Reports

Russian F1 Grand Prix

Russian Grand Prix - Preview

Circuit Stats
2015 winner Lewis Hamilton, Lewis Hamilton, 53 laps, 1:37:11.024s
2015 pole position Nico Rosberg, 1m37.113s
2015 fastest lap Sebastian Vettel, 1m40.071s (lap 51)
Name Sochi Autodrom
First race 2014
Circuit length 5.848km/3.634 miles (third longest track of the year)
Distance to Turn Two 450m/0.280 miles to the first braking point (longest of season: Barcelona, 730m/0.454 miles)
Longest straight 650m/0.404 miles, on the approach to Turn Two (the longest of the season: China, 1.17km/0.727 miles)
Top speed 345km/h/214mph, on the approach to Turn Two (fastest of season: Monza, 360km/h/224mph)
Pitlane length 330m/0.205 miles, estimated time loss 21s (longest of season: Silverstone, 457m/0.283 miles)
Full throttle 60 per cent (highest of season: Monza, 75 per cent)
DRS zones Two, on the approaches to Turns Two and 13
Key corner Turn Two, which is preceded by the first DRS zone. The cars have to scrub off more than 200km/h (124mph) in less than 100m (0.06 miles), making it the best overtaking place on the lap as a result
Fastest corner 260km/h (162mph), Turn Three
Slowest corner 105km/h (65mph), Turn 13
Major changes for 2016 Run-off increased at Turn 13, but no other major changes
Fuel consumption 1.9kg per lap, making it one of the most fuel-critical races of the year
ERS demands Low
Brake wear Medium. There are only two significant braking events – into Turns Two and 13; the rest of the lap is relatively slow and undemanding for the brakes
Gear changes 40 per lap/2120 per race
Circuit Facts
History lesson A Russian Grand Prix had become something of a ‘Holy Grail’ for F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone. He first tried to organise a grand prix in Moscow in 1983, but it took until 2014 for the race to materialise in Sochi, 1,000 miles (1,609km) to the south of the capital.
What makes the track unique The Olympic village. The circuit snakes its way around what was the hub of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, taking in the Sochi Medals Plaza and the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
Grip levels Low. The asphalt is very smooth, which makes this race one of the lowest tyre degradation races of the season. The teams are very aggressive with tyre strategy and, in the case of McLaren-Honda, both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have selected seven sets of the super-soft tyre for the race weekend.
Run-off Medium. It’s a street track, so there isn’t the amount of run-off you’d find at a permanent circuit. But two drivers had big accidents last year, at Turns Three and 13, and both walked away unscathed.
Watch out for… The horseshoe-shaped Turn Three. The drivers are flat-out through this 180-degree left-hander, but they mustn’t stray off-line or they risk having a big accident – as Romain Grosjean found out during last year’s race.

The drivers on: the circuit

#14 Fernando Alonso

“I enjoyed racing in Sochi in both 2014 and 2015 – the track lends itself to close battles and I hope we’ll be able to mix ourselves in with the pack again there this year. The long, fast straights are generally where our car is weaker, but it’s very well balanced, so I’m looking forward to seeing if we can maximise the strengths of our package at this track.

“I particularly enjoy Turn Three; it’s a sweeping, multi-apex left-hander that requires a lot of precision; it’s easy to get out of shape as you go around the corner, so good balance and car control are very important. Many of the corners are off-camber too, so it’s fun trying to hook it all up all the way through a lap.”

#22 Jenson Button

“The Sochi Autodrom is one of the fastest city courses we go to, so it doesn’t share many of the same characteristics in terms of set-up compared with other similarly configured tracks. For a modern venue, the racing there has so far been pretty good – the track is wide and fast, and there are a few good overtaking opportunities and some interesting, slower corners at the end of the straights to mix it up a bit.

“The asphalt has a lot of grip, so it’ll be interesting to see the different directions the other teams go in with regard to pitstops and tyre strategy. The new tyre rules definitely spice things up a bit as more variables are brought into the mix, so we’ll need to get on top of that to maximise our chances of keeping positive momentum through to the end of Sunday’s race.”

