Russian Grand Prix Race Advance

‘Super-G’ Returns to Sochi: Fastest Cars in Formula One History Ready for Russian Grand Prix

KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (April 23, 2017) – 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-kilometer (1.302-mile) course with a 622-meter (2,041-foot) 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-kilometer (3.634-mile), 18-turn circuit for the April 30 Russian Grand Prix.

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 50 millimeters (two inches) in height and width comprise the changes. And planting these cars to the ground are much wider tires from Pirelli, by 60 millimeters (2.4 inches) in the front and 80 millimeters (3.1 inches) in the rear, a 25-percent increase from 2016.

Between the heightened downforce and the grip afforded by Pirelli’s tires, 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.

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-kilogram (150-pound) Formula One driver weigh 544 kilograms (1,200 pounds). 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 program 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.”

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 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.

You’ve said all along that the Haas VF-17 has speed and a good overall balance. How important is it to have back-to-back point-paying results at China and Bahrain to confirm that speed and balance?

“It’s always good to come back from two races with points, and it shows that the car is capable to score points at each race. Then again, it’s always difficult because it’s a tight midfield and we all went testing after Bahrain and everyone has learned something.”

Both sides of the Haas F1 Team garage have scored points this year. The same personnel manning Magnussen’s car is the same group that oversaw Esteban Gutiérrez’s car last year. How much of a boost was it for that group to finally have a point-paying finish?

“I think it was their best day at work since they started. That’s what these guys aim for, and they finished 11th a few times last year with Esteban, just out of the points, and they’re finally getting there now. There were a lot of happy faces.”

It seems that on any given weekend there’s someone new atop the midfield. How tight is the midfield this year?

“It’s as tight as it’s ever been. With four to five teams so close together, I cannot remember when that happened, and every weekend it’s mixed up in a different way. Any of these teams can go into Q3 and get into the points. It’s a very tense battle, but I think a nice battle and it keeps the constructors championship pretty open for the midfield.”

There is a legitimate two-team race for the win every weekend, and there’s no reason to think it won’t soon be a three-team race for victories as the entire field brings updates to their cars in the coming races. What do you make of this Ferrari-Mercedes battle and the overall Formula One product so far this season?

“It’s fantastic for Formula One to have two teams fighting for the lead. I think there should be 10 teams fighting for the win, but that in the short term is difficult. I think F1 is working to make the field tighter, but I don’t know how that would be achieved. It’s not a quick fix, but something to consider in the future because there’s only two teams fighting for the lead. It could create a lot of new fans and that is what we want.”

There is talk of banning the T-wing for 2018 and maybe even the sharkfin. What are your thoughts on these aerodynamic appendages?

“The regulations were written that we can put them on, so we need to leave them on this year. I don’t think they should make a decision now about this year, but if everyone agrees that they should be gone next year then I think it can be done. I don’t think the sharkfin looks bad or the T-wing looks bad. I think different people find different things that are nice or not nice. But if everyone agrees that we take it off, then I think we can work with that as well.”

Coming into the season, there was a question as to how much overtaking was actually possible. Between China and Bahrain, there seemed to be a lot of passing. Are you surprised at the amount of overtaking opportunities this year and do you feel it puts more of the race in the driver’s hands?

“I’m a little bit surprised because we all talked it down like it wouldn’t be possible to overtake. I think it’s possible because of the tires and the different strategies people take. If you have fresh tires or soft tires you can still overtake. I think it’s very good and I just hope it keeps going.”

Last year was your first visit to Sochi and the Russian Grand Prix. What did you think of the area and the racetrack?

“I was positively surprised. I had never been to Russia before. It’s a good place and the weather was good. The racetrack is new and in good shape and the people are friendly. I really enjoyed the experience.”

The Sochi Autodrom seems to emulate Bahrain in terms of setup. How much of what you learned in Bahrain can be transferred to the Russian Grand Prix?

“Like always, the more data you get no matter where you are, the more you can improve. You learn every day whenever you race. It’s very similar and a lot of people learned in Bahrain and learned from the test, so again, it starts at the beginning of the weekend where we try to fight our way into Q3 and into the points.”

The Sochi Autodrom runs around the Olympic Village, as Sochi hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Do you follow the Olympics when they take place? Do you have a preference for either the Winter or Summer Olympics, and is there a specific event you like to watch?

“Coming from the mountains, I follow the winter games more closely. I’d say downhill skiing is what I follow most.”

