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Insight: How the F1 teams will approach racing on the new Sochi Grand Prix track

Insight: How the F1 teams will approach racing on the new Sochi Grand Prix track
Oct 9, 2014, 10:12 PM

Sochi is a new circuit, built around the Olympic Park from the Sochi Winter Games 2014.

Sochi is a new circuit, built around the Olympic Park from the Sochi Winter Games 2014. It is a street circuit in essence, like Singapore or Valencia in some ways although with faster sections and with a trademark horseshow shaped left-hander at T3/4, which will stress out the right front tyres.

It is the third longest lap of the year after Spa and Silverstone, but with 18 corners and 12 braking zones, the Energy Recovery Systems will be functioning at their optimum, with no issues on recharging. This is a track which would have been high fuel consumption in the V8 era, but which the teams will easily be able to cover in 100 kilos or less with the hybrid turbos.

Without the long horseshoe shaped T3/4 corner, the track would be average for tyre degradation, but teams will be keen to get as much data as possible from the Friday practice running to ensure that the correlation is good between their simulations and the reality as well as to understand how long the tyres, especially the front right, will last in the race.

Sochi F1 track

Pirelli has brought the soft and medium tyres for the sixth time this season, anticipating a two-stop race. The question will be whether three stops is a faster strategy, given that the pit stop time should be around 21 seconds. But the pit entry looks tight, so getting accurate data on that in practice will be very important.

There are two DRS zones and these are therefore the two main overtaking opportunities on each lap; on the 650m long pit straight into Turn 3 and on the back straight into Turn 14. However, we have increasingly seen drivers like Bottas and Ricciardo using their ERS system to pass at other spots on the circuit, having obliged the car in front to use up ERS boost defending in DRS zones. We may well see that again here, as the wide circuit encourages it.

THe F1 teams will race under a cloud this weekend after the tragic events in Japan surrounding Marussia's Jules Bianchi, who remains in hospital with a severe head injury.


Track characteristics

Sochi – 5.853 kilometres. Race distance - 53 laps = 310.209 kilometres. 18 corners in total. A new circuit around Olympic Park, with a street feel to it

Aerodynamic setup – HIgh downforce. Top speed 320km/h. Average Speed 200km/h

Full throttle – 56% of the lap time (average)

Time spent braking: 10% of lap (low); Number of brake zones – 12; Brake wear- Average. Not a tough race on brakes.

Total time needed for pit stop: 17.5 secs (plus stop time >3secs ) = 21 seconds (ave)

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Japanese Grand Prix - Qualifying Day - Suzuka, Japan

Form Guide

The Russian Grand Prix is the 16th round of the 2014 FIA F1 World Championship.

Mercedes has won 12 of the 15 races so far this season, with Lewis Hamilton now on eight victories to Nico Rosberg’s four. The team will clinch the Constructors’ Championship for the first time since 1955, if they score well this weekend. They can afford to drop 17 points to Red Bull and still clinch the title on Sunday, with three rounds still to go.

Sochi F1 track

Weather Forecast

Sochi is fairly temperate and stable weather wise so it looks like the temperatures will be around 20 degrees on race day. However, like Austin, it is cold at night, so the track temperature will be low for FP1 and FP3. Another thing to watch out for will be the dropping temperature as the race goes on, due to the relatively late 3pm start time. Forecast is for sunny and warm weather conditions with the chance of rain few low.

Pirelli F1 tyres

Likely tyre performance and other considerations

Pirelli tyre choice for Sochi: Soft (yellow markings) and Medium (white markings). This combination has been used five times this year already.

The track surface is only mildly abrasive, but it will still have the oils on the surface which is normal with fresh tarmac and which could make it slippery to start with. This will disappear after a Russian winter so next year the grip levels will be higher. The tyres are likely to slide on this surface and that will increase the stress on them. Meanwhile there are a lot of traction points (like Singapore) so we are likely to see rear tyre degradation due to longitudinal forces through the tyres on acceleration.

