The F1 paddock heads to a former Olympic venue this weekend and the 2016 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom. Those involved look ahead to round four of the season…
“There was plenty going through my head after China, as you’d expect. But, after all these years, experience has taught me to stay calm and keep pushing forwards when I get knocked back. I’ve been here before a few times now. A lot can happen over the next 18 race weekends and I have the utmost confidence in this team. But adversity is part of the journey: it brings us closer, makes us stronger and I know that together we’ll bounce back, so I’m confident of better weekends to come. There are lots of positives to carry into the next battle. If nothing else, I know after these first few races that I can still overtake! I had a great start in China too, so hopefully I can continue that and use it to my advantage to build my races from a better base. It’s Russia up next – a race that I’ve won on both occasions so far and a track that seems to suit me pretty well, so let’s see what we can do there…”
“It’s great to see that we still have the quickest car out there and, of course, it’s always the plan to win every race. But I would never have expected the first three weekends to go the way they have. I’ve made the most of my opportunities and I have a bit of an advantage in the points right now – but we are only three races down and it would just take one bad weekend for that gap to disappear. Lewis is still the benchmark for me as he is the current champion, Ferrari haven’t shown what they can do yet and Red Bull also look like they’re getting stronger, so it’s going to be a good battle and I’m looking forward to that. I wouldn’t have it any other way. For now, I’m just taking things race by race, focusing on doing my own thing and getting the job done to the best of my ability. That approach has worked out well for me so far. Now, I can’t wait to get to Sochi. I was looking good all weekend last year until a technical problem put me out of the race and I had great fun fighting from the back the year before, so I know I’m competitive at this track. It holds great memories of celebrating the two championship wins with the team too, so I’m excited to be heading back and seeing how we perform.”
Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
“We may have made a solid start – but at this stage it’s about collecting points without looking too much at the championship. We are just three races down with 18 still to go. I have no doubt that we will see a close fight on all fronts right up to the end of the season. Both drivers are a good place mentally. Nico is on great form but keeping his feet firmly on the ground. Lewis would have every right to feel disheartened by his start to the season – but he is calm and confident, handling adversity like a true champion. We have an important week ahead for the sport, with our final Strategy Group meeting to define the regulations for 2017. After three Grand Prix weekends so far in 2016, we have seen that performance between the teams is converging to create great racing. Whether we have the reactivity as a group to recognise that and consider retaining a regulatory framework that is working well remains to be seen.”
Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical)
“It’s unusual to be returning to a race just six months after the previous edition. Such a significant calendar shift could bring quite a different climatic profile too. This is our third trip to the Sochi Autodrom, so it will be interesting to see how the track has aged. In the first two seasons we saw a very smooth track surface. With that in mind, the allocation of the medium, soft and supersoft compound for this year is quite a conservative choice. Another interesting feature is that Sochi has the longest run down to the first braking zone of any circuit on the calendar and it’s a heavy braking event, which can easily catch drivers out on the first lap. After eventful opening laps in Bahrain and China, there could be early drama once again on Sunday. We’re looking forward to being back in Russia and aiming to replicate our strong form in Sochi on previous occasions. After a less-than-satisfactory weekend in China from a reliability perspective, one of our priorities is to have a clean weekend on both sides of the garage. In any case, we look forward to putting on another exciting race for the sport’s growing fan base in Russia.”
“I can’t believe this weekend is going to be my 100th race weekend in Formula One. Where has the time gone? It’s a nice achievement and hopefully I can get a result to make it a weekend to remember.
“The goal is to get some more points on the board in Russia. The last two races have been frustrating for different reasons and I don’t think we’ve shown our full potential yet. In China I really struggled with tyre degradation, but I don’t think that will be such an issue at Sochi because it’s a much smoother surface.”
“Going back to Sochi brings back happy memories from our podium last year. I really like the track and they did a good job with the layout. I think every driver enjoys turn three because it’s an unusual corner with high energies and a long duration. You can take it flat, but it’s the one corner on the track which really takes the life from your tyres.
