Pre-Russian GP preview from Bob Constanduros
It’s a lovely sunny day here in Sochi but just reminding us of this Russian city’s background and the time of year, we are overlooked by some gorgeous snowy mountains, capped with what looks like new snow.
It was a pretty grey, overcast and damp day here yesterday, having left the UK in sunshine. There are three basic ways to get to this Black Sea resort: Turkish Airlines to Istanbul then change and on here. I did this last year, the flights are scarcely sociable hours, and last year I had a major luggage issue after a stupidly tight transfer. I wasn’t keen on travelling with Turkish again, and compounding that feeling was the fact that they cancelled the ideal flight just two weeks ago.
Then you can come via Moscow or, as I did, with one of the daily direct charter flights from Gatwick, returning on Monday (and ruining my bank holiday). It’s a four hour flight, pretty much exactly, with Titan Airways (no, I hadn’t heard of them either but they were fine). This is the easy way out, but also the most expensive, but at least you know that it’s not suddenly going to disappear off the schedule.
Now we’re back in Russia just over six months since we were last here, and certainly the ambient temperature is going to feel fresher at around 17 or 18 degrees for the race weekend. The direct sunlight on the race track is still going to be pretty strong, but how warm?
Tyres, as ever, are what it’s all about, but how to steal a march on your competitor when it’s really only a one stop race with pretty basic strategy, that will be the question for all the teams? There isn’t really very much different that anyone can do.
The tyre choices are the same here as they have been in the three races so far: medium, soft and supersoft. The tarmac here is still fairly new – this is only the third Russian Grand Prix – and it’s known to be smooth and doesn’t cause excessive wear or degradation. Therefore teams are pretty sure that they are going to be able to use softer compounds, with the medium the least favoured: only Manor have two sets, everyone else has just one.
At the other end of the scale, two teams from either end of the paddock have gone for ten sets of the supersoft: Haas and Red Bull, which means that they have just two sets of soft tyres pus the set of mediums. That’s going to make Friday pretty interesting and might even mean that they don’t do a lot of running on those days. It’s an aggressive choice but a wise one?
Nico Rosberg’s tyre choice for Q2 in Bahrain when he chose the soft rather than supersoft tyre was an interesting one and one that will be closely watched again. Teams know much more about one another than they ever admit and Mercedes’s rivals will be watching closely to see what sort of times they can manage on the softs – of which the Mercedes drivers have four sets each. Their relative performance on the two softer tyres will dictate their race strategy and therefore their qualifying strategy also. Ferrari, incidentally, have six sets of soft and six of supersoft, which should give them plenty of rubber to use in practice.
I’m not sure if there’s more or less interest in this year’s championship. I was out for a walk the other day and was stopped twice within a matter of minutes to discuss the World Championship, firstly by the guy from the local farm shop and then a bloke more interested in horses than cars. And as much as anything, they are concerned by Hamilton’s lack of pace and the reasons for it. I don’t suppose Lewis or his team really know or they would do something about it, so why I should know any different I’m not so sure! Hamilton, of course, has won both the previous two Russian Grands Prix so he has some serious form here for Nico Rosberg to think about.
But watch Daniil Kvyat. This is his home Grand Prix of course, and he first raced karts here ten years ago, before the race circuit was even thought about. His start in China clearly shows he has the bit between his teeth and the long run down through turn one to the tight right hander at turn two is going to be a fascinating one, and incidentally, one that will compound any errors off the line. Will Kvyat be as aggressive in front of his home crowd as he was in China? Sebastian Vettel will hope not – and remember that his teammate Kimi Raikkonen has some form here too, after taking out compatriot Valtteri Bottas at the end of last year’s race. Many think Kimi’s days at Ferrari are numbered, incidentally.
There are some political issues regarding next year’s technical regulations which have reared their heads, particularly after a meeting earlier this week, so there’s lots to talk about for those less interested in the sport itself. But we’ve had three cracking races so far, so let’s hope that we can have another one. But the weather does look settled, the strategy is uncomplicated; only the tyre choices might spice things up. Let’s hope so.