After the final 90 minute session of the day, Fernando Alonso, and his F14 T were third quickest
Sochi – The first practice session for the inaugural Russian Grand Prix should have been an historic event for Formula 1 and for Russia. Unfortunately, events in Suzuka last Sunday, meant that it turned out to be a somewhat subdued affair.
However, it’s also the case that getting back to work gave those in the paddock closest to Jules Bianchi; his Marussia team, his Ferrari family and his close friends, a new focus and a chance to do the job they do best, which is to go racing and, temporarily at least, put personal thoughts to one side.
And so it was that twenty one cars rolled out onto the Sochi Autodrom on a cool but sunny morning, while Jules Bianchi’s Marussia car sat empty, but ready to go in the garage. The drivers discovered an interesting circuit, possibly reminiscent of Valencia or Singapore, with a couple of long straights, a challenging Turn 3 already drawing comparisons to the fearsome Turn 8 at Turkey’s Istanbul Park circuit and some heavy braking, as well as several slow right angle corners.
For Scuderia Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, the day went smoothly and after the final 90 minute session of the day he and his F14 T were third quickest, behind the inevitable Lewis Hamilton, quickest for Mercedes and the surprising Kevin Magnussen, second for McLaren. Kimi Raikkonen had a more difficult day, with a couple of minor technical glitches and the Finn also admitted he was unhappy with the feeling coming from the front end of his car.
There was a bigger crowd than expected in a country where Formula 1 has yet to rank highly in the public consciousness. They were able to cheer on regular Toro Rosso driver Daniel Kvyat and, making an FP1 appearance only, another Russian in the shape of Sergey Sirotkin in the Sauber. Until now, Russians have had to make do with the occasional Formula 1 street demonstration, such as Moscow City Racing, an event supported by the Scuderia’s Russian partner Kaspersky Lab. This weekend they finally get to experience the real thing.
Fernando Alonso: “The track is very unusual and I didn’t think that Formula 1 had already got such a large following here. Also surprising today was the good level of grip from the track surface, which is unusual on a brand new circuit. From this point of view, I felt comfortable right from the first lap and that helped a lot when it came to today’s most important job, namely learning the track.
We worked a lot on set-up and found the two compounds had behaved in similar fashion and tyre performance improved as the laps went by. The track is very hard on brakes, but that is a specific thing we can work on this evening to be well prepared for qualifying.”
Kimi Raikkonen: “This first day of practice was given over to learning the track, which I like and although it’s new, the grip level was good. In the first session, we went through our programme step by step, even if towards the end of the session I was unable to complete my last run. In the afternoon, we focused on tyre behaviour, with both compounds taking a long time to reach the maximum performance, which is unusual, especially for the Soft tyre.
In order to have a clearer picture on this topic, we will have to wait for the track to evolve. Unfortunately, here too I still don’t feel comfortable with the front end and this prevented me from putting together a good lap. Now, along with the team, we will try and find a solution that will allow me to get the most out of the car.”
Pat Fry: “As always on a new track, the first day of practice was particularly demanding, both for the drivers and the mechanics in the garage. Today, it was important to concentrate on the balance of the car and to make the most of every minute available, so that Kimi and Fernando could do as many laps as possible and get to learn the track. This track features a series of right-angle corners, all taken at similar speeds, which requires a high level of aerodynamic downforce.
Between these corners run two long straights which constitute the two DRS activation zones. It will also be vital to find a set-up that produces a good top speed. From what we saw today, the tyres perform very consistently: the surface is very smooth and the lap times evolved at an impressive rate, as did the wear which was low.
This is something we must keep an eye on in terms of qualifying, as well as paying close attention to all the data that will help us establish the best mechanical parameters and those linked to the power unit.”