Event stats
Start time 15:00hrs local/13:00hrs BST
Race distance 53 laps (full world championship points will be awarded after 75 per cent distance/40 laps)
Safety Car likelihood 50 per cent. There was no Safety Car period during the inaugural Russian GP in 2014, but two Safety Cars last year will be factored into race strategies this time around
When to press record Lap One. Turn One is a flat-out right-hander, so the excitement occurs at Turn Two, the first braking point after the start. The cars scrub off 200km/h (124mph) while jostling for position
Don’t put the kettle on from lap 25 onwards, when drivers are expected to make their only pitstop of the race. The top nine finishers last year made just one stop, with Max Verstappen the first of the two-stoppers in 10th place
Weather conditions now 17 degrees and cloudy
Race forecast 22 degrees, with a small chance of rain
Tyre choices Supersoft/Soft/Medium, which are the same as at the opening three races of the season
Event facts
First Russian Grand Prix 2014.
Slogan There’s no official slogan for the race, but Sochi’s Winter Olympics carried the mantra “Hot. Cool. Yours”.
Russia’s F1 heritage There are several permanent circuits in Russia, but the street track in Sochi is the first home of F1 in the country. There have been two Russian F1 drivers in history: Vitaly Petrov and Dany Kvyat.
Smallest winning margin 5.953s, in 2015. Lewis Hamilton won the race from Sebastian Vettel, and the winning margin would have been bigger had two Safety Car periods not closed up the field during an incident-packed race.
Sporting legacy: Ice hockey is Russia’s national sport, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the opportunity to stage a grand prix in the country came on the back of Sochi’s 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The popularity of F1 is growing every year and more spectators are expected at the race this year because it takes place over the May holiday period.
Did you know? Sochi is famous for its tea and is home to the world’s northern-most tea plantation.
Don’t forget McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen finished fourth and fifth in the inaugural Russian Grand Prix in 2014.
Fan zone: Gerhard, aged 41, from Frankfurt, asks: “Does the earlier date of the Russian Grand Prix this year present any problems for the team?” McLaren’s answer: “From a logistical point of view, none whatsoever. The freight flew straight to Sochi from China last week. From a performance point of view, we’ll need to be wary of the weather, because temperatures could be cooler at this time of year than in early October.”

The drivers on: the event

#14 Fernando Alonso

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been too long since we last came to Sochi, but I’m looking forward to comparing last year’s car performance with the MP4-31’s. Our car feels very positive, and our progress is encouraging, but I hope we can achieve the potential we can see in our package and put in a promising performance on Sunday, which is when it all counts.

“It’ll definitely be a tricky race – competition in the midfield is very tough, and a lot of the teams are looking pretty strong, with solid reliability. We had a smooth weekend reliability-wise in China and we’re definitely learning a lot race-by-race, so I’m hopeful we can have a stronger result in Sochi. This race is particularly hard on fuel, so along with the tyre strategy there’ll be a lot of elements to manage. With each day I feel stronger since my accident, and I can’t wait to get back in the cockpit again on Friday and see what we can do.”

#22 Jenson Button

“The last couple of races have been a bit like rolling the dice for us, and we haven’t managed to hook up the perfect weekend yet. We’ve seen some promising results on a Friday and Saturday, but over a long Sunday afternoon race we’ve found it more difficult to maintain our pace. The car feels good and we’re definitely heading in the right direction, but we need to keep pushing and working hard to bring more improvements and power for us to see further progression.

“That said, we knew China would be a tricky circuit for us over a race distance, and we struggled for pace with our tyres towards the end. Hopefully Sochi will be an easier race to manage tyre-wise; we’re consistently putting new parts on the car, and we saw improved reliability at the last race. It’s easy to say we deserved to take more from the first three races, but we need to pull together all of the elements over all three days to give ourselves a fighting chance of scoring some points.”

Hear from the management

Eric Boullier

 

“This is our third visit to the Sochi Autodrom, a fantastic purpose-built facility in the heart of the ‘Russian Riviera’ and surrounded by the architectural legacy of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Every grand prix there so far has been very well organised and the fans make us feel very welcome.

