Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2014

Expect a Mercedes coronation in Russia – not another Singapore slip-up

2015 Russian Grand Prix preview

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Track data: Sochi Autodrom

Lap length5.853km (3.637 miles)
Grand prix distance310.209km (192.755 miles)
Lap record (in a race)1’40.896 (Valtteri Bottas, 2014)
Fastest lap (any session)1’38.338 (Lewis Hamilton, 2014, qualifying three)
Tyre compoundsSoft and super-soft
2014 Rate the Race4.06/10
2014 Driver of the WeekendLewis Hamilton

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Sochi Autodrom track data in full

Mercedes is poised to clinch its second constructors’ championship title this weekend at the same venue where they won it last year. The reigning champions need only to increase their margin over closest rivals Ferrari by three points in Russia to retain their crown.

That kind of points haul hasn’t been difficult for the three-pointed star to come by at most weekends this year. But could Sochi trip them up the same way another temporary street circuit – Singapore – did?

Mercedes’ executive director for technical Paddy Lowe said the inaugural Russian Grand Prix last year presented the teams with some unusual challenges.

“This was a tricky weekend last season with a new circuit to learn and fresh tarmac which produced slightly unusual behaviour from the tyres,” he said.

“This year we have moved one step softer on the compounds to bring the soft and supersoft into play – perhaps influenced by Nico [Rosberg] running almost the entire race last year on a single set of tyres. One year on, the track surface will have weathered differently so we must ensure we have all eventualities covered.”

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Sochi Autodrom, 2014
Sochi’s first race was a lifeless affair
Sochi’s climate is considerably warmer than the rest of Russia and even in winter average minimum temperatures are above freezing point. The track hasn’t experienced the kind of harsh winter conditions other F1 venues such as the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal do. Having studied recent samples of the track Pirelli has determined its characteristics have changed little and the surface remains smooth, so the teams are likely to find it still offers extremely low levels of grip.

Mercedes explained their Singapore struggles being down to the unusual nature of the track, which is one they hadn’t dominated at in 2014: In a season where they were 0.881s faster than their closest rivals on average, Mercedes’ margin in Singapore was just 0.164s. In Russia it was a more typical 0.592s.

However that may change as Pirelli is bringing different tyres for this year’s race. Having understandably played it safe for the first event 12 months ago, Pirelli has been emboldened to bring its softest compounds this year. If Mercedes do run into trouble this weekend Ferrari should be well-place to take advantage as they have tended to perform well on this rubber.

It remains to be seen whether the softer tyres will inject some action into what F1 Fanatic readers deemed the worst race of 2014 by far. The Sochi Autodrom drew comparison with the little-loved Valencia street circuit. But even that track managed to produce one memorable race, and given the right circumstances any venue can serve up a good grand prix.

Russian Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Mercedes

Rosberg said he took heart from his pass on Valtteri Bottas and subsequent overhauling of Sebastian Vettel in Japan – but he still failed to capitalise on an opportunity to take points off his team mate. At this late stage Rosberg needs more than just a DNF for Hamilton to become a serious title threat – he has to raise his game.

Red Bull

This was a tough race for Red Bull last year, who managed a best of seventh. Daniil Kvyat shone in qualifying last year for Toro Rosso but struggled in the race and arrives at his home event this year needing to bounce back after a few indifferent performances.

Williams

Bottas kept the Mercedes pair honest at Sochi last year, coming close to taking pole position. “We were close to Mercedes in Japan and I think we can be close again in Sochi just like we were in 2014,” he said.

Ferrari

The Ferraris have qualified strongly on the super-soft tyre this year so keep an eye on Sebastian Vettel on Saturday. A repeat of his sensational Singapore pole position seems unlikely, but that wasn’t the first time he’d beaten a Mercedes in qualifying this year.

McLaren

Sochi will offer McLaren little respite from the usual grind of extracting the most from its uncompetitive Honda power plant. This is one of the toughest tracks for fuel consumption which, as we saw in Canada, is another of the team’s major weaknesses. Jenson Button has shown faith in the project by continuing with the team for 2016.

