Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2014

Safety Car would be a mixed blessing at Sochi

2014 Russian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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With overtaking expected to be difficult and strategies likely to be straightforward, there are concerns the first race at the Sochi Autodrom could be a bit of a procession. But one variable which could give teams a headache during the grand prix is the Safety Car.

As was clear during the F1 practice sessions and today’s GP2 race, the limited number of access points around the track for a car to be recovered increases the probability the Safety Car will have to make an appearance.

In F1, of course, the Safety Car tends not to disrupt the running order as much as it can in other series, such as IndyCar. This is because the moment the Safety Car is deployed in a grand prix drivers are automatically given in minimum time which they must stay above before reaching the first Safety Car line at the pit lane entrance.

This gives drivers the opportunity to make a pit stop without being excessively disadvantaged compared to their rivals. However the Safety Car does affect the race in other ways – most obviously because it shrinks the gaps between the drivers, but also in how it affects their pit stop strategy.

As was demonstrated in Singapore, in a Safety Car situation strategists will try to take advantage of any opportunity to put on a set of tyres which will allow their drivers to run to the end of the race without a further stop. This creates opportunities for others to be more aggressive – as Jean-Eric Vergne and Sergio Perez were in that race, putting on the softer tyres and using it to make up places.

With tomorrow’s race expected to see most teams making a single pit stop, strategists could be tempted to trying to make some unusually long stints work.

The start

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Sochi Autodrom, 2014One thing was clear from the GP3 and GP2 races which took place at the track today – the small kerbs added at turn two did little to discourage drivers from cutting the corner, which is the first braking point on a lap of the track.

Many drivers cut the corner at the start of both races – a problem which was also evident when Russia’s touring car championship raced on the track four weeks ago. In the GP2 race this led to Felipe Nasr receiving a penalty for gaining an advantage by going off the track and passing a rival. Will the stewards be as strict for the F1 drivers?

As Lewis Hamilton has already noted, the long run to the first ‘proper’ corner means he could easily come under threat from pole position. And not just from his team mate – Valtteri Bottas, third on the grid, has got off the line very well this year.

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First race at Sochi Autodrom

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2014The Sochi Autodrom has drawn some unflattering comparisons with the street circuit in Valencia which hosted the European Grand Prix until 2012. But Hamilton is more positive about the layout and the possibilities for overtaking.

“I personally wasn’t a big fan of the Valencia circuit,” he said. “I liked the race track they have which is outside the city but the actually street one wasn’t very exciting. This one is definitely better for me.”

“Whether or not we can follow [another car] – we were just discussing, who knows. They’re medium to fast kind of sweeping corners were you need maximum downforce, so tomorrow will be a true showing of whether or not you can follow.

“But you’ve got the long straights and, for example, turn ten, you’re coming onto a corner which you should be able to follow through there for example, and then you have the DRS straight. Then you have a slower sector with the last sector which then goes onto the long pit straight, which again is very, very long, should enable people to be close and overtake.

“That’s why I think, when you were racing in Valencia it was very hard to follow and then when you did get to those long straights, or the couple of longer straights you had, you couldn’t get close enough.”


While a Safety Car intervention could raise some difficult questions for those worrying about tyre strategy, for their colleagues looking after the engines it would be welcome relief.

The Sochi Autodrom has proved surprisingly demanding in terms of fuel use – so much so that today’s GP2 race was shortened by two laps to avoid drivers running dry before they reached the chequered flag.

Formula One teams have to cope with a strict limit of 100kg of fuel for the race. For the Mercedes runners, Williams in particular, fuel economy is a strength. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Ferrari and Renault-powered teams having to take it easy in the opening laps.

Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’38.7591’38.338 (-0.421)1’38.513 (+0.175)
2Nico RosbergMercedes1’39.0761’38.606 (-0.470)1’38.713 (+0.107)
3Valtteri BottasWilliams1’39.1251’38.971 (-0.154)1’38.920 (-0.051)
4Jenson ButtonMcLaren1’39.5601’39.381 (-0.179)1’39.121 (-0.260)
5Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’40.0741’39.296 (-0.778)1’39.277 (-0.019)
6Kevin MagnussenMcLaren1’39.7351’39.022 (-0.713)1’39.629 (+0.607)
7Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’40.5191’39.666 (-0.853)1’39.635 (-0.031)
8Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’40.2551’39.786 (-0.469)1’39.709 (-0.077)
9Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’40.0981’39.838 (-0.260)1’39.771 (-0.067)
10Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1’40.3541’39.929 (-0.425)1’40.020 (+0.091)
11Sebastian VettelRed Bull1’40.3821’40.052 (-0.330)
12Nico HulkenbergForce India1’40.2731’40.058 (-0.215)
13Sergio PerezForce India1’40.7231’40.163 (-0.560)
14Esteban GutierrezSauber1’41.1591’40.536 (-0.623)
15Adrian SutilSauber1’40.7661’40.984 (+0.218)
16Romain GrosjeanLotus1’42.5261’41.397 (-1.129)
17Marcus EricssonCaterham1’42.648
18Felipe MassaWilliams1’43.064
19Kamui KobayashiCaterham1’43.166
20Pastor MaldonadoLotus1’43.205
21Max ChiltonMarussia1’43.649

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton34.940 (2)33.992 (1)29.366 (2)
Nico Rosberg35.103 (4)34.068 (2)29.353 (1)
Valtteri Bottas34.885 (1)34.099 (3)29.621 (4)
Jenson Button35.162 (5)34.222 (5)29.695 (6)
Daniil Kvyat35.078 (3)34.351 (6)29.708 (7)
Kevin Magnussen35.163 (6)34.115 (4)29.732 (8)
Daniel Ricciardo35.525 (10)34.456 (7)29.554 (3)
Fernando Alonso35.320 (8)34.491 (8)29.751 (10)
Kimi Raikkonen35.257 (7)34.575 (9)29.735 (9)
Jean-Eric Vergne35.363 (9)34.629 (12)29.808 (11)
Sebastian Vettel35.719 (14)34.604 (11)29.686 (5)
Nico Hulkenberg35.573 (13)34.600 (10)29.885 (14)
Sergio Perez35.545 (12)34.667 (13)29.853 (12)
Esteban Gutierrez35.753 (15)34.899 (14)29.884 (13)
Adrian Sutil35.540 (11)34.938 (15)30.049 (15)
Romain Grosjean36.050 (16)35.144 (16)30.199 (16)
Marcus Ericsson36.396 (17)35.597 (17)30.655 (19)
Felipe Massa36.771 (20)35.834 (19)30.239 (17)
Kamui Kobayashi36.692 (19)35.769 (18)30.705 (20)
Pastor Maldonado36.443 (18)35.877 (20)30.646 (18)
Max Chilton36.773 (21)35.928 (21)30.948 (21)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Valtteri BottasWilliamsMercedes332.6 (206.7)
2Kevin MagnussenMcLarenMercedes328.3 (204.0)-4.3
3Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes327.7 (203.6)-4.9
4Jenson ButtonMcLarenMercedes327.6 (203.6)-5.0
5Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes327.3 (203.4)-5.3
6Daniil KvyatToro RossoRenault327.1 (203.3)-5.5
7Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes327.0 (203.2)-5.6
8Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes325.9 (202.5)-6.7
9Jean-Eric VergneToro RossoRenault325.4 (202.2)-7.2
10Adrian SutilSauberFerrari323.6 (201.1)-9.0
11Esteban GutierrezSauberFerrari322.9 (200.6)-9.7
12Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari322.7 (200.5)-9.9
13Fernando AlonsoFerrariFerrari322.5 (200.4)-10.1
14Romain GrosjeanLotusRenault322.3 (200.3)-10.3
15Sebastian VettelRed BullRenault321.7 (199.9)-10.9
16Daniel RicciardoRed BullRenault321.2 (199.6)-11.4
17Marcus EricssonCaterhamRenault319.8 (198.7)-12.8
18Kamui KobayashiCaterhamRenault319.2 (198.3)-13.4
19Pastor MaldonadoLotusRenault317.6 (197.3)-15.0
20Max ChiltonMarussiaFerrari312.5 (194.2)-20.1
21Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes309.2 (192.1)-23.4

Over to you

Will Valtteri Bottas get into the mix with the Mercedes drivers? And where can Felipe Massa climb to from 18th on the grid?