You said in Australia that this year’s car is brutal to drive due to the increased speeds and heightened g-force. But after three races, have you become accustomed to how the current car affects your body?

“Yes we have. The first few races yes, you always feel a bit rusty from the winter. But then after three races, now you know what to expect. Some circuits are always more difficult than others, and it depends a lot on how the tires are working. In Bahrain we had quite a big (tire) degradation. That means you lose the grip, and then it’s not as hard as the first lap in the car. I’m pretty sure at some racetracks, like Suzuka, it will be physically demanding, and some others, like Bahrain, it’s a bit less.”

Track records have been broken at every venue this year, emphasizing the drastic increase in speeds. How has this affected your role as a driver? Is there less margin for error because you have to be more precise, more accurate?

“With this year’s car you need to be much more precise, your coordination with your eyes, point of vision and everything else. You need to be more on it. When you turn two-to-three tenths later than you should have, it’s already one meter, whereas in the past it was maybe 50 centimeters. It makes a big difference.”

Coming into the season, there was a question as to how much overtaking was actually possible. Between China and Bahrain, there seemed to be a lot of passing, and you did your fair share, including early in the Bahrain Grand Prix where you were holding off both Toro Rossos and going three-wide with the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg and the Force India of Esteban Ocon. Are you surprised at the amount of overtaking opportunities this year and do you feel it puts more of the race in your hands?

“I think overtaking is clearly harder than it was in the past, which is maybe not a bad thing. You have to be a bit more creative in trying to go for it. That’s pretty cool. Again, overtaking at some tracks is going to be very tricky, and others it’s not.”

You’ve said all along that the Haas VF-17 has speed and a good overall balance. How important was it to finally translate what you’ve felt in the car to a point-paying finish at Bahrain?

“It was good to score points in Bahrain. Clearly, we deserved them – since race one, actually. I think the most encouraging fact for now is that the car is performing well everywhere we’ve been. So now we go to Russia, which was a bit of a tough one for us last year. We’ll see if we’ve made progress and if the car is working well at every type of circuit. If so, then pretty much everywhere we could score points.”

The Sochi Autodrom seems to emulate Bahrain in terms of setup. How much of what you learned in Bahrain can be transferred to the Russian Grand Prix?

“A lot will depend on the temperature. The tarmac in Bahrain is very rough. It’s very smooth in Russia. There’s a lot that we need to think about. I think clearly we’ve got a good baseline, so we’re going to keep working on that and keep trying to improve the car and see what we get in Sochi.”

What is your favorite part of the Sochi Autodrom and why?

“I do quite like the fast turn three. It’s a very high-speed corner, flat out, then just going into turn four, coming out of the corner, then braking straight away for turn four. I think the corners flow into each other quite nicely. It’s a good track to drive.”

Is there a specific portion of the Sochi Autodrom that is more challenging than other aspects of the track?

“Yes, there’s the braking after the second straight-line DRS zone. You’re braking with g-forces then going underneath the bridge. It’s very twisty and the tires are having a tough time around there. That’s where you really need to get a good balance.”

Explain a lap around the Sochi Autodrom.

“There’s a very long straight line to start, followed by big braking into a right-hand side corner, taken in third or fourth gear. Then you have the famous turn three, which is flat out in qualifying. Then you go into turn four – you can carry quite good speed into it. The next few corners are very similar. They flow nicely and you enjoy some good speed in the car. Then you go on the backstraight, again with very tricky braking. Then the last section of the track is much slower, in particular the last two corners. The pit entry is also a bit tricky. The finish line is straight at the last corner, so depending if you’re on a qualifying lap or a racing lap, each one is different.”

The Sochi Autodrom runs around the Olympic Village, as Sochi hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Do you follow the Olympics when they take place? Do you have a preference for either the Winter or Summer Olympics, and is there a specific event you like to watch?

“I do follow the Olympics. My grandfather competed twice in the Olympic Games as a skier. The Olympics are something very important to my family. It’s always a pleasure to see where the flame is and sharing in that spirit. Hopefully, we’ll have a good race in Sochi.”

Fernand Grosjean, Romain’s grandfather, was an alpine skier who competed at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland and at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway. In 1948, he finished eighth in the alpine skiiing downhill competition and 16th in the combined event (downhill and slalom). In 1952, he finished 11th in the giant slalom competition. – Ed.

Your teammate said in Australia that this year’s car is brutal to drive due to the increased speeds and heightened g-force. After three races, have you become accustomed to how the current car affects your body?

