2015 Russian Grand Prix Practice Review

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Lewis Hamilton wins the Japanese Grand Prix ahead of Nico Rosberg in second place and Sebastian Vettel in third place. Williams, Red Bull and Force India also scored some much needed points at the event.

Heading into the Grand Prix weekend, it was announced earlier in the week that Bernie Ecclestone could sell F1 this year and the sport could have new owners.

The Sochi Autodrom circuit (which was formerly known as Sochi International Street Circuit and Sochi Olympic Park Circuit) is a part of a venue used for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The Olympic Park and the racing circuit is located in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Krasnodar Krai, Russia ner the southern border.

The surface was not laid until after the closing ceremony of the Olympics. Hermann Tilke designed the track and the first Russian GP was given the green light by the FIA after the first official inspection in August 2014.

The circuit is partly integrated in the public road network and consists of two circuits. The long circuit is to be used only for Formula 1, the short circuit is supposed to function throughout the year to host multiple motorsport events. The large lap, including 1.7 kilometers of public roads, is 5.85 kilometers long and feature 19 corners, 12 right-handers and 7 left-handers.

The track width varies from 13 to 15 meters and the direction is clockwise. The track’s combination of straights and really fast corners makes it to one of the fastest Formula One tracks. The top speed is about 320 km/h.

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone signed a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2010 for Sochi to host the Russian Grand Prix from 2014 to 2020. The Russian government spent about 200 million dollars to build the circuit that hosted the country’s first ever Formula 1 grand prix.

It fulfilled a long-held ambition of Putin’s for Russia to be part of the multi-million dollar Grand Prix circuit, former attempts to stage a race at Moscow and St Petersburg having failed.

Let the race weekend begin in Sochi…

Practices 1, 2 and 3

The main headline from the Practice sessions is Mercedes look to have the driver-car package to beat this weekend as weather conditions and tyre management which will test the drivers, teams and the cars throughout Friday and Saturday practice sessions.

Nico Hulkenberg tops the timesheets in FP1.

Nico Hulkenberg tops the timesheets in FP1.

Practice 1 saw Nico Hulkenberg tops the timesheet with a time of 1.44.355 followed closely by Nico Rosberg with a gap of 0.052 seconds behind, Sebastian Vettel was in third with a gap of 0.631 seconds behind, Sergio Perez was in fourth 0.791 seconds behind and Daniel Ricciardo was in fifth place 0.878 seconds behind Hulkenberg.

Carlos Sainz Jr was in sixth 1.133 seconds behind, Lewis Hamilton was in seventh 1.336 seconds behind, Valtteri Bottas was eighth with a gap of 1.391 seconds behind, Max Verstappen was ninth 1.848 seconds behind and Kimi Raikkonen was in tenth 1.860 seconds behind Hulkenberg.

The start of the session was disrupted due to a diesel spillage that affected the FIA starting the session on time. A track vehicle leaked diesel through several corners in sector two, resulting in a hasty clean-up operation that left several corners doused in water. With the other two sectors dry, drivers had to tip toe through the wet section while going flat out for the rest of the lap.

The first few tentative exploration laps were performed on intermediate tyres by the drivers; with Sebastian Vettel summing up the situation by simply saying “What a mess” on his team radio. McLaren-Honda driver Fernando Alonso was the first to complete a series of laps on slicks, albeit with minimal traction in the middle sector as he negotiated the wet corners.

It would be easier to list the drivers who did not spin than those that did during the session; but it is worth mentioning that Lewis Hamilton’s final attempt was baulked by a spinning Felipe Massa and then ruined completely three corners later when Hamilton had a spin of his own.

Felipe Massa tops the timesheets in FP2.

Felipe Massa tops the timesheets in FP2.

Practice 2 saw Felipe Massa tops the timesheet with a time of 2.00.458 followed closely by Vettel with a gap of 0.201 seconds behind, Bottas was in third with a gap of 0.230 seconds behind, Verstappen was in fourth 0.348 seconds behind and Fernando Alonso was in fifth place 0619 seconds behind Massa.

Daniil Kvyat was in sixth 0.960 seconds behind, Sainz Jr was in seventh 2.347 seconds behind and Jenson Button was eighth with a gap of 2.837 seconds behind Massa.

After a diesel spillage prevented any meaningful running in the first practice session, rain ahead of FP2 meant drivers were unable to use slick tyres throughout the 90 minute session. The rain got progressively worse during the session and the best times were set on full wet tyres as the drivers struggled to get grip during their runs.

The wet weather means there was no running on the super-soft tyre in FP2 and a very limited amount of laps on the soft tyre in FP1. As a result teams will go into final practice on Saturday morning with a lot to learn ahead of qualifying in the afternoon and Sunday’s race.

Six drivers opted not to leave the pits altogether, believing there was little reason to do so with rain not forecast again for the rest of the weekend. However, Toro Rosso signed off the session by telling Max Verstappen to save his tyres as they will “probably” need them for Sunday.

Nico Rosberg tops the timesheets in FP3.

Nico Rosberg tops the timesheets in FP3.

Practice 3 saw Rosberg tops the timesheet with a time of 1.38.561 followed closely by Bottas with a gap of 0.726 seconds behind, Hamilton was in third with a gap of 0.802 seconds behind, Perez was in fourth 1.055 seconds behind and Massa was in fifth place 1.314 seconds behind Rosberg.

Hulkenberg was in sixth 1.356 seconds behind, Button was in seventh 2.020 seconds behind and Pastor Maldonado was eighth with a gap of 2.206 seconds behind, Alonso was ninth 2.639 seconds behind and Felipe Nasr was tenth 2.668 seconds behind Rosberg.

In the first twenty minutes of the session at the final corner, Max Verstappen lost the car at the apex and spun his Toro Rosso around. Luckily, Verstappen did not hit Sebastian Vettel who was also going through the corner and was able to continue running in the session.

We also saw many drivers such as Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and the two Mercedes drivers especially struggling in the final sector on the grid for grip as Felipe Massa changes his steering wheel due to an electronical problem on his car.

In the last twenty five minutes of the session, Carlos Sainz Jr at Turn 13 has had a big accident and hit the Armco barrier at considerable force; leaving a lot of debris on the track.  As a result of this, the session was red flagged until they manage to get Sainz Jr out of the car and able to get the car recovered and the barriers fixed.

The Toro Rosso team tried to communicate with Sainz Jr on the team radio but the team have lost all communication with him as a result of the incident. The session would then not be restarted as a result of what has happened to Sainz Jr and my thoughts are with Carlos and I hope he is seriously okay.

As Sainz Jr is taken to the medical centre, we saw him putting a thumbs up to the TV cameras and that he is conscious. This is great news and let’s hope that he hasn’t sustained any injuries as a result of this massive accident.

You would be stupid not to bet against the Mercedes drivers of Hamilton and Rosberg to gain pole position again this weekend. As the Mercedes drivers seem to be performing brilliantly at the moment and the momentum is with them from all the track mileage and their strong form from the last race.

But Bottas is looking strong this weekend and could snatch pole from them. However, Verstappen, Hulkenberg and Perez also cannot be discounted for the pole also as they are consistently within the top ten places at the moment.

However, I think that Lotus, Toro Rosso, McLaren or Force India have shown that they could throw themselves into the mix and could qualify well here to be in the hunt for some decent points this weekend. We all look forward to the qualifying session of the Grand Prix with excitement…

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