“I think we can be competitive this weekend. We didn’t get things right in China and just missed out on points, so we need to concentrate on improving our race pace. It’s often those difficult weekends where you learn the most and see where you can improve, so I’m confident we can be in better shape this weekend.”
Vijay Mallya, team principal
“In all honesty we expected more from the start of the season, but for various reasons the cards have not fallen for us. It’s worth making a comparison with 2015 because after three races last year we were in a similar position with seven points – one point more than we have this year – and that turned out to be our most successful season ever. With eighteen races to go there is a long season ahead and we have plenty of opportunities to turn around our fortunes.
“There is no doubt that we have an inherently quick car. We’ve always qualified inside the top ten and Checo lined up seventh on the grid in China. In the race we fell a bit short, so that is one area where we can improve. We are also working hard to bring an upgrade package to Barcelona: it’s an aero step and further suspension evolutions, which will bring some performance gains.
“The objective is to be inside the top ten in qualifying and the race. That’s a realistic goal and we will be disappointed if we don’t come away with some points. We demonstrated last year that we can be competitive in Sochi and it’s also the 100th race weekend for Nico and Checo, so we want to celebrate the occasion with a special result.”
“Sochi is pretty unique with some interesting corners so it’s a bit different from the other tracks we visit. The grip level’s pretty good from the track surface too. In terms of layout, turn three seems to go on forever but you’re flat on the throttle. Then there are a lot of corners where it feels you’re braking too late but where the exit opens up and there you have to focus on getting the exit right. You have to be a little bit different in how you approach your driving there.”
“My first aim [for Sochi] is to get back to a Melbourne level of performance where I was happy with the car. As a team too, we were happy with the level of performance as we were through to Q2 in qualifying and near the points in the race with both cars quite evenly matched. I haven’t been able to replicate that in the last couple of races so that’s what we’ve been focusing on. We know that Russia won’t necessarily be the very best circuit for us, but I’m focused on my own performance to extract the very most I can from behind the wheel.”
Frederic Vasseur, Renault Sport racing director
“China was a tough weekend for us from the beginning. The suspension issue on Kevin’s car meant we lost a lot of running time and this had a particularly detrimental effect this time. This meant that not only he missed out on running, but we didn’t accumulate the necessary comparison data between the tyres so making set-up choices for the rest of the weekend was a challenge. For Sochi we do expect an improvement from where we were in China, that’s for sure.
“We are looking at every single detail. At Viry every detail of the power unit is being looked at and at Enstone every aspect of the chassis is being looked at. It’s not a question of focusing on one area, it’s a question of looking across the board at every detail. We know we have a lot to do, we know our targets so that is what we are working towards.”
Bob Bell, chief technical officer
“Sochi is an interesting circuit in terms of engineering challenges. It is essentially a street circuit however the layout doesn’t demand maximum downforce. There are a lot of 90° corners so straight-line braking and traction are called for, with less emphasis on mid-corner balance. It is a demanding circuit for brakes and tends to require a harder tyre compound as there’s a significant loading on the tyres through the long turn three-four combination so it’s likely to be a one-stop race.”
“[China] was a difficult weekend for us and certainly not the outcome we had wanted. It still feels like it was a negative weekend, but in the near future, I’m sure we’ll see positives from it because it’s in the tough situations you learn the most. Hopefully, we can learn what happened. If anything was wrong with the car, what can we do better? What can we do differently? How do we react in a better way if we find ourselves in a similar situation? I think it’s one of those things you have to face as a new team, but I’m sure we’re going to react very well, as we have done so far every time.
