The phrase ‘you’re only as good as your last race’ doesn’t always apply to F1. Often a circuit throws up a dull race but the event is still enjoyed, like Catalunya, or even revered, like Monte Carlo – and yet neither would be the fans’ first choice to watch for a thrilling grand prix.
The Russian Grand Prix hardly had a good start last year and in the meantime it seemed to have picked up Korea’s mantle as the race that no-one was looking forward to. Maybe that dread was a little unfair, although for anyone who’d spent the Winter Olympics in Sochi, let’s just say they were less than keen to return six months later for the inaugural grand prix.
Last year’s race also came off the back of a desperate weekend in Suzuka. Much of the fanfare and celebration for the new circuit was unwelcome as we all hoped and prayed for Jules Bianchi. Walking into the paddock just four days after his accident seemed wrong – an inconvenience – but the show had to go on, and it did. Conservative tyre choices saw Rosberg do his one and only pitstop less than two laps (or 10km) into the race, and that basically was it.
Add into the mix that Adler, where all the teams and F1 personnel stay, seemed to have expected and catered for about 12 people, which meant every hotel ran out of food by Thursday night. I’m expecting no sympathy from you, dear reader, for this part; it’s more to highlight that the area didn’t know, understand or care about how big the sport is. Many cities and areas adapt for F1, like Singapore, as we take over the nights with noise and the streets with barriers. Sochi is not for shifting!
From the archive: Mark Hughes reports on the first Russian Grand Prix (2014)
There is not much, if anything, going on around the event, but inside the confines of the track they do make an effort. F1 also tried to improve the spectacle with Pirelli bringing soft and super-soft tyres, which did at least open up the strategy for the grand prix.
After last year’s black cloud over safety in F1, it was great to see both Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean walk away unharmed after their frightening accidents.
It was also a decent race, although mostly created by driver errors and reliability issues, but the safety cars kept the midfield bunched up which meant that, as we have seen most races this year, the battles from third backwards were intense.
What did seem a pity was Mercedes winning the constructors’ title in the stewards’ room after Kimi Räikkönen was given a penalty for biffing countryman Valtteri Bottas off the track in a bid to take third. By the time Mercedes received the news, some of the team had left the track – including Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda. I flew back with some of the Mercedes team on the Sunday night and while they were overjoyed, it was hardly a surprise. They’d probably had the Champagne on ice since the Chinese Grand Prix.
The next question is: when will Lewis Hamilton win his third drivers’ world title? He would love to do it on American soil, a country where he spends much of his time and has many superstar friends, who will come to Austin to watch him realise that dream. The state’s ‘lone star’ might have some competition come next weekend when the private jets descend.
It would be the perfect platform for Lewis both personally and career-wise. He’s a global sports star and America is probably the only place in the western world where he isn’t a recognisable face, due to F1’s stature there. The sport’s still trying to crack the US after too long away.
Austin is a race that everyone inside the paddock looks forward to; a fabulous city with an interesting racetrack with that incredible run up to turn one. Add in the possibility of a championship being won and we’re set for a great weekend.