Paddock Diary: Russian Grand Prix day four

2019 Russian Grand Prix

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How has Ferrari achieved its astonishing power unit performance? And has Red Bull scrapped its plans to rebrand Toro Rosso as AlphaTauri? Rumours abound in the F1 paddock on the final day of the Russian Grand Prix weekend.


Depart hotel for final day of Russian Grand Prix. Again, the trip is painless, and with zero traffic encountered during our 15-minute journey.

As I arrive the F3 field is on its warm-up lap, so I catch the opening laps from a vantage point outside the paddock. I’m suitably impressed by the standard in this, the first rung of the international single-seater racing, and I look forward to seeing the best in class graduate to F2 – or even F1 – next year. A rich seam, indeed.


I pick up a strange rumour: it seems Toro Rosso’s name change to Alpha Tauri, as revealed by us on Friday, could be delayed or canned entirely. “It may be coincidental,” says my team source, “but shortly after you revealed the application, we received a note that the meeting to discuss the change had been cancelled…”


I sit down with Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul to discuss his team’s future plans, particularly now that McLaren is switching to Mercedes from 2021. I’m concerned the loss of the only engine customer could tip the team into exit mode, but the Frenchman is persuasively reassuring. More on this soon.


Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Sochi Autodrom, 2019A contact suggests the secret to Ferrari’s sudden performance turnaround – particularly on the engine side – is down to a cunning trick. He believes Ferrari is running a pressurised oil-to-air intercooler, enabling oil mist to ‘leak’ into the combustion chamber during forced induction.

Doing this would allow Ferrari to recreate the ‘oil-burn’ which the FIA has tried to stamp out with successive rules tweaks and strict monitoring of engine oil consumption. “Intercooler oil is not monitored,” he winks.

Whether he’s on the money is another question, and the suggestion may be ‘planted’, but it surely is worth reflecting upon given Ferrari’s dramatic upturn in performance since the summer break and factory shutdown. The latter, crucially, does not (yet) apply to engine suppliers.

The subsequent race provides another demonstration of Ferrari power as the two SF90s sweep into the lead at the start. Unfortunately for the team the reliability of the Ferrari 064 falls short, as it did in Bahrain, and victory eludes them.

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Lunch at Mercedes, and perchance I sit at a table with Austrian TV commentator Ernst Hausleitner, who unbeknown to me is celebrating his birthday. A cake duly arrives as Toto Wolff and the multi-tasking Alex Wurz join us, and much merriment is had.


Grid, Sochi Autodrom, 2019I head for the grid. Unusually, this race will start at 2:10pm, which was F1’s traditional time slot before Liberty acquired the sport’s commercial rights and delayed the start by an hour in the hope it would help improve television ratings in the USA.

I’ve said it before and repeat: the time shift does no one in the paddock any favours, and eats massively into post-race media opportunities.


The earlier start isn’t early enough for some. Several team bosses, senior team personnel and drivers scarper soon after the chequered flag. F1’s carbon footprint, with jumbo jets and charters criss-crossing the skies, is nothing short of horrific, and surely inappropriate in this day and age. True, the sport will always be CO2-intensive, but charters for the privileged few?

Max Verstappen touched on this point recently when asked about the record-breaking 22-race 2020 F1 calendar. While the drivers and team bosses exit the track before the champagne has dried, mechanics and team staff who work much longer days will bear the brunt of F1’s insatiable appetite for more races.

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Paddock, Sochi Autodrom, 2019I bid farewell to the circuit’s media staff and make for the paddock exit, dodging forklift trucks and folk in the throes of packing up ahead of freight charters to Japan.

I’m told no decision has been taken about relocating the race to St Petersburg in 2021, as we reported on Thursday. Will I miss Sochi should the race move, as I believe it will despite frantic lobbying by the local promoter to retain the event?

There is no doubt that our visits have improved markedly since the first race in 2014. That inaugural race was, of course, tinged with the sadness after Jules Bianchi’s horrific crash a week earlier in Japan.

Frankly, Sochi was far from ready for F1 in 2014, and it showed in the woeful standard of hotels, lack of restaurants and creaky general infrastructure. Five years later it is 500 per cent up on that low bar. So, yes, I will miss the 2019-spec Sochi – although I do prefer St Petersburg as a destination.


Dinner, then pack for 3am departure for airport and a 4:30am flight to Dusseldorf via Moscow.

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2019 Russian Grand Prix

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16 comments on “Paddock Diary: Russian Grand Prix day four”

  1. ”and delayed the start by an hour in the hope it would help improve television ratings in the USA.”
    – My understanding at the time was that the shift mainly concerning the European events was rather targeted for the European audience, but maybe both equally.