“With each race weekend, we’re learning a lot about the strengths and limitations of our package, and our development programme is relentless as we seek to achieve improved performances on a Sunday afternoon. We know there is a lot of potential in the MP4-31, but there’s still some work to do both by McLaren and Honda to unlock it, which we haven’t managed to do so far.

“Russia was the venue of one of our stronger performances in 2015, and we’re all very keen to replicate that next weekend. Our focus is pulling together all of our strengths and ensuring we can battle with our nearest rivals as high up in the pecking order as we can – and consistently over a race distance. We’re certainly making improvements in all areas, so we’ll be pushing to translate that to the final classification screens in Sochi.”

Yusuke Hasegawa

 

"It has only been seven months since the team was last in Sochi, where Fernando celebrated his 250th race last year, but it’s a pleasure to be back at such a dynamic circuit.

“Sochi remains a demanding track for us. The long straights combined with the stop and start nature mean the balance of energy management is essential to get right during the sessions. Unlocking power and managing fuel will also be key, and, with fuel consumption high, it will be important for us to recover as much energy as possible under braking.

“Overall, the track is quite technical, so it will certainly be a challenge for the team and the drivers. We think that our power unit is nearly there, so we’re looking towards another solid weekend of running and hope that we can be in a position to score some points in the race on Sunday."

  

Russian Grand Prix - Practice Report

“Hopefully we’ll be knocking on the door of Q3 tomorrow”
Sochi Autodrom, Friday April 29

After a busy day of test and development work, Jenson and Fernando finished Friday practice for the Russian Grand Prix in eighth and 10th positions respectively. 

The morning was spent undertaking a number of aero correlation runs, with the afternoon spent honing set-up and conducting longer runs to understand tyre behaviour across the course of a stint.

#14 Fernando Alonso, MP4-31-02
FP1: 1m40.771s (+2.644s) 18 laps 12th
FP2: 1m38.728s (+1.817s) 30 laps 10th

“Getting at least one car into Q3 tomorrow would be good news for us. I think that’s possible. I know in the past that our results on a Friday make us perhaps a little over-optimistic about our chances for Saturday, but the car felt good today. We’re not 100 per cent there yet – there’s still a little bit more to come from McLaren. Let’s see if that’s enough to get us into the top 10 in qualifying. 

"The car was a little unbalanced in certain corners, and we maximise the power, and make the tyre work – at the right temperature, then we can improve on 12th position. 

“I hope tomorrow we can maximise our potential.”

#22 Jenson Button, MP4-31-03
FP1: 1m40.663s (+2.536s) 19 laps 11th
FP2: 1m39.196s (+1.613s) 31 laps 8th

“It’s been a positive day, overall. We’ve been quick on Fridays before, and we know that we face the prospect of having to save some fuel in the race, but hopefully we’ll be able to knock on the door of Q3 tomorrow and be capable of scoring some points on Sunday. 

“If we can qualify inside the top 10 tomorrow, we’ll be somewhat limited on tyre choice, but it’ll be possible to race well from there; you’re with the quicker cars, able to run in the DRS and can let them pull you along. 

“This circuit tends to be quite easy on tyres – we’re able to do a lot of laps on them. I think people are still thinking about one or two stops in the race – most probably one. I think it’ll be an interesting weekend.”

Eric Boullier

 

“The Sochi track is deceptively challenging – and today’s sessions underlined the fact that finding a perfect balance around here is tricky. 

“In the morning, we undertook a significant amount of aero and set-up development work. That made it difficult to get an accurate read on the balance, both drivers complaining that the car felt unpredictable and difficult to drive with confidence. Fortunately, we made a good deal of progress over the lunchbreak, with the result that Jenson and Fernando reported that the car felt much better in this afternoon’s session.  

“It’s encouraging that we managed to get both cars into the top 10 this afternoon. While qualifying inside the top 10 brings additional strategic challenges on race day, it’s our aim to get both cars into Q3 tomorrow. Such a result will certainly prove motivational for the entire team, and a good indicator of the solid progress we continue to make.”

