Sochi Autodrom, 2018

Paddock Diary: Russian Grand Prix day one

2018 Russian Grand Prix

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The Russian Grand Prix doesn’t have a great reputation but @DieterRencken finds plenty to enjoy about Sochi during a long first day in the Formula 1 paddock.

6:45

My phone jolts me: it’s a message that Uralkali, the Mazepin-linked Russian chemical conglomerate, is pursuing legal action against FRP Advisory, administrators of Force India, for reasons we’ve widely reported.

The ping means I’m up after just two hours of sleep, having landed at Sochi from Istanbul at 3am. By the time I completed immigration formalities, found the correct shuttle bus and checked in at my apartment block, it’s well after 4:30am; now this…

My day actually started almost 24 hours earlier: leaving home at noon for the airport and Turkish Airlines flights to the Russian Grand Prix. The leg from Brussels was delayed an hour – no issue as I had a six-hour lay-over in Istanbul – but the crucial flight to the Black Sea resort was punctual. I had emergency exit seats on both legs of the journey, so felt okay-ish despite over 12 hours in travel/transit for what is an 1,800-mile hop.

10:30

Skip breakfast and head for circuit by shuttle, a 10-minute drive (or 30-minute walk). The circuit uses access roads built for the 2014 Winter Olympics as a neat way of recycling the facility, while my digs are in a block built as athletes village for the Games.

Although the Russian GP is variously derided, I’ve never had a problem with Sochi or its organisation – and always find the local folk to be polite, friendly, obliging, and the promoter team readily accessible. In a nutshell, they try hard – and provide proof that ultimately F1 is about people, not politics.

11:00

Check into media centre, two massive halls overlooking the main straight/pit lane. It sounds logical, but is not always the case: 50% of F1 media centres don’t offer views across their circuits, the (il)logic being that we have TV feeds, and are sat at desks. The architects may have a point, but we’re (mostly) fans at heart and thrive off inspiration. Bland walls separating us from the action don’t provide that.

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12:00

Hit the interview trail – first off is Esteban Ocon, who obviously feels pain as he admits his chances of being on the 2019 grid are receding rapidly – as discussed in my column earlier this week. Then it’s time for Checo Perez, who (again) lets slip he’ll be racing for Force India (under whatever name) next year, but won’t confirm it. Perhaps he’s waiting for the Mexican Grand Prix to make the announcement on home soil.

15:00

Esteban Ocon, Force India, Sochi Autodrom, 2018Long gap to the FIA presser, so I head for the office selling local sim cards – an excellent idea, and a first in F1. It’s a hangover from the FIFA World Cup, and something all flyaway race promoter should offer. Due to the costs of roaming data – up to 20 quid/Mb – F1 personnel waste hundreds of hours each year traipsing about purchasing small pieces of plastic in airports or downtown. Thank you, Sochi.

Not having had brekkie I’m starving: Force India’s hospitality kindly refuel me with a pork chop, spuds and veggies. Then it’s back to interviews: Toro Rosso twins, McLaren’s departing men, Nico Hulkenberg – whose team mate Carlos Sainz has an infection – plus some one-to-one time with Haas boss Guenther Steiner, whom I ask about the team’s insurance claim against the Sepang circuit.

Due to a non-disclosure agreement he won’t reveal details, but it’s clear this is as much about principle as dollars: why should teams shell out where circuits are negligent. While I agree fully the claim, my worry is it will eventually be taken a step too far: How long before teams start claiming off each other?

18:00

I’m deadbeat after so little sleep, and as I ponder where to grab a bite – the local Irish pub is packed during GP weekend, and other venues are too far or too basic. I get invited to join a group of media centre personnel at Baikal, one of Sochi’s poshest places, so I rush off to catch a shuttle and change.

20:00

To Baikal by car sent by the Media Centre. I wander about the grounds of the smart-casual establishment while awaiting my hosts, reflecting on how unusual life is in F1: two flights; waking up in an Olympic village beside the Black Sea; learning about British administration processes from foreigners; dinner with a group of Russians, Armenians, Georgians, Italians – all in a day’s work.

23:00

Deadbeat, I order a two-quid Uber back to the apartment, leaving the group to enjoy the last drops of a local red wine. Dinner was a delicious mix of various pizza slices, shredded crab, mussels, king prawns, salads and great conversation. By midnight I’m far away in a foreign land.

2018 Russian Grand Prix

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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3 comments on “Paddock Diary: Russian Grand Prix day one”

  1. Thanks @dieterrencken for painting such a lovely picture. Hope you’re better rested by now.

  2. Really look forward to these paddock diaries. Keep em coming.

  3. Hey @DieterRencken, sounds exhausting but exciting at the same time! Any sign of a new Ferrari strategy for the weekend (other than lighting a candle)?

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