Not the best of results, but not the worst either...
Sochi, – Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen set the eighth and ninth fastest times in qualifying, but will both move up one place on the grid of the first Russian Grand Prix, because of a gearbox-change penalty for Kevin Magnussen. Not the best of results, but not the worst either, as this new circuit proved from Friday practice onwards that it was going to deliver a slightly different pecking order to usual.
Yes, the front row is the usual Mercedes lock-out, with Lewis Hamilton taking his seventh pole of the season to stay ahead of Nico Rosberg, but for a moment, it looked as though the number one slot would go to Williams, as Valtteri Bottas posted the fastest times in the first two sectors, before overcooking it at the final corner. But it was good enough for third. Jenson Button, who had an excellent race in Suzuka last Sunday proved that the McLarens are enjoying a mini revival right now as the Englishman was fourth fastest.
The truth is just that the cars ahead of us were quicker.
One might have expected Daniil Kvyat to be particularly motivated in his home grand prix, but the Russian was helped by the fact that Toro Rosso have been the best of the Renault-powered cars all weekend and he will start from fifth on the grid. With Magnussen dropping to eleventh, Daniel Ricciardo is sixth for Red Bull so that the two F14 Ts line up together on row 4.
With both the Medium and Soft tyre showing no signs of wear, a one-stop strategy is the logical way to go, apart for the quickest cars that might enjoy the luxury of two stops. But the single visit to pit lane is even more of a certainty for the majority, as the narrowness of the pit lane has prompted the Race Director to reduce the pit lane speed from 80 to 60 km/h.
Whatever happens in the inaugural Russian Grand Prix, every member of the Scuderia will be doing its utmost to produce a good result, for all the usual reasons with the further impetus of wanting to send out a positive message for Ferrari Driver Academy and Marussia driver Jules Bianchi.
Fernando Alonso: “Today’s qualifying was more difficult than usual, or at least more complicated compared to the last two race weekends, when we had been able to fight with the front runners. So far here, we have not been competitive, even though the car seems okay and on the set-up front, we’ve changed almost nothing. We can’t single out any particular bad point because we are losing in all the sectors. The truth is just that the cars ahead of us were quicker.
Here, the grip seems to improve with every lap and on top of that, reducing the pit lane speed to 60 km/h all points to a one-stop strategy. Even if the Safety Car could mix things up a bit, I think tomorrow, the start and the first corner could define the outcome of the race, and so we must prepare to tackle the early stages as well as possible.”
Kimi Raikkonen: “After a difficult Friday, things went better today, the car has improved a lot thanks to a series of changes that worked and we had a good pace. Sure, we can’t claim to have ended up where we would have liked, but compared to the start of the weekend, we have made a step forward and this makes me confident for the race. Today, it wasn’t easy to put a quick lap together because I still have some difficulties with the front end, especially in the final sector, but tomorrow we will try our hardest to be in the game and make up some places.”
Pat Fry: “Yesterday, it was immediately apparent that tyre performance was unusual compared to that at other circuits, both because of the track surface and because of the interaction with the compounds available for this Grand Prix. It is reminiscent of the situation on the first Saturday in Austin, where the best times came after a decent number of laps.
Today, as then, the main difficulty was in choosing the right amount of fuel so as to produce the maximum performance while at the same time being able to complete the number of laps necessary to get that best performance. Added to this of course was the effect produced by the evolution of the track. Today’s result reflects the pecking order seen last week in Suzuka, with Williams more competitive, the Red Bull closer and a few surprises, such as the two Toro Rosso.
Race strategy is looking like being a one stop, but the pit stop window is very wide, because of the low degradation levels. With Magnussen’s penalty, we gain a place on the starting grid, but only tomorrow will we know how many passing opportunities this track will produce. There’s a high chance of a safety car, if you consider the walls are very close and that there aren’t too many escape roads. This can be seen as both a risk and an opportunity and we must be ready to react.”