Sochi Autodrom, 2014

2016 Russian Grand Prix track preview

2016 Russian Grand Prix

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Track data: Sochi Autodrom

Lap length5.848km (3.634 miles)
Grand prix distance309.745km (192.467 miles)
Lap record (race)1’40.896 (Valtteri Bottas, 2014)
Fastest lap (any session)1’38.338 (Lewis Hamilton, 2014, qualifying three)
Tyre compoundsSee drivers’ choices
2015 Rate the Race6.97 out of 10
2015 Driver of the WeekendSergio Perez

Sochi Autodrom track data in full

With its abundance of slow corners, vast expanses of asphalt run-offs and low-grip surface, Sochi Autodrom is typical of the modern generation of F1 tracks designed by Hermann Tilke.

The home of the Russian Grand Prix is a faux-street circuit in a similar vein to the former European Grand Prix host Valencia. This isn’t a rough, narrow, winding course but a wide layout with decent acceleration zones punctuated by the inevitable slow turns. The sweeping turn three is the track’s most notable corner.

This is the first race this year where teams do not have access to a softer compound than that which was used last season. That explains why almost all the teams have only selected the single set of medium compound tyres the rules require them to have, while Red Bull and Haas will stack up ten sets of super-softs for each of their drivers.

A lap of Sochi begins with the flat-out run through turn one beyond which the drivers hit a top speed of around 340kph. Few tracks have a longer run from the grid to the first braking zone, so any drivers who haven’t mastered the new starting procedures yet will be punished on Sunday.

Turn two tends to see a lot of action and policing the run-off area was a challenge for the stewards last year. Further changes have been made this year to the kerb and run-off to keep drivers within the track limits.

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2015
Corner-cutting is a frequent problem at turn two
Turn three might be the closest we ever come to seeing F1 cars running on a US-style one-mile oval and its hazards are much the same. It’s slippery off-line and the build-up of marbles will exacerbate that, especially if the new tyre rules means we see drivers running the super-softs for longer.

The following corner can be an overtaking opportunity, but only if the attacking driver is much further alongside his prey than Kimi Raikkonen was when he turfed Valtteri Bottas off on the final lap of last year’s race.

The drivers then enter a succession of similar but subtly different turns. “There are a lot of corners where it feels you’re braking too late but where the exit opens up and there you have to focus on getting the exit right,” explains Kevin Magnussen. “You have to be a little bit different in how you approach your driving there.”

Turn ten leads onto the second-longest flat-out stretch on the track and the second DRS zone after the pit straight. The approach to turn 13 is tricky: drivers must cancel manually to ensure the car is table as they begin braking, while the car is still exiting turn 12, Add a cool set of the harder tyres into the mix and you get a crash like Carlos Sainz Jnr’s in final practice last year.

While the low-grip surface does not tax the tyres, in qualifying the final sector can become tricky as drivers begin to lose traction. Six slow corners in a short space of time bring them back around for another lap.

The frequent stops and repeated high acceleration zones make this one of the toughest courses for fuel consumption. “When we were there two years ago we immediately realized that the 100 kg maximum allowance for the entire race was quite restrictive,” explains Ferrari’s power unit director Mattia Binotto. “In fact, you need somehow to save and manage the fuel during the race and optimise it for the race distance.”

Jenson Button, McLaren, Sochi Autodrom, 2015
Drivers must monitor fuel use closely
While the conventional part of the engine gets a hard time, the power recovery systems have plenty of opportunities to generate additional energy. Nine lengthy braking zones per lap keep the MGU-K charging and with 60% of the track taken at full throttle the MGU-H plays a bigger role than it would at a conventional street track.

The result is a track where the complete performance of the power unit is tested. “You need to get the balance right between the long straight which require high accelerations, the corners, every other part of the circuit, and finally to optimise the best lap time and the energy management between the internal combustion engine and the whole system,” says Binotto.

On top of that, the teams need to strike the best balance for power unit use over a single lap and throughout a race stint. “In terms of race management, the drivers’ lines can be very different in Russia,” Binotto explains. “There are quite a few opportunities for overtaking and therefore it is quite important to manage correctly the way you accelerate the car by using different strategies in the race, compared to qualifying in hybrid and power unit energy management.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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28 comments on “2016 Russian Grand Prix track preview”

  1. Hopefully we get a race as good as last year. I like this track, it might not have the nicest surroundings but turn 3 is unique and there’s some good overtaking opportunities.

    1. @glynh I think we could end up wishing the ultra-soft tyre was in the allocation. I expect it will be next year, they hadn’t had chance to run it before the Russia tyre nominations were made.

