Super-G returns to Sochi

 

The first time we saw Super-G in Sochi was in 2014 when the Russian city hosted the XXII Olympic Winter Games. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud beat American Andrew Weibrecht by .3 of a second on the 2.096 km (1.302 mile) course with a 622 m (2,041 ft) vertical drop to nab gold in the alpine slalom event.

Three years later, a Super-G of a different sort returns to Sochi, but instead of taking place on the white slopes of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, it will happen on the black asphalt of the Sochi Autodrom as the fastest cars in Formula One history rocket around the 5.848 km (3.634 mile), 18-turn circuit for the 30 April Russian Grand Prix.

Tech regs

With a new set of technical regulations in place for 2017, Formula One cars feature an advanced aerodynamic package that has created a significantly higher level of downforce and a substantial uptick in g-force. A wider front wing, larger barge boards, a lower and wider rear wing and a diffuser that expands 50mm (two inches) in height and width comprise the changes.

And planting these cars to the ground are much wider tyres from Pirelli, by 60mm (2.4 inches) in the front and 80mm  (3.1 inches) in the rear, a 25-per cent increase from 2016.

Between the heightened downforce and the grip afforded by Pirelli’s tyres, drivers are able to turn laps nearly five seconds faster than they did last year. Track records have fallen at each of the races run this season in Australia, China and Bahrain. Sochi is home to the fourth race of the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship and likely the fourth venue where another track record will fall.

Brutal driving

The higher speeds of these racecars have led to drastically higher g-forces being sustained by the drivers who wheel these cutting-edge machines. After the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean said he was pulling close to eight Gs when running at speed.

“The cars are brutal to drive – we are not far from 8G with the peak in high corners – so it is pretty good fun, but it is hard on the body, it is hard on parts, it is hard on the cars,” Grosjean said. “You better not miss the turning point on some places. The speed we go through the corners is insane compared to the past. You need to be more precise, more accurate, more on it.”

Eight Gs is eight times the force of gravity, which makes a 68 kg (150 pound) Formula One driver weigh 544 kg. It seems like a big number – and it is – but still well within the body’s tolerance for short durations.

Grosjean and his teammate, Kevin Magnussen, developed their bodies this offseason as much as Haas F1 Team developed its racecar.

“There was no point risking not being fit enough or strong enough, so the training was much harder this offseason,” Magnussen said. “It was more strength training. Before you were designing your training programme to not gain any weight, but this year we’re able to train harder with more strength-focused training rather than just long cardio sessions.”

“We’re going through more g-forces, so the neck is stronger and the core is stronger,” Grosjean added. “Your whole body had to adjust to these high speeds.”

Faster times

The current track record at the Sochi Autodrom is 1:35.417, set last year by Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg in the final round of qualifying. It will fall in 2017. The question is, by how much?

It will likely be a driver from either Scuderia Ferrari or Mercedes who sets the new track record. For the Haas F1 Team, it’s about getting as close to those giants in qualifying on Saturday to start as close to the front as possible for the race on Sunday.

Grosjean’s best starting spot at Sochi is eighth, earned in 2015, and Magnussen’s best grid placement is 11th, earned last year. While Grosjean has a better qualifying performance at Sochi, Magnussen has the better race results.

Magnussen has never finished lower than seventh in his two career Formula One starts at the track, with his best being a fifth-place drive in 2014. Grosjean earned his best finish in last year’s race when he came home eighth.

With bodies built for the speed of this new Formula One era, Grosjean and Magnussen look to build on their past performances in Sochi with strong runs in their version of Super-G.

 

Ferrari nails it

Valtteri looks a bit cheesed off.

 

Sebastian Vettel produced a gutsy drive this evening to win the Bahrain Grand Prix, having started from third on the grid. His victory was also down to the strategic calls from the Scuderia Ferrari pit wall. Lewis Hamilton took the 107th top three finish of his Formula One career in P2, and Valtteri Bottas, having started on pole, sealed a double podium for Mercedes in P3.

Sebastian Vettel: “At the start, it was important for me to get second place. Also, we got everything right with the strategy. We decided to pit early and this tactic proved to be working. Towards the end, I tried to manage the gap I had over Lewis. I expected him to charge through. Of course I was concerned with all the traffic ahead of me. But in the end it was all OK.

“The car was like a dream to drive. I felt right from the beginning that we had the speed to win. I had a good feeling yesterday. The lap back to pits was so sweet, with all the fireworks around, and I really savoured it. Tonight we enjoy the moment, but tomorrow we’ll be back at work. I haven’t changed my mind – to become world champion, you must first beat the Mercedes. We’ll take it race by race.”