“[Sochi] is a good track to drive. I think the corners flow into each other quite nicely, [and] I like turn three. It’s a very high-speed corner, a fun place. There’s a very long straight line to start, followed by big braking into a right-hand side corner, taken in third or fourth gear. Then you have the famous turn three, which is flat out in qualifying. Then you go into turn four – you can carry quite good speed into it. The next few corners are very similar. They flow nicely and you enjoy some good speed in the car. Then you go on the backstraight, again with very tricky braking. Then the last section of the track is much slower, in particular the last two corners. The pit entry is also a bit tricky. The finish line is straight at the last corner, so depending if you’re on a qualifying lap or a racing lap, each one is different.”
“It was a very big relief to finally do a lot of consecutive laps [in China]. I was enjoying the car and the race so much that I could have continued for another 50 laps, probably. It was quite a tricky situation by not being able to practice on Friday and having the wet session on Saturday morning. Basically, we didn’t have many laps under our belts and it was quite a challenge to arrive into qualifying directly without any preparation, but still having to do proper laps. I think we managed it pretty well as a team.
“[Sochi] is a track that is pretty stop-and-go. It requires a very different setup to what we had in China. I love the first sector. It’s a nice, big braking into turn one, then you have the long turn three which is flat out. Then you have a series of medium-speed corners which are also quite fun.”
Guenther Steiner, team principal
“We just couldn’t get the car to do what we wanted it to do [in China]. We had a problem with Esteban’s car, so he went out very little on Friday, which was part of our overall problem. We cannot make mistakes like that over the entire weekend. Not even Romain can catch up if we are not using our time as efficiently as possible.I think at some point we always knew we’d have a setback, and it came in our third race. We’ll just try again in Russia to get it right and end up where we should be.
“The silver lining is we finished with two cars, which was a first for us. It wasn’t as successful as we wanted it to be, position-wise. We had seven pit stops total with the two drivers and they all worked well. We gained a lot of confidence in our pit stops, but we learned that managing two cars during a race is a lot more difficult that managing one. Now we are better prepared to take two cars to the finish, as we should.”
“Sochi is not the Russia I pictured before I first went there. All of a sudden I saw a beautiful blue beach, which made me feel as if I was in a resort and they also have a very modern facility with the Olympic Park.
“I think the track hasn’t suited us in the last two years, but we’ve had some strong races so far this year on circuits we didn’t think suited us either so let’s see what happens. In the past it’s been quite a low grip. It got a bit better last year but it’s still quite slippery and because there is not that much tyre wear we haven’t done many pit stops in the past.
“There is not much camber change which you get on a lot of tracks. Also the corners are very flat and because of that quite unique. I’m looking forward to going back.
“The hotel we’re staying in has a very nice restaurant called Fellini. But because we spend so much time at the track we don’t really get the chance to see much. I’m going to try this year and speak to Dany to get some local advice. I think Dany will get a very busy week ahead but I don’t think it compares to Australia because it is the first race of the season, so you get more media anyway. I know how he feels though: it’s a week of survival.”
“I’m very excited to get back to Russia for the Grand Prix. It’s an important race for me and it’s nice to see my family and friends and all the fans who come to support me and the team in Sochi. I can’t wait!
“It’s a very modern track with a few corners that look quite similar but they are never as easy as they might look, because you have to try and drive the car on the limit each time you turn. I think Turn 4 is the nicest corner, and it’s also the grandstand named after me. I see my face on that corner often during the race, and that support is really nice. Any time I want to say something cool I say: I have a grandstand named after me!
“It will be a hectic week and thinking about Daniel’s busy week in Australia it’s a bit of a payback for me in a way but you already got into quite a good rhythm after the first few races so you’re used to it in a way. In the end it’s my home race and that gives me an extra boost as well. It’s very nice to have a home race. It’s very special for every driver so I think I’m very lucky to have one.
“When back in Sochi I like to go and visit a Sauna. It’s a very classic thing to do in Sochi and it’s quite nice to go with a couple of good friends and have a relaxed evening. I did play some ice hockey last year as well and they have an Olympic Village there so there is a lot of sports to do. During race week I also enjoy to take a walk along the nearby seaside.”