      1. Agreed @keithcollantine this seems like the perfect track for the ultra soft but it depends if lasts long enough to be worth using. It will also be interesting to see if anyone risks one early stop like rosberg 2014.

        1. @glynh I’m sure many will. Many drivers one-stopped at least year’s race with supersoft and soft tyres

  2. The only – big – difference between Turn 3 and ovals is that Turn 3 is very heavily cambered to the outside; it’s visible even from the track cameras.

    But yeah, it’s very interesting to see how drivers pick up understeer in a heavily sterilised environment (long corner, constant radius). The off-camber has the effect of magnifying imbalances be it over- or understeer, so it’s good in that respect. Almost all cars understeer here, by the way, due to them being set up for the low-speed corners that are dominant on most every Tilke track. It this regard, Grosjean’s accident from last year is even more interesting as he clearly oversteered before he crashed, which is very unusual here. (He basically did a Senna when his front axle unexpectedly and suddenly regained grip and threw him around.)

    1. @atticus-2 It’s probably also a bigger radius than on a one-mile oval – Monza’s Parabolica might have been a better point of comparison. Though without the run-off, of course!

      1. Indeed. But it may still ‘fit’ the corner radius of a mile-and-a-half oval or something in between. (Which is rare.)

        1. With so little run off and the radius how much different is this to the original Peritalda corner in Mexico?

          1. It is approached at a lower speed. And it has very slightly more run-off, though I do think that that’s the one corner on the track where it’s actually not enough. All the low-speed corners have miles of run-off for nothing (only Turn 2 and Turn 13 warrants them at the end of the long straights for brake failures), but Turn 3 doesn’t… I think it will be especially high-risk with the 2017 cars.

          2. Not only it’s approached at lower speed as @atticus-2 mentioned but it’s a negative camber turn as opposed to Peraltada being a banked turn. So not really the same

  3. I really dislike this circuit. The first real corner on the track is farcical at best when it comes to the start and the only real decent corner is the one succeeding it. Other than that, typical Tilke-style corners for the rest of the lap around some ‘landmarks’ I could not care less about really does not excite me at all. There is absolutely no character and the sheer volume of run-off in some areas promotes some wonderful track-extending. Fantastic.

    Korea and India were beyond bad, and this is very much up there as well. The quicker this track is off the calendar, the better. As for the race this year, the lack of the Ultra-Soft is really going to restrict strategy options. It’s a baffling decision to not bring it here.

  4. looking at the track objectively (and this guide is a good way of doing that) it promises to be a good race. multiple lines, awkward corner, overtaking opportunities. obviously it’s much more complex than that, but i remain hopeful…

  5. I don’t think this race can do any wrong. The intrigue this season is enough to make even the most boring of actual races interesting at this point in the season any way. Still so many questions to be asked of so many teams/drivers. Can’t wait!

    1. Although with this likely a 1 stop race and on paper appearing to be a boring race to what we have had this year the interesting thing may well be that without the recent incidents and little scope for alternate strategy we can see the difference between Merc and Ferrari in out and out race pace.

  6. Why is the speed in km/h?

    1. Why shouldn’t it be in IS units?

      1. Formula 1 gives all its figures in km. 340kph is 211mph

    2. Why not? That’s the unit used almost everywhere on this planet, including on the info graphics of the FOM broadcast.

    3. @fjbh10 Because that’s my preferred unit of measurement. It’s what I was taught in.

    4. a more poigniant question might be why do the UK and US still insist on using imperial measurements in this day and age? ;0

    5. @fjbh10 are you new to Formula 1? welcome, really. All the speeds and distances have always been in the International System. It’s me who gets wondering whenever I see Indy or Nascar, with all those miles and the cars weighed in pounds.

      1. Ok… calm down everyone! I just don’t see why it isn’t in both Imperial and Metric.

  7. I seem to remember this circuit being a complete damp squib last year.

    I hope we’re in for a better race this weekend. Fingers crossed!

  8. If the organizers altered the Sochi circuit’s design and changed some of those slow corners into fast sweepers, then we would have a really good racing circuit. Last year was a coincidentially decent race because of all the accidents that happened last year.

    1. *accidents and other dramas

  9. We’re 50/50 with bad/good races at Sochi, I would have high hope for the new tyre rules loading the deck for a good race but of all the tracks I think this will be the least affected. Really needed the ultra soft tyre!

  10. The one word which comes to mind for me is ‘boring’.

    Another heavy fuel usage, lift and coast, so hold back on real racing lads.

    It’s unfortunate that the best races are when things go wrong.

  11. Here is a list with official online broadcasters and also instruction who to watch online in case it’s blocked in your country https://www.ibvpn.com/2016/04/how-to-watch-russian-grand-prix-2016-live-online/

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