Russian skating

Russian skating 01

By new F1®, we mean bigger aerodynamic loads, wider tyres and considerably increased cornering speeds, as the 2017 lap times so far demonstrate. Pole was more than three and half seconds quicker than last year in China, for instance. That’s despite increased drag due to the bigger profile presented by the wider front tyres.

To be clear, the three grands prix held so far this year – Australia, China and Bahrain – have already indicated what we can expect. The cars are quicker. They are also more aggressive, because the extra downforce and grip through corners allow the drivers to attack more and put on a better show. But Sochi is Sochi. It’s built around the Olympic Park, partly using public roads, but it has high ambitions to stand tall as a circuit in its own right – and in fact some of the corners are a guarantee of real performance. But there’s also some question marks about the asphalt itself, which makes the circuit much more slippery than average.

Let’s take a step back. In 2014, when the Russian Grand Prix made its Formula 1® debut, it was immediately obvious that the nature of the asphalt was its defining characteristic. It was a brand-new surface, which had only just been laid.
Often this situation can simply be defined as a ‘green’ track: that’s to say a circuit without any rubber deposited on the surface, providing little potential for mechanical grip. But Sochi went one step further; the actual asphalt exuded oil, making it extremely slippery. In some places, rather than motorsport, it looked more like skating. A very strange form of Russian skating: extremely fast, with drivers forced to catch full-on power slides, and pay very close attention to their braking.

Russian skating 02

The following year, 2015, the situation was a bit better. With some everyday civilian use (but not excessively: there’s little traffic in the former Olympic district of Adler) the surface’s tendency to ‘sweat’ oil was reduced. Grip increased, even though all the Russian races held so far have always centred on one pit stop, given that tyre wear and degradation is somewhat limited.

This year, there’s another dimension. Pirelli is coming to Sochi with the softest possible tyre selection in the P Zero F1® range: soft, supersoft and ultrasoft – with the latter making its debut on Russian soil. This nomination has been prompted, of course, by the relatively low levels of energy going through the tyres in Sochi. But this year, with such a big leap forward in performance, things might be a bit different. Throughout a few fast corners and in the final part of the circuit (a stop-start sector characterised by heavy braking and maximum traction) there’s a real challenge delivered from the circuit on the Black Sea coast. A technical challenge that is distinctly different from the first three weekends of racing this year, which will help to add further complexion to the new era of Formula 1® and the performance of the latest car-tyre packages. Maybe there will still be a bit of ‘skating’ this year. But less than before. And so, the Russian Grand Prix too promises to become a race all about performance – showcasing the power of both cars and drivers.

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