Force India

The team has been competitive thanks to its improving VJM08 but accidents have prevented them getting both cars home in points-scoring positions recently: Sergio Perez was hit at the start in Japan and Nico Hulkenberg tripped over Felipe Massa in Singapore. If its drivers can stay out of trouble they should be solidly inside the top ten at a track like Sochi.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso excelled in qualifying last year where they managed to extract good traction from their tyres on the low-grip surface, but come the race their fuel consumption weakness was exposed. Neither driver has prior experience of Sochi, so expect to see both piling on the miles in practice.

Lotus

Lotus is in a kind of limbo as it waits for Renault to complete its takeover of the team. In the meantime Romain Grosjean, who already has one foot out of the door, reckons “it could well be a strong race for the E23” this weekend.

Sauber

Both drivers raced at Sochi last year – Felipe Nasr in the GP2 support events. The team’s recent upgrade package doesn’t seem to have delivered the results the team were hoping for as yet, but as they lack a simulator it may be that they simply need more track time.

Manor

Roberto Merhi will be back alongside Will Stevens this weekend as Alexander Rossi is racing in GP2. Exciting times lie ahead for this team with their recent confirmation of Mercedes power and Williams support for next season, but points are unlikely before then.

2015 driver form

DriverGrid averageRace averageRace bestRace worstClassifiedForm guide
Lewis Hamilton1.431.771613/14Form guide
Nico Rosberg2.433.5711714/14Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo8.007.8321512/14Form guide
Daniil Kvyat10.717.8321312/13Form guide
Felipe Massa6.867.4631713/14Form guide
Valtteri Bottas5.936.3131413/14Form guide
Sebastian Vettel4.503.4311214/14Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen6.644.732811/14Form guide
Fernando Alonso15.3811.435187/13Form guide
Jenson Button16.5012.758168/13Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg11.009.4061510/14Form guide
Sergio Perez11.369.3151313/14Form guide
Max Verstappen12.219.9041710/14Form guide
Carlos Sainz Jnr11.7110.118139/14Form guide
Romain Grosjean9.508.5031310/14Form guide
Pastor Maldonado11.2910.507156/14Form guide
Marcus Ericsson13.7111.6281413/14Form guide
Felipe Nasr13.5011.5452013/13Form guide
Will Stevens17.8516.00131911/12Form guide
Roberto Merhi18.0915.40121810/11Form guide
Kevin Magnussen17.000/0Form guide
Alexander Rossi19.5016.0014182/2Form guide

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Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, Sochi Autodrom, 2014
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Author information

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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23 comments on “Expect a Mercedes coronation in Russia – not another Singapore slip-up”

  1. I think we need a serious fight for the win as we’ve been robbed of one for most of the season.

    Singapore, as someone mentioned in an earlier article, was simply a change of car dominating at the front. Sure Ricciardo was within 2-3 seconds of Vettel but Sebastian always looked like he would match anything the Aussie threw at him. Japan looked like being a good fight between the Mercedes until Rosberg’s poor start & Hamilton’s rather rude, yet legal, car positioning.

    Hopefully the Ferrari’s can shrink enough of the gap to make it really interesting between at least 4 cars at the front. This relies on Rosberg and Raikkonen turning up though.

    1. @alilane4 In an unusual weekend I believe Vettel would be a bigger threat to Hamilton than Rosberg.

    2. I think we need a serious fight for the win

      Which is something thats been a rarity throughout F1’s history.

      i would say that 97% of races in every season have featured no fight for the the lead/win because when the fastest car qualifies at the front & in clear air can build a gap why would there be. in the 35-40 years i’ve been following f1 i can probably count the number of real fights for the win on my hands & feet.

      it goes back to what i was saying the other day, people keep expecting f1 to be something it has never been & never will be unless you take it to a stupidly gimmickey & artificial place with nonsense like reverse grids, success ballast & the like.

      the closest fights and best racing has always been for the places from 2nd/3rd/4th back, very rare to see a proper fight at the front places.

      1. You might want to double check that maths. That’s like one race every 2 years.

        This year we’ve had Malaysia. Last year we had Bahrain, Canada, Hungary, Japan & USA. That’s about 18% of the races in just the last two seasons with battles for the lead.

        This year has definitely seen a drop off in cars ability to follow in dirty air over last year though.

      2. ColdFly F1 (@)
        7th October 2015, 19:27

        I’m 110% certain that 97% is too pessimistic ;-)

        1. @coldfly The internet, a place where 60% of the stats is made up on the spot.