Yusuke Hasegawa

 

“As both drivers have carried over their power units from the Chinese Grand Prix, Honda’s key focus during today’s free practice sessions was to provide stable running, which in turn enabled the team to concentrate on Sunday’s race set-up. 

“It’s too early to tell how representative Jenson’s and Fernando’s practice results are, because all of the teams ran different fuel-loads and settings, but overall our longer stints on the soft tyres have been solid and with decent pace. 

“We know that fuel economy will be tough here, so our main focus now is to manage this in the best way possible for Sunday’s race.”

Russian Grand Prix - Qualifying Report

“We had a good shot at it today”
Sochi Autodrom, Saturday April 30

Twelfth and 14th positions respectively for Jenson and Fernando don’t quite tell the story of the progress achieved relative to our principal competitors at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.

In Q2, Jenson was a scant 0.095s away from a place in the top 10 shootout – despite both he and his team-mate complaining of understeer on their final, flying laps.

With tyre strategy not as clear-cut this year as in previous editions of the race, there is still plenty to play for tomorrow.

FERNANDO ALONSO, MP4-31-02
FP3 12th 1m38.633s (+2.230s)
Q1 8th 1m37.971s (on Options)
Q2 14th 1m37.807s (on Options)

“The lap-times at the end of Q2 were very tight – the difference between 14th  position and a place in Q3 was just two tenths. And, sadly, we’re at the back of that group.

“But that’s the way it is – I still feel that we’re missing the couple of tenths that would massively help us to overtake some of the other cars in this very competitive midfield group.

“While we weren’t in luck today, I definitely think we’ve shown ourselves to more competitive this weekend, and I hope we can recover tomorrow and fight for some points.”

JENSON BUTTON, MP4-31-03
FP3 8th 1m38.260s (+1.857s)
Q1 13th 1m38.332s (on Options)
Q2 12th 1m37.701s (on Options)

“We were so close to getting into Q3 today – we had a good shot at it but ended up a tenth off.

“In fact, it was so close that we were just two tenths off eighth position in Q2 – and despite the balance not being quite there. I think both Fernando and I struggled with the handling – the car was understeering, which is difficult to resolve. There’s a tipping point at which, when you dial in more front-wing, the balance suddenly shifts from under- to oversteer – so we were being cautious in qualifying.

“Tomorrow won’t be the easiest race for us – the lap is 71 per cent full-throttle – but Turn Two is always tricky here, so my aim will be to stay out of trouble, pick up some places and then see what happens.

“I still think a one-stop strategy will prove tricky for most people tomorrow, so that should also make things interesting.”

ERIC BOULLIER

“On paper, it feels frustrating to be lining up 12th and 14th for tomorrow’s race; we’ve definitely made some useful progress since the last race in China – as evidenced by the narrow gap of just 0.095s that separated Jenson from a spot in Q3. That’s the closest we’ve been all season.

“However, we’re pragmatic about where we stand right now: we don’t quite have the pace to be consistent top 10 runners, and we also know that tomorrow’s race is likely to be a tough one for us, because the track layout doesn’t quite play to our strengths.

“But the fact that we’re making steady ongoing progress relative to our principal competitors is a primary motivating factor for the race. And, as such, we’ll be pushing hard to get into the points tomorrow.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“The difference between Q2 and Q3 for us today was just 0.1 seconds, but that tiny gap is still very disappointing. It is representative of where we are now, but we will push even harder to move ahead of the “middle of the pack”.

“As we saw yesterday, we had decent pace in our longer stints, and you never know what will happen within the full length of a race, so hopefully we can fight for points tomorrow.”

Russian Grand Prix - Race report

“Finishing in the points should now be our regular target”
Sochi Autodrom, Sunday May 1

Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button opening their 2016 points-scoring accounts with respective sixth- and 10th-place finishing positions in the Russian Grand Prix. 

For the midfield runners, the shape of the race was largely dictated by a pair of chaotic clashes at Turn Two and Turn Three, on the opening lap. These incidents saw several drivers either forced into retirement, pushed to the tail of the field, or served with penalties. 

