2016 Russian Grand Prix preview

Russian Grand Prix 2016

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.”

CIRCUIT STATS

2015 winnerLewis Hamilton, 53 laps, 1:37:11.024s
2015 pole positionNico Rosberg, 1m37.113s
2015 fastest lapSebastian Vettel, 1m40.071s (lap 51)
NameSochi Autodrom
First race2014
Circuit length 5.848km/3.634 miles 
Distance to Turn One450m/0.280 miles to the first braking point 
Longest straight 650m/0.404 miles, on the approach to Turn Two 
Top speed345km/h/214mph, on the approach to Turn Two 
Pitlane length330m/0.205 miles, estimated time loss 21s 
Full throttle60 per cent 
DRS zonesTwo, on the approaches to Turns Two and 13
Key cornerTurn 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 corner105km/h (65mph), Turn 13
Major changes for 2016Run-off increased at Turn 13, but no other major changes
Fuel consumption1.9kg per lap, making it one of the most fuel-critical races of the year
ERS demandsLow
Brake wearMedium. 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 changes40 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.

EVENT STATS

Start time15:00hrs local/13:00hrs BST
Race distance53 laps (full world championship points will be awarded after 75 per cent distance/40 laps)
Safety Car likelihood45 percent. The substantial run-off areas make it relatively easy to remove stranded cars.
When to press recordLap 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 onFrom 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 forecast22 degrees, with a small chance of rain
Tyre choicesSupersoft/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: The Shanghai International Circuit has hosted the Chinese Grand Prix every year since 2004, prior to which the sport didn’t have much of a foothold in China. The Zhuhai International Circuit, in the south east of the country, hosted international sportscar races, but it took the construction of a bespoke F1 track to allow the sport to build a fanbase. Shanghai is an ideal host city; it’s the financial capital of China and it’s the only city in China to have two international airports.

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
McLaren-Honda Racing Director

“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
Honda R&D Co Ltd Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer

"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."