Twenty-four Russian Grand Prix facts


1. On the grid it was confirmed that F1 has renewed its deal with Pirelli until the end of 2019.

2. What played out afterwards was a race very untypical of the Pirelli era, one where tyre degradation was just not an issue and drivers were able to push hard throughout, even on a one-stop strategy.

3. Despite getting only one car to the finish, Mercedes clinched the constructors championship – though had to rely on a post-race penalty for Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari to do so.

4. Sebastian Vettel could only apply some late pressure on Hamilton after the latter’s rear wing suddenly began under-performing with 15 laps to go. It’s suspected that rubber debris had simply clogged the slot gap – and there was plenty of that around.

5. Because Pirelli tyres rely much more heavily on mechanical grip than chemical – clawing its grip onto the surface more than bonding with it – it shreds great balls of rubber off-line. These played a crucial part in determining the shape of the race for as Romain Grosjean collected a slide through turn three on the 12th lap, his right-rear got onto those marbles, causing him to over-correct, oval-style, hard into the wall. It was a big enough impact to break the Lotus’ seat and came at the perfect time for the safety car it triggered to provide a strategic dilemma.

6. The crossover point between the two approaches came deliciously late in the race, thereby setting up that controversial last lap, out of which Pérez emerged with a terrific podium for Force India.

7. So what is it about the Sochi Autodrome that gives such untypical tyre behaviour? Mainly it’s to do with its track surface – an incredibly smooth bitumen with a high composite content that makes even the super-soft too conservative a compound.

8. The layout imposes a heavy fuel and brake demand. Those demands mean it’s one of the handful of tracks on the calendar that imposes some lift and coasting even with the full 100kg starting allocation, taking the tyre yet further away from being the limiting factor.

9. Carlos Sainz retired due to brake failure – the temperatures of the left-front began soaring and in no time at all that carbon fibre disc had oxydised itself to nothing. The brake ducts had become blocked with rubber debris…

10. In qualifying there was a choice to be made between ‘build-push’ or ‘push-charge-push’ – ie a single preparation lap or two runs on the same tyres with an ers-charging lap in between. There wasn’t one definitive right answer. Regardless of which was chosen, on the out lap you needed to bring the fronts in quite aggressively but at the same time be easy on the rears – and the extent to which you needed to do this seemed to be changing each run. Typically, the fronts were too cold for the beginning of the lap, the rears too hot by the end of it.

11. The Friday sessions were lost – the first one to a heavy diesel spillage (ironically from a track-cleaning vehicle) on Thursday evening, the second to heavy rain. The one hour of Saturday morning practice was therefore the first time they had a chance to push – and Carlos Sainz, trying to learn the circuit, pushed just a little too hard.

12. The left-hand kink of turn 12 (where Sainz crashed) is approached at around 200mph and immediately after it you are braking hard for a 90-degree right, so the car is naturally unbalanced here. It’s one of the few places on the calendar where the driver has to manually close the DRS flap rather than just relying on it automatically closing when he begins braking.

13. Was Carlos just a little late closing the DRS flap before crashing, not allowing the airflow to re-attach as he turned in to the kink? It seems not. He’d just switched to the lower-grip prime tyre, had just changed the braking shape map to give slightly more rear bias and this combination, together with his typically aggressive way of learning a track, seems to have caught him out at the trickiest part of the circuit.

14. Marcus Ericsson was 0.6s slower than his team-mate Nasr in qualifying because his tyre temperature sensors were not working on his crucial run – and in these conditions that was a very major problem, leaving him disappointed.

15. Massa lined up 15th due to a drastic under-performance in qualifying, resulting from his having got out of shape through turn eight, being forced to abandon the lap, and then encountering traffic and overheated rear tyres on his subsequent lap.

16. The Force Indias, which have been developed enough now to have leapfrogged the Lotus which has had virtually zero development of late.

17. Because of the fuel consumption limitation a two-stop race was less attractive than a one-stop. This was also because of the extraordinarily low tyre degradation rates, estimated before the race at a hundredth of a second per lap on the prime (soft) and two-hundredths on the super-soft option.

18. The latter was around one second per lap faster and therefore the ideal was to start on the super-soft and maximise the length of that first stint, minimising the number of laps you were on the slower tyre for the remainder of the distance.

19. On the last part of the formation lap to the grid Rosberg and Hamilton slowed the pace down to a crawl. There was a tactical reason for this: the Ferrari needs more work to get that vital heat into the tyres than the Mercedes – and this was thwarting that process. This action would come to have a consequence – but not upon Ferrari.

20. Hulkenberg’s rear tyres were well below temperature at the start – that crawling formation lap by the Mercs – and the rear of the car just looped around. Nico got the opposite lock on but the gripless rear tyres simply didn’t respond and he kept on spinning.

21. The throttle pedal of Rosberg’s car had started behaving strangely when running behind the safety car and would continue to do so. When he lifted off it wasn’t returning to 0 per cent, maintaining some revs as he braked and turned into the corners, pushing him on. He retained the lead for the time being but the problem was becoming worse. Going into the seventh lap Rosberg’s throttle problem had worsened to the extent that it pushed him wide over the exit kerbs at turn two. To his right a flash of silver and Hamilton was through on his way to victory. “The pedal was just coming further and further back towards me each time I used it then lifted off,” reported Nico, “but the revs as I lifted were getting higher each time. Eventually it got to the point where I was having to lift my leg so much I couldn’t steer properly.” Running wide at turn 13, he was passed by Bottas and at the end of the lap he peeled off into the pitlane to retire.

22. If you were running up front when the safety car came out for a second time it was too early to risk pitting – and Hamilton, Bottas and the two Ferraris stayed out. The time that would be lost through being on the slower tyre for the remainder of the distance cancelled out any potential upside. But just behind that group – where Pérez, Kvyat, Ricciardo and Nasr were running – it was an interesting opportunity.

23. In the closing laps the Williams of Bottas had used its tyres harder than the Ferrari of Kimi and Bottas’ rubber was also five laps older than Räikkönen’s – so Kimi was gaining fast as they rounded turn three. He wasn’t really quite close enough into the braking zone for four, but neither was Bottas very defensive into there. It was just too tempting – and Räikkönen hurled the Ferrari down the inside.

24. This is what races can be like when tyres wear out rather than heat degrade. But this was just a peculiarity of the circuit and soon we’ll be back to drivers having to deliberately drive a few tenths off the limit for most of the distance. But looking to the longer term – which Pirelli can now do – isn’t it time F1 came up with something that allowed every race to be run flat-out?

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