The performance gap between the soft and medium tyres has been one of the defining aspects of strategy this year with this combination of tyres. The soft was 1.6 seconds faster in practice than the medium last time they were used in Belgium and the soft was the main race tyre, but that was over a longer lap with much higher energy levels. The soft lasted up to 16 laps at Spa, so they should go longer at Sochi. In China, with its long corners, the medium was the favoured race tyre.

The track is expected to evolve significantly over the weekend. Teams will probably start out with lot of downforce tomorrow and then remove it gradually as the track improves. That could mean that the gap between soft and medium could be over 2 seconds on Friday, so watch out for teams leaving it until quite late in FP2 to do their soft tyre runs, when the track is at its best.

Pit stop F1

Number and likely timing of pit stops

Sochi has a tight pit entry, which will need to be understood, but simulations say that a stop will take 17.5 seconds plus the stationary time in the pit box.

The number and timing of stops is hard to predict until the effect of all the above considerations on the tyres is known, but it is likely to be a decision between 2 and 3 stops.

F1 safety Car

Chance of a Safety Car

The chance of a Safety Car at Sochi has yet to be established, but after the harrowing events at Suzuka with Jules Bianchi last week and the resulting spotlight on the role of the Safety Car in F1, plus a circuit lined with walls, which makes it hard for marshals to clear debris safely, it has to be presumed that the chances of a Safety Car this weekend are quite high.

Start Singapore GP 2014

Recent start performance

Starts are a critical part of the race and strategy can be badly compromised by a poor start, while good starts can make strategists change their plans in the hope of a good result.

As far as 2014 starts are concerned here is a table with indications of drivers who have gained or lost places at the start.

Note- This table is intended as an indicator of trends. Where drivers have had first lap incidents, which dropped them to the back of the field, they are not included above, but are detailed in the notes below. This affects other drivers’ gains, but the sample still shows prevailing trends of places won and lost at the start. Note that the Japanese Grand Prix started behind a Safety Car so those values have not been entered below.

Net gained positions

24 Gutierrez

18 Maldonado, Hulkenberg 

17 Ericsson,

15 Raikkonen, Kobayashi

14 Chilton

11 Sutil,

10 Massa

8 Bianchi

7 Hamilton,

6 Bottas, 

5 Alonso

4 Button, Lotterer, Perez

3 Vettel,

Net held position

Rosberg, Magnussen

Net lost positions

23 Vergne,

11 Ricciardo,

8 Grosjean,

4 Kvyat



Melbourne Notes: Kobayashi, Massa eliminated in a first corner accident; Perez, Gutierrez pitted at the end of Lap 1; Bianchi, Grosjean started from pit lane.

Malaysia Notes: Perez started from pit lane, Bianchi pitted at the end of lap 1 

Bahrain notes: Vergne pitted at the end of lap 1 after contact

China Notes: Sutil lost power at start and dropped 8 places, retiring soon after. 

Monaco notes: Maldonado did not start, Ericsson started from pit lane, Perez crashed Lap 1.

Canada Notes: Gutierrez started from pit lane; Bianchi and Chilton crashed lap 1; Ericsson pitted lap 1

Austria Notes: Grosjean started from pit lane

GB Notes: Raikkonen and Massa eliminated in 1st lap accident

Germany notes: Massa eliminated in 1st lap accident, Magnussen and Ricciardo dropped back as a result 

Hungary Notes: Hamilton, Magnussen, Kvyat started from pit lane

Belgium Notes: Grosjean and Bianchi collided on lap one, Kobayashi absent and replaced by Lotterer.

Italy Notes: Ericsson started from pit lane.

Singapore notes: Kobayashi did not start; Rosberg started from pit lane

Japan notes: Race started behind Safety Car.

Pit Stop League Table

Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and consistency is the key; nevertheless, we have seen tyre stops carried out in two seconds this year.

The table below shows the fastest single stop by teams in the recent Japanese Grand Prix from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it.

1. Red Bull 23.443 seconds

2. Lotus 23.656

3. Mercedes 23.677

4. McLaren 23.701

5. Force India 23.878

6. Ferrari 24.173

7. Toro Rosso 24.222

8. Sauber 24.314

9. Williams 24.374

10. Caterham 24.907

11. Marussia 24.910

The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists, from Pirelli and from JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow

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