Formula 1 should be heading into this weekend’s inaugural Russian Grand Prix cresting the wave of excitement at the prospect of a new dawn in the sport, but it instead arrives in Sochi under a cloud following Jules Bianchi’s horrific accident at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The Marussia driver remains in a coma after surgery to treat major head injuries he suffered in a freak collision with a trackside support vehicle, and the entire F1 community will be sending its best wishes while we wait for further news of his condition.
Even though emotions are still raw, focus has to switch to the final four races of the season, which kick off with the series’ first visit to Russia and the purposebuilt street circuit around the Sochi Winter Olympic Games site.
|2014 FORMULA 1 RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX
||Date||10-12 October 2014|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 12:00-13:00|
|Race (53 laps)||Sun 15:00-17:00|
|Lap Record||New Circuit|
|2013 Winner||New Circuit|
* All session times are quoted in Moscow Standard Time (UTC +04:00 hrs)
The Sochi Autodrom is a 5.8-kilometre street circuit designed by Hermann Tilke which winds its way around the Olympic Park built for this year’s Winter Olympics.
As is typically the case for ‘Tilkedromes’ the facility itself is state of the art and the track layout features a number of his traditional hallmarks. In many ways, it resembles two of his more lamented creations – Valencia and Abu Dhabi – with a number of high-speed sweeps and walls placed close enough to punish any mistakes. Added to that, the layout does not look particularly conducive to overtaking, despite the advent of two DRS zones.
The proof will ultimately be in the quality of the racing we see on Sunday’s 53-lap race.
The Form Guide
It being the first new circuit the teams will have visited in two years, the traditional form guide could be given a bit of a shake-up depending on which teams and drivers master the track and conditions the best.
At any new circuit, driving talent will come to the fore. Those who can get up to speed the quickest will have an advantage in being able to customize their set-ups, over rivals who are still trying to master the basics of the track layout.
Some understanding can be gleaned from virtual simulations and video footage, and each team will have clocked in the order of thousands of virtual laps in their simulators to get as deep an understanding of the circuit as possible.
Solid on-track running will be extremely important over the three practice sessions in order to fine-tune the baseline set-ups the teams will have developed.
After all of the concerns about the weather last weekend in Japan, mercifully conditions look to be very stable this weekend in Sochi. The venue’s location near the Black Sea means that conditions are still relatively mild, with top temperatures of 23°C expected under clear skies. Cooler conditions are expected for FP1 and FP3, meaning that Pirelli’s softer tyre options (it’s bringing if Medium and Soft compounds this weekend) might struggle with the lower temperatures.
As far as the drivers are concerned, the championship battle remains a three-way fight between the Mercedes’ of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, while Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo remains in mathematical contention in third. Hamilton’s win in Japan increased his points advantage over Rosberg to 10 points, and the gap between them should see-saw over the remainder of the season.
With the teams keen to maximize the on-track time for their primary drivers, just two outfits – and purely for commercial reasons – are given rookie drivers a run in Friday practice. Sauber will give its Russian test driver Sergey Sirotkin in its troubled Ferrari-powered C33, while Caterham will give Spanish driver Roberto Merhi another hit-out in Kamui Kobayashi’s Renault-powered CT05.
Bianchi’s injuries have ruled him out this weekend, but it is not yet known whether Marussia will field a replacement driver or scale back to a single car this weekend. The team has understandably had far more important things to worry about.
Image via Sochi Autodrom