    1. @jerejj I really hope they shift it back—in Australia the original time slot meant I would watch F1 on a Sunday night before bed. Now, it means to watch a race I’m up well past midnight in most cases—and often struggle to stay awake! Sometimes I don’t both watching live and watch the replay, but that means avoiding all media for the day which can be challenging.

  2. He believes Ferrari is running a pressurised oil-to-air intercooler, enabling oil mist to ‘leak’ into the combustion chamber during forced induction.

    Ah the eco friendly formula 1 engines that use more fuel than the 2 stroke moped engines…

    1. Meant to say more oil..

    2. @socksolid So this is the ‘jet oil’ Hamilton was alluding to? I guess the whole paddock is in on this rumour. FIA due to react some time in 2026.

      1. Oil-burning?
        Ok, fair game, if they found a legal way to do it.
        Means it will either be copied (rumors don’t fly around by themselves in F1), or clamped down by FIA before 2020.

        Though personally I think it is not about oil at all, I think it is about their electrical power.

        1. The electrical power is mostly generated by the mguh, and that is by harnessing waste exhaust energy. If that waste exhaust has more energy from extra fuel by way of oil burning, then that will increase mguh output which mostly goes directly to the mguk.

          No oil burning is legal, but it can never be fully cracked down upon until every source of combustible oil is regulated on the cars.

      2. They’ll probably just set an another maximum limit for intercooler oil usage. Sooner or later they’ll have limits for how much of the drinks from the drink bottles are allowed to make their way to the engine and how much of the damper liquids and wheel bearing greases can be used by the engine per 100km. All this is nonsense. They should have just banned it. Oil is for lubrication and fuel for power. Sure some oil always finds its way into the combustion chamber but when it does it is no longer oil. It is fuel. it would be a clear cut case to ban it if someone is actually spraying oil to create oil mist inside the engine intercooler.

        1. @socksolid
          It was banned before 2014

    3. This seems to confirm what we’ve long suspected of Farrari.

      The trouble is dispite the ‘intentions’ of the rules, and their eagerness to bend those rules, Farrari are never penalised. Last year it was rediculasly obvious what they were doing from the oil fumes venting from the rear of their cars, yet everyone seems to treat this as a joke.

      It seems Farrari can’t compete legitimately with sound engine design and so they do it with these dubious engine mods. There’s a clearly an advantage to be had burning ‘jet fuel’, especially when its done under the driver’s control for those strategic parts of the race course.

      Untill this is address by the FIA, we’ll continue to see Ferrari wonderkin take pole position from those who compete with properly designed engines. They’ll continue to shock us with these qualifiers where they can burn as much oil as they have stored. Racing conditions is different matter, because there’s still a limit to how much oil they can store for these clandestine uses.

      I suppose the next rule will have Oil usage capped and then everyone with a legitimate need for oil will suffer.

      [interesting foot note. The radio messages to Leclerc in singapore, included a message round about lap 34 – ‘Press oil button when you can, press oil button.’ Its interesting that the driver has to be told to do this. so i guess there’s telemetry on this? ]

      1. Calm down, you are hysterical. I am no Ferrari fan, but you are talking nonsense. Those “fumes” you are hysterical about is the crankcase vent which was required by the FIA for all teams to no longer vent back into the engine. That you saw them coming out of the tail light of the Ferrari last year was proof that it wasn’t being burned.

        The huge plumes of smoke on start up are inherent to all racing engines, especially turbocharged ones.

        This latest rumor is just that. A leaky oil to air intercooler is possible but has not yet been proven.

      2. Also, drivers have been told to transfer aux oil for decades.

      3. Uh, Ferrari legally and smartly (ab?)using grey areas in the rules is a welcome change from them straight up writing their own rules. Your tone is quite hyperbolic and doesn’t really fit the situation.

        I am borderline hysterically anti-Ferrari and yet I’m pleased their car is working well…for a while anyway, and that they’ve found a big advantage after a full half decade of these engine rules being in place, which is extremely rare makes a welcome change from the usual tiny, incremental progress.

        Lest we forget, mastery of the legal grey areas historically has been the preserve of what were once called the garagisti teams, a situation that for decades enraged a certain entitled and unimaginative team owner whose initials were EF…

  3. Oil-burning?
    Ok, fair game, if they found a legal way to do it.
    Means it will either be copied (rumors don’t fly around by themselves in F1), or clamped down by FIA before 2020.
    Though personally I think it is not about oil at all, I think it is about their electrical power.

    1. My guess is both. And no, I don’t trust Ferrari.

  4. There no moving parts interfacing fluids in a heat exchanger. There’s simply no legitimate reason why oil could possibly leak in. So if they are doing that, it deserves a harsh penalty. At least as harsh as what Honda faced from their fuel tank capacity shenanigans, or Red Bull’s fuel flow meter violation.

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