          1. @xtwl And I’m 99% you have that number correct. :)

      3. Not 97% but point is valid… Given LH typically is infront of most sessions, then reliably takes P1, by skill not luck, is there any reason he shouldnt easily run 60odd laps fastest aswell when he already has done 40 or so, up to the race.

        Only time we get challange for win is when fastest car/driver combo are not upfront already. Either due to strategy difrence or variable conditions. Teams combat this optimizing for all events and mostly get it right. Leading to fastest cars up front, with little magic possible in the race.

        Now imagine McHonda could get 1200hp for one lap, and then 1000 hp for first part of lap then 600 for second part? Imagine racing we would have… Alonso pulling pole .. Then going backwards and forwards for each part of track.

        WEC pulled this of on a few races, where Porsche was faster on straights and Audi under breaking and corners.

        F1 has inherently very similar cars.. There isnt a team that goes 30kph faster on straights and then 30kph slower on corners.

        That is why we only see overtaking and batteling when car behind is greatly faster… Usually 2s a lap faster is enough.

        But when it does happen it is magic. We wait all year for it usually.

        1. There is one though that goes 30 kph slower on the straights.

        2. @Jure

          Good point! Wouldn’t I relish something like that, being an Alonso fan.

          But the real issue with F1 now is the propensity for a team, that has got it right, to keep improving itself to the point where others can no longer catch up. With new tech regs, it is natural for one team to get it right better than the others. But where boredom comes in is when others are not able to catch up to it and its domination just keeps rising to the height of Mt. Everest.

          Why is this the case with F1? We’ve seen that these two years with Mercedes and before that with Red Bull. People would reply that it is because of no testing and limited engine development potential. But even before all this we had the Michael Schumacher – Ferrari years of absolute dominance from 2000-2002 and in 2004. This is why F1 is ill…

      4. @RogerB:
        I think this stat is untrue and the recent examples I remember without checking are in RedBull domination era:
        Malaysia 2013, Austin 2012, Brazil 2012, Barcelona 2011, China 2011, Monaco 2013, Canada 2011, Germany 2010, Italy 2013

      5. @RogerA

        97% of races in every season have featured no fight for the the lead/win because when the fastest car qualifies at the front

        But isnt this what happens in most sports? Does Usain Bolt qualify 5th in the heats? Does Serena not win almost all her qualifying matches? Or am i missing something?

  2. But even at their worst races of the year so far – Hungary and Singapore – Mercedes netted 12 points on each occasion. I don’t think many people will bet against them clinching the Championship this weekend.

  3. Hopefully the sun will be shining like last year, it looked stunning. Not looking forward to half the field flying off the ‘track’ (line of white paint on tarmac) at the exit of turn 2, it’s plain daft. It would be great if a gravel trap was put in so that it’s more like turn 1 and 2 in Melbourne.

    1. @unicron2002 They should have made it a less sharp (thus faster) turn.

      1. Would that make overtaking harder?

        1. @alilane4 I think it would encourage a driver on the outside to hold on, so we’d actually get two cars going side by side the entire massive T2 U-turn. The corner now is so sharp all momentum is gone. So the momentum of both cars is the same hence no chance of making the outside (which becomes the inside into T2) work.

          Now it’s most likely a long DRS zone with a simple outbraking, or the defending car places his car on the inside and the overtaking car has no option. That is if the overspeed isn’t large enough to affect an overtake right away. Also they should have found a way so that cars would carry more speed on the beginning of the straight instead of again this simple sharp 90° corner.

  4. Russian GP was not that bad. Nico locked up at the start, so game over. The public image of Russia is the culprit for the poor weekend, the race was just bland.

  5. Human rights- and anti-warfare activists: where are you now?
    Every year around the time of the Bahrain GP there is a storm of discussions about why F1 should boycott the GP. I tend to try to stay out of such discussions, but the people who always have something to say (let’s go with that word) surely must have something to say now?

    1. And the U.S. GP

    2. @me4me, maybe we only care about us4us, but yes, we should be protesting Russian expansionism, no doubt Syria will suffer the same total war destruction as Chechnya did and Assad will be Putins puppet, hope he enjoys his victory.

  6. I’m afraid the NSA will read my comments, so I’m sticking to racing!

    1. If NSA are reading my comments, they will be so confused by now.

Comments are closed.