Formula 1 this weekend visits the Winter Olympics venue turned motor-racing circuit at Sochi for the second running of the Russian Grand Prix.
|2015 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix|
|Date||9-11 October 2015||Lap Length||5.848km|
|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||Qualifying||Sat 15:00-16:00|
|Race (53 laps)||Sun 14:00-16:00||2014 Winner||Lewis Hamilton|
Session times quoted in Moscow Standard Time (GMT + 03:00)
The Sochi Autodrom is a 5.8-kilometre semi-street circuit designed by Hermann Tilke, with the layout winding its way around the Olympic Park built for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
As is typically the case for many ‘Tilkedromes’ the facility itself is state of the art and 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 reasonably close enough to punish any mistakes.
Unfortunately, the layout did not look particularly conducive to overtaking – despite the placement of two DRS zones – and the inaugural event proved to be one of the dullest races of the season.
Rewind to 2014
The inaugural Russian Grand Prix fell smack in the middle of Lewis Hamilton’s dominant run of seven successive Grand Prix victories that helped sweep him to a second Drivers’ Championship title by the end of the season.
The Mercedes driver dominated the race after teammate Nico Rosberg once again blew his chances at trying to mount a challenge, this time with a costly first-lap error when he badly flatspotted his tyres trying to wrestle the lead of the race from Hamilton shortly after the start.
Rosberg was forced to pit at the end of the first lap and ran on the replacement set of tyres for the next 52 laps until the chequered flag, recovering to finish in an impressive second place. He was, in essence, one of the few drivers who could actually make an overtaking attempt stick in a truly dull race – which only served to highlight the incredible superiority of the Mercedes and the rather abject nature of the Sochi circuit.
The 1-2 finish gave Mercedes its first Constructors’ Championship title and rightful cause for celebration in a year which they had truly dominanted.
The paddock was, however, still reeling from Jules Bianchi’s (ultimately fatal) accident a week before at Suzuka, and the sadness was rather offset by a bizarre pre-race propaganda ceremony involving dancing Cossacks and kings, while Russia’s controversial president Vladimir Putin was on-hand to give Hamilton the race-winner’s trophy. It was a very odd weekend to say the least…
The Form Guide
This weekend could see Mercedes repeat the dose and secure back-to-back Constructors’ Championship crowns, one year on from achieving the feat for the first time.
The Silver Arrows have been the dominant player when the V6 turbo-hybrid era was introduced in 2014, sweeping to a Drivers’/Constructors’ double that year and looking equally untouchable this year. The team has amassed 506 points to Ferrari’s 337 to-date in 2015 and will need to leave Sochi with at least a 172-point advantage to sew up the title. If it can outscore Ferrari by three points this weekend, it will have done enough.
That, however, is no guarantee. Pirelli is bringing along its Super Soft and Soft tyre compounds this weekend, the same compound combination that saw Mercedes genuinely look beatable at both the Hungaroring and Singapore. On both occasions, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was on hand to claim the spoils and ensure victory would be his…
While the Mercedes’ might not be at the top of their game, the focus within the team will be on whether Nico Rosberg has a chance of denying Hamilton a third championship crown. The pair are separated by a hefty 48 points with just five races to run, so the maths and form clearly sit in Hamilton’s favour.
Rosberg will have to start looking rearwards, however, as finishing runner-up to Hamilton in the standings is by no means a certainty either. Just eleven points adrift is his German compatriot Vettel, who has led the charge in a largely impressive revival season for Ferrari.
The other driver to keep an eye out for is Daniil Kvyat, who will be solely focused on impressing on home soil as the only Russian driver in the Formula 1 field. Kvyat qualified a superb fifth-fastest here last year in the rather less-fancied Toro Rosso, but was let down by having to conserve fuel consumption during the race and fell to fourteenth place.
This year Kvyat is racing for the more senior Red Bull Racing stable, but its troubled chassis/engine package is unlikely to find much love around the Sochi circuit. If he can get in the points, it will be an improvement on last year, but still well short of what his fans would hope for.
Images via XPB Images