“Yes, I would say so. I feel quite good in the car and I think it’s really fun to drive. It’s much more challenging and tough.”

Track records have been broken at every venue this year, emphasizing the drastic increase in speeds. How has this affected your role as a driver? Is there less margin for error because you have to be more precise, more accurate?

“You could say so, but in another way it gives you more room to push hard and search for the limit. It’s not so easy to get to the limit, so in a way you have more room to push.”

Coming into the season there was a question as to how much overtaking was actually possible, and between China and Bahrain there seemed to be a lot of passing. Are you surprised at the amount of overtaking opportunities this year and do you feel it puts more of the race in your hands?

“I think it’s as expected, at least that’s how I expected it to be. Some tracks are fine, others are a bit more difficult, like Australia showed. It’s going to be no different in the likes of Monaco and Singapore.”

You’ve said all along that the Haas VF-17 has speed and a good overall balance. Does that make DNFs (Did Not Finish) a little easier to handle because the next race really does afford a new opportunity?

“Yes, it’s a little easier to handle when you have a bad weekend, because the potential is there and you have something to look forward to.”

You’ve finished fifth and seventh in your two career Formula One starts at the Sochi Autodrom. Is there something about the track that suits your driving style?

“I think it’s a good track and I’ve had some good races there. Hopefully, I can have another good one there this year.”

In each of those starts, you made up significant ground to score points – 11th to fifth in 2014 and 17th to seventh in 2016 for a total of 16 positions. How did you do it, and was one race drastically different from the other?

“I know last year I had a good first lap. Quite a few people messed up and lost things like front wings and so on. I made up lots of positions with that. I then had a really good race after that to finish seventh.”

The Sochi Autodrom seems to emulate Bahrain in terms of setup. How much of what you learned in Bahrain can be transferred to the Russian Grand Prix?

“I think you learn every weekend more and more about the car. You get a better understanding overall, which is going to help everywhere.”

What is your favorite part of the Sochi Autodrom and why?

“I like turns six, seven and eight as they’re high speed.”

Is there a specific portion of the Sochi Autodrom that is more challenging than other aspects of the track?

“Turn three is a bit hard for your neck, it goes on and on. It can be a little bit tiring on your neck.”

The Sochi Autodrom runs around the Olympic Village, as Sochi hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Do you follow the Olympics when they take place? Do you have a preference for either the Winter or Summer Olympics, and is there a specific event you like to watch?

“I don’t really follow the Olympics so much. I watch the 100-meter sprint sometimes.”

Much has been made of Fernando Alonso opting to compete in the Indianapolis 500 instead of at Monaco. If there’s one race outside of Formula One that you could run, and management approved it, what would it be and why?

“Maybe a race with dad somewhere.”

Jan Magnussen is Kevin’s father. Jan currently races for the factory Corvette team in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Jan began racing with the Corvette team in 2004 for long-distance events before joining the squad fulltime in 2007. He was GT-1 co-champion with Johnny O’Connell in 2008 and earned the 2013 GT championship with co-driver Antonio Garcia. Before his decorated sportscar career, Jan made 25 Formula One starts between 1995-1998 and 11 CART starts between 1996-1999. Jan even made a start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series when he drove for James Finch at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in 2010, finishing 12th in the 43-car field. – Ed.

Sochi Autodrom

  • Total number of race laps: 53
  • Complete race distance: 309.745 kilometers (192.467 miles)
  • Pit lane speed limit: 60 kph (37.3 mph)
  • This 5.848-kilometer (3.634-mile), 18-turn Sochi Autodrom has hosted Formula One since 2014, with last year’s Russian Grand Prix serving as the venue’s third grand prix.  
  • Nico Rosberg holds the race lap record at Sochi (1:39.094), set in 2016 with Mercedes.
  • Rosberg also holds the qualifying lap record at Sochi (1:35.417), set in 2016 in Q3.
  • The Sochi Autodrom is one of the many new Formula One circuits designed by Hermann Tilke. It is an exceptionally technical circuit, characterized by hard braking into low-speed corners. However, it is also one of the longest tracks in Formula One, as only Spa-Francorchamps (7.004 kilometers/4.352 miles), Baku City Circuit (6.006 kilometers/3.732 miles) and Silverstone (5.891 kilometers/3.660 miles) are longer. In total, there are 12 right-hand and six left-hand corners, with a 650-meter (2,133 foot) straight between the first and second turns. Of Sochi’s 5.848-kilometer (3.634-mile) layout, 1.7 kilometers (1.056 miles) are