Lewis Hamilton: “It’s been a challenging weekend. The start of the race was OK but Sebastian was in my blind spot so I didn’t know where he was and I lost a position there. It was really hard to follow but we generally had similar pace. Under the Safety Car, I just misjudged it myself the situation; that was my fault, so my apologies to the team.

“I had good pace in the second and final stints and we honestly thought we could catch Sebastian. But the five second penalty made that twice as hard. I believe it was the right choice to go with the Soft in the final stint. I think that was the best call as I still had a long way to go. Our guys have been making good calls all year so far. I tried my best to recover from the mistake but it wasn’t quite enough. We still come away with good points.”

Valtteri Bottas: “Not a good day. We had an issue with the tyre pressures at the start. I don’t know what it was but I could really feel it in the first stint and was sliding around as early as Lap 2. The pace wasn’t good and Sebastian put us under real pressure. I tried to extend the first stint but I couldn’t keep up with the pace.

“The second stint was better but I was still struggling with oversteer and then I couldn’t get the rear-end to work in the last stint. Under the Safety Car at the first stop there was a problem and we lost some time in the stop; maybe otherwise I would have just been in front but I know that the team will investigate the issue.

“I had some good racing with Sebastian after the restart but unfortunately it was just for a short moment. I’ve not had the race results that I’d been hoping for so far, but will be targeting a strong weekend in Sochi.”

 

“Sorry you were asked to let me past….. err, twice”

And a few words from Mr Bottas

 

“I’m really happy with my first Formula One pole. It’s my fifth season in the sport now, so it took a few races. But we got it and hopefully it is the first of many. It feels good.

“I didn’t realise it’d been nearly 10 years since a Finn was last on pole. I’m very proud as always to drive for Finland and represent my country.

“It’s not an easy track to get everything right. It’s quite technical and there are a few tricky corners. But I I’ve been getting more and more comfortable with the car and managed to get the lap together. Thankfully it was good enough for pole.

“I just want to say a big thanks to the team for giving me this car. It’s great that we’re both starting from the front row. We’ve done a really good job this weekend to focus on the evening conditions and really maximise the lap time in the car. We’ll enjoy this for a short period of time – but the main focus is the race tomorrow. There is no point to start dreaming just yet. It’s all about getting the maximum out of the race. As a team we can be really strong tomorrow.”

James Allison, Technical Director: “A first pole for Valtteri and it feels excellent. It’s lovely to have a front-row lockout and it’s a great reward to Valtteri for three excellent laps in qualifying today. We are all really happy.

“The gap to Ferrari is a little larger than in the first two races but rather than being surprised we’re just grateful for that small bit of breathing space. It will be different again tomorrow when everyone has their cars full of fuel – then we are sure to have our work cut out.

“We’re expecting the weather to change a fair bit for tomorrow, both windier and cooler. But it will be normal fare for Bahrain – tough on the brakes, tough on the drivers. It’ll be a long, hard toil, but hopefully we’ll end up at the front. It’s going to be super tight.”

 

Well done Valtteri!

 

A cracking lap and a few mistakes by Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas is on pole – his first ever in Formula One – for tomorrow’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Hamilton was ahead by 0.052 secs after the first laps in the top 10 shootout but appeared to have a scrappy final lap, allowing Bottas to edge ahead.

It was Mercedes’ first front-row lock-out of 2017, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in third 0.478 secs off the pace. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took fourth ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Good news for the season ahead

 

We could have a fight on our hands.

Lewis Hamilton may have dominated today’s Chinese Grand Prix with Sebastian Vettel second and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen third – having moved up from 16th on the grid to finish third, but I’m pleased to say the season could turn out to be a humdinger between the two champions as Hamilton and Vettel battle it out.

Lewis Hamilton: “My pole lap put me in a great position and then the start was just fantastic. I’m really happy with my starts right now so I want to keep that up!

“During the race I needed to keep my composure in some really tricky conditions out there. After the pit stop under the Safety Car the speed was low and the tyres were very cold, so it would have been very easy to make a mistake, so I’m just grateful that I didn’t. In those final 20 laps Seb and I were just pounding around as fast as we could, exchanging fastest lap times, that’s what racing is all about.

“In the future there will be times when we don’t have a Safety Car and we won’t have that gap. I’m excited for that. It’s very close and there were times when it was hard to match Sebastian. It has been a fantastic weekend… Big congratulations to everyone, especially those back home, I hope they’re celebrating and feeling the spirit and the fight.”

Sebastian Vettel: “The race was a lot of fun, very entertaining. Conditions were tricky at the start, you never know what can happen in those moments, so I was perhaps a bit too conservative. Then we chose to change tyres since the track was quickly drying out, so that we could take advantage from the slicks; but luck was not on our side as the safety car came in right after.

