Red Bull and Ferrari set the pace
Red Bull and Ferrari appear to be leading the field in practice for the Russian Grand Prix. Charles Leclerc set the pace in FP1 going eight-hundredths of a second faster than Max Verstappen, in FP2 it was Verstappen who was three tenths faster than Leclerc.
This you need to say is to be expected as Sochi is a mix of high speed where Ferrari are strong and downforce where it is Red Bull who are strong. We know that both teams have won this season at these type of circuits, but Lewis Hamilton claims they are losing around a second.
The five times champion told Crash.net, “It’s been a day of discovery and exploring, it started off not too bad and then it didn’t really improve as with the others, made some big progressions, we anticipated, we’re losing eight-tenths of a second to the Ferraris on the straights.”
“Nonetheless, we have been improving, but they are improving at a serious rate. So we’re just trying to figure out how we can improve the car, but it’s not an easy task.”
We have known all season that the Ferrari and Red Bull have been quick, now that we are in the ‘flyway races’, these circuits largely are more about cornering and balance rather than high-speed corners, constant balance is important.
Valtteri Bottas, who outpaced his teammate in both sessions, says he is hoping for rain to affect proceedings on Saturday. Adding “Red Bull and Ferrari were a bit too quick today. It felt good, there was no massive balance issues with the car, just maybe struggling a little bit with the overall grip and sliding around.”
Vettel believes Ferrari is now better able to balance the car and better explore those limits, and that the aero package introduced in Singapore was a significant step. This is what saw them take a step forward.
He added “We’ve generally understood which way to go. One, we were able to react with set-up. Two, I think the package we had in Singapore was going in the right direction, so giving us more downforce, more grip overall.”
Renault leads midfield
The midfield battle this weekend is looking as if Renault are the team to beat, they were eighth in both sessions. Although they were leapfrogged by the Toro Rosso and Racing Point in FP2, we know the group has been tight all season.
Nico Hulkenberg was eighth fastest, going five-hundredths faster than the Racing Point of Lance Stroll. The Racing Point drivers separated by the Renault, which you need to expect. Renault is the bigger team so for the gap to be that close is good for Racing Point.
Perez said “I think it’s been our best Friday of the season in terms of understanding and progress. We did a lot of aero work and I’m very pleased with the day. I’m massively looking forward to tomorrow and Sunday.”
“The conditions could change at any time so we have to be ready to react to the weather, try to find a couple of tenths and we should be fighting for a strong position.”
You need to say this is going to be a close battle between these teams as always. McLaren was only seven thousandths slower than Albon. Daniil Kvyat was twelfth fastest ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo.
No more Ferrari upgrades
Ferrari has announced it will not bring any more upgrades after practice pace has validated the performance of its latest aerodynamic package. The team claimed a shock pole position and victory in Singapore last weekend, having struggled at high-downforce tracks all season.
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto says that they are unable to explain the step up in performance. Charles Leclerc lapped second quickest in Friday practice at Sochi, 0.3s slower than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and the same distance clear of the lead Mercedes, Binotto was left encouraged.
He said, “We were competitive and that was important for us. We did a fantastic qualifying [performance] in Singapore with the new aero package. It was important to confirm how good was the package coming here, different types of tracks and set-ups. We’ve been fast, and competitive on the high-fuel runs, so in general, I am quite happy.”
Binotto and Ferrari’s sporting director Laurent Mekies both said on Friday in Russia that the team’s biggest development work for this season has now been completed.
Honda grid penalties
All four Honda drivers at Red Bull and Toro Rosso will take grid penalties at the Russian Grand Prix to strategically introduce another new engine. Although the drivers took penalties earlier this month either at Spa or Monza, the manufacturer has introduced a Spec-4 ahead of its home race in Japan.
Ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, with just two race weekends completed with their new Spec 4 engines, Honda has announced that all four of its drivers will get a new internal combustion engine.
This will give them a low-mileage engine for Japanese Grand Prix, Honda’s home race, in mid-October and should provide both teams with the engines they required to get to the end of the season without further changes.
Verstappen, Albon and Gasly will take five-place grid penalties at Sochi because they will only introduce a fresh ICE. With Daniil Kvyat being out of sync, he has taken a whole new power unit, meaning he starts his home race from the back.
Race directors’ notes
A new tight slalom has been introduced at Turn Two, which drivers will need to run through if they run wide. Track limits at the Sochi Autodrom have been a cause for headaches over the years, as the FIA’s tries to ensure that drivers don’t gain an advantage.
Ahead of the opening day of action in Russia, however, drivers have been told that a new solution has been introduced. In a note sent from F1 race director Michael Masi, he said: “Any driver who fails to negotiate Turn 2 by using the track, and who passes completely to the left of the first orange kerb element on prior to the apex.”
They “must then re-join the track by driving through the three arrays of blocks in the run-off, to the left of the first (orange block), to the right of the second (white block), to the left of the third (orange block).”
The idea is that weaving through the blocks slow cars sufficiently not to risk them still gaining an advantage by running wide, especially on the opening lap of the race.
Following the fiasco in Monza, drivers have been warned that about driving too slowly in the final segment of the track in qualifying to try to build a gap ahead of them. Masi has said, however, that any driver doing this at Turn 12 and 13 in Sochi will be punished.
He says “Any driver intending to create a gap in front of him in order to get a clear lap should not attempt do this around turns 12 and/or 13. Any driver seen to have done this will be reported to the stewards as being in breach of Article 27.4 of the 2019 Formula One Sporting Regulations.”
Kvyat helmet livery rejected
The FIA has told Daniil Kvyat he cannot use a special helmet livery design for his home race because he already used different colours at the Italian Grand Prix.
The Russian hoped to run a new white, blue and red helmet this weekend. However, he informed that the FIA had not granted him permission to run it because he had already raced in Italy with a different design to what he normally uses.
F1’s regulations are clear that drivers must race with predominantly the same helmet design for the entire season. However, they are allowed one special exemption.
Kvyat failed to exploit a loophole some driver have used, changing the colours rather than the design. However, after those plans were submitted to F1 race director Michael Masi, Kvyat was told that the change was too much so could not be used.
Tomorrow’s qualifying I think will be a similar story to what we saw in recent races and we know the slipstream is powerful here. While the FIA are looking to avoid a repeat of Monza, this will be watched carefully by the stewards. But this could cause headaches.
Ferrari and Red Bull are looking like the teams to beat but I think as we have seen recently Mercedes will step up overnight. Mercedes have won here every year and both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are very good around here too.
The midfield battle between McLaren and Renault will be an interesting battle, you have to say the French manufacturer has the upper hand. But don’t count out Toro Rosso, they could be in that fight too.