Fernando profited from the carnage to vault into the top 10 – an advantage he tenaciously held onto until the finish. Jenson was more circumspect at the start, dropping behind a number of slower cars, then spending much of the remainder of the afternoon steadily chipping away to jump back into the top 10. 

This afternoon’s result is a firm reminder of the progress that’s quietly being made at McLaren-Honda – and a firm indicator of the potential to come.

#14 Fernando Alonso, MP4-31-02
Started: 14th
Finished: 6th
Fastest lap: 1m40.347s on lap 52 (+1.253s, 5th)
Pit-stops: One: lap 21 (3.39s) [Opt/Pri]

“We were lucky in Turns Two and Three on the opening lap – due to those accidents, we were able to gain some places for free. 

“But, as we saw last year, we can make a good start but then not be able to maintain those strong starting positions. This year, it’s different – we have the pace: to finish sixth, and set the fifth-fastest lap, shows that our car is still gaining pace. 

“In fact, the car felt good all race – obviously, we were saving fuel at some points of the afternoon, but, on one lap, I just decided to go for it – to wake myself up a little bit! – and the lap-time showed the potential is there. 

“Finishing in the points should be our regular target from now on.”

#22 Jenson Button, MP4-31-03
Started: 12th
Finished: 13th
Fastest lap: 1m41.720s on lap 50 (+2.626s, 8th)
Pit-stops: One: lap 20 (2.45s) [Opt/Pri]

“To get both cars home in the points – and at a track which we didn’t feel would really suit our package – is a fantastic result for the whole team. 

“As the pack dived into Turn Two, I had to back off because it was mayhem. The bollard at Turn Two is the problem at the start because people are trying to fight through Turns Two and Three. I think that needs some looking at. 

“From there, I was disadvantaged, but the pace was in the car. After that, it was just a case of fighting my way back – which I really enjoyed. It’s difficult to overtake around here, but I was able to make a few moves and enjoy myself. 

“I think the next race in Barcelona will be reasonably difficult for us, but there’s no reason not to look forward to targeting another points haul in Monaco.”

Eric Boullier

 

“A double points-finish is a great result for the entire team, and a real marker of the progress we’ve been steadily making since the start of the season. 

“Fernando drove a brilliant race, displaying all the guile, aggression and opportunism for which he is so well known. His race was established at the very start, when he took advantage of the opening-lap carnage to leap from 14th to eighth. From there, he was able to firmly establish himself in the top 10, gaining two further positions before the chequered flag. Sixth was a great reward for his efforts. 

“That said, he drove a somewhat lonely race, with one eye very much on his fuel-meter. The gap ahead to fourth-placed Valtteri Bottas tells the story of how conservatively he drove his race – and the handful of very quick, unrestrained, laps that he punched in during the closing laps show the potential of what could have been achieved had he been able to run at full pace throughout. 

“If Fernando’s race was defined by the start, Jenson’s only really came together towards the end. He was heavily compromised by the chaos on the opening lap, but pulled off one of his characteristically deft and gritty performances, enjoying a lengthy four-car battle on his way to 10th. 

“This race showcases the collective efforts of the entire organisation – not just McLaren Racing and Honda, but also our key technical partner, Mobil 1, whose oil and lubes have played such a key role in our ongoing development. To our partners, too, their faith and belief is starting to be repaid. 

“While we know that one swallow does not make a summer, we stand firm in our belief that we have turned the corner and will start to make further progress throughout the season.”

Yusuke Hasegawa

 

“I am very happy that we finished with both cars in the points today. Our two highly experienced drivers manoeuvred expertly around the chaotic start and first-lap collisions, which put us in a position to battle for points throughout the race. 

“We knew that our longer stints were good here, but it was a job well done for our team and drivers to manage our one-stop strategy and fuel-saving during the race, which led to today’s results. 

“We know that we still have a long way to go, but I’m relieved that we’ve finally confirmed that we have the true potential to fight within the middle of the pack.”