“I can’t say how much this affected the final result, it was still a long way from there to the finish, but I think it had an effect. From then I had to work my way through the field, and I had a tense wheel-to-wheel fight with Ricciardo. I like this way of overtaking, when gaining position comes at a price and not simply by opening up the DRS.

“At that moment though, the gap to Lewis had widened, and I kept pushing to keep some pressure on him, while asking my engineer what pace was needed for me to catch him. I think that pace-wise we were a match today. Sometimes he was faster, sometimes I was: if we can fight with Mercedes also in Bahrain that will be again good news. We can still improve.”

 

Hamilton on pole

 

Just ahead of Sebastian Vettel. The Brit’s 1:31.678 was 3.72s quicker than the 2016 pole position time and 0.56 seconds faster than the all-time circuit lap record set by Michael Schumacher in 2004. Valtteri Bottas will start tomorrow’s race from P3 having missed out on the front row by just a thousandth of a second (equivalent to 5.91cm) in an intense battle with Vettel.

Lewis Hamilton: “It’s been an interesting weekend so far, obviously, after missing running yesterday. It’s been a challenge for all of us, trying to compile a lot of yesterday’s work into this morning. Ferrari have been so fast through practice and then into qualifying. We knew it was going to be close and that we’d have to pull out all the stops to beat them.

“I managed to just chip away at it session to session, then make my last lap my fastest lap – which is always the target but doesn’t always work out that way. The lap started off not quite as well as my previous attempts. But from there it got better and better. I felt really strong coming into the final corner knowing I was up by a couple of tenths.

“But it’s always a bit nervy going into Turn 14, as you want to brake late to gain some time but it’s easy to lose more if you get it wrong. Waiting to find out what the others had done after I crossed the line was pretty tense!

“I’m really happy with today and super grateful for the huge effort the team had put in to keep us in the fight. It’s more exciting than ever right now. We’re really fighting these guys out there and that’s what racing’s all about. It pushed you to raise the bar every time you go out, which I love. A big thank you to all the fans too. There were a lot of British flags out there which is great to see.”

Sebastian Vettel: “It was a bit closer than in Australia, so a good session overall with lots of chances for tomorrow. We’ll see what the race can bring, with the different conditions and everything. Of course I would have liked to be even closer, knowing that the Mercedes would be very strong in Q3, as they proved to be. We had some luck with Valtteri, because when you’re a thousand of a second apart, it could be one way or the other.

“I was happy with my lap, even if I braked a bit too early for the last corner, hit the kerb hard and had to wait for the car to settle. That’s where I lost a bit of time, but not all the gap to Lewis. There wasn’t much more I could have gained. So this result on a totally different track, with conditions significantly cooler than Melbourne, is definitely good news. The confidence is there, I trust what the car is telling me and she seems to respond to what I tell her. It’s a good match but we need to improve further.”

Valtteri Bottas: “It’s a real shame Sebastian managed to get between us. I think last time it was a couple of hundredths and now it’s a thousandth. Around a lap here there are a quite a lot of places you can lose one thousandth of a second, so I will look to see where improvements can be made as always.

“But anyway, the race is tomorrow and we are first and third on the grid as a team, which is a good place to start. Anything can happen with the weather too. Lewis was strong today and Ferrari were very quick too. We were always expecting a close fight and I think it will be the same tomorrow.

“Thanks again to the team, who did a great job in the short amount of practice time we had today to get the car set up well. It was really enjoyable to drive. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.”

 

Well, there’s a surprise

L-r: Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas.

 

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has beaten Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. It’s the former’s first win since the Singapore GP in September 2015.

Hamilton started in pole and it looked as though it might be another Merc 1-2, but Vettel had an advantage on pace and tyre wear, forcing Mercedes into an early pit stop with Hamilton then held up by Max Verstappen.

“A big congratulations to Sebastian and Ferrari. I know this win has been a long time coming for them. This shows we’ve got a real race on our hands this season and it’s a challenge we will relish,” said Hamilton after the race.

“It’s going to be great for the fans. We had a really good start which is fantastic. It was nice to get a good getaway. But I was struggling with grip from the get-go. Sebastian was able to always answer me in terms of lap time and just go quicker. Towards the end of the first stint I caught some traffic and that overheated the tyres.

“I struggled for grip to the point where I needed to come in, plus the gap was closing up and I was sliding around a lot. We made the call to pit, because otherwise I think Sebastian would have come past me anyway. After my stop I got caught in some traffic which was unfortunate but that’s motor racing.”

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