Share your views on the Russian Grand Prix in the comments.

2014 Russian Grand Prix

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Image © Red Bull/Getty

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “Safety Car would be a mixed blessing at Sochi”

  1. Did Massa have any sort of problem? His top speed is rock bottom in that table…

    1. He said to the brazilian press that the car suffered badly from lack of pressure, and the mechanics didn’t have time to fix the problem. He added that the team was thinking even about using a different PU for the race.

    2. @toiago Yes they had a power problem, not sure quite what yet.

  2. I have to say, that Valencia track Hamilton mentioned is fantastic. Really loved back it in the times of my simracing)) It’s got some very nice corners and elevation changes, I think it would be a completely different story if Valencia GP was hosted there.

    1. It’s a bit tight for an F1 race I think. It’s an ok track, nothing special imo.

      1. yeah, it is a bit tight for F1, I agree. Still I really like it, so I guess it’s a matter of personal opinion.

  3. Actually the track is better that I tought. The view is ugly from onboard cameras (difficult to look past the walls and the fences) but there is 2 very good overtaking points (no doubt there will be more overtaking in comparison of an average F1 GP) and there is some challenge for the drivers especially the ones who are using low downforce setup (Bottas)

    1. I don’t think Bottas is using a low downforce setup. His car runs in its usual high downforce configuration.

      Williams even used this neat package in Montreal and Spa; they are so aero efficient that they could still post reasonable top speeds among all the medium downforce cars. Of course, the downside is that their overall downforce level suffers as a result, so it may seem that they are not in the same trim as the others.

      As for the track, I managed some serious optimism before the race, and while I still think there are challenges (T3 on high fuel and worn tyres, the tight braking zone into T13, the blind T15, and the somehow tricky T17), the fun factor is not there at all. It’s essentially a couple of straights, linked by uninspiringly slow medium- and low-speed corners exclusively, where you have to be dogged rather than commited.

  4. This is just ridiculous. A brand new track and the prognosis is “Overtaking will be difficult”. This track designer should be banished to places from where he shall not return.

    1. @seang There was plenty of overtaking & good, close racing in the GP2 race this afternoon so clearly overtaking IS more than possible on this track.

    2. @seang Name any circuit around the world where overtaking isn’t difficult? I don’t believe there to be one.
      I think the reason is, these cars are too close together in performance, the top 15 were only a fraction over 2secs from the fastest car on the grid with the slowest 5.2secs slower. Compare that with the 1993 Japanese GP (also a 5.8km track), in qualifying 1st to 15th was 2.8secs and the slowest was 6.6secs from the pole sitter of Prost.


      1. So what you’re saying is that there is no way to design tracks that aren’t poor for overtaking.

        1. @seang Moreso that not every track lends itself for F1 overtaking – GP2 had no problem.

          1. Again… this track is new. First GP. Recently designed for the premier motoring category. And yet it does not facilitate overtaking. Tilke must go.

          2. PS. Vandoorne would have made it through to Q2!

          3. @seang Should we revamp all tracks in a massive way then? Or just fix the cars? F1 is the only series that has problems with overtaking, possibly alongside Formula Renault 3.5.

        2. @Iestyn Davies,
          The first rule of holes – when you’re in a hole, stop digging.

          I.e. stop designing crap tracks. Again – this track is brand new!

      2. The point is that there are obviously variations in the levels of difficulty.

        The funny thing is that there were more “overtakes” in Singapore than there were in classic races like Monza and Suzuka.

        Although to be fair a lot of that was simply a case of drivers on fresh tyres driving past their competitors on worn out tyres. Hardly worthy of the word “overtake”, but then people voted these drivers for “DOTW” a lot, so it is appreciated as such.

  5. Well we’ll see very shortly but I don’t see overtaking as a problem. I think drivers put under pressure on this circuit have a good chance of making mistakes (or those pressing ending up overdriving) at various corners and driving off track. The problem will be the SC and the unlapping rule which must be the most counter-productive rule ever produced by any sport in terms of spectator experience.

    1. Plus you’ve got that long shallow corner (forget which number: any names??) where drivers were taking very different racing lines – very clear space for overtaking.

  6. It’s an in depth analysis!

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