 races remaining in the long 2016 season. But Lewis Hamilton will want to quickly build some momentum and reduce Nico Rosberg’s 36 point lead. After all, Rosberg now has the upper-hand and is in a fortunate position where he can afford a mechanical error or poor race without seriously hurting his championship hopes.
Hamilton, though, has form in bouncing back having made-up a cumulative deficit of 83 points over the 2014 season to win the title by 67 points.
“After all these years, experience has taught me to stay calm and keep pushing forwards when I get knocked back.”
“I’ve been here before a few times now. A lot can happen over the next 18 race weekends and I have the utmost confidence in this team.”
“But adversity is part of the journey: it brings us closer, makes us stronger and I know that together we’ll bounce back, so I’m confident of better weekends to come.”
The race will start at 15:00 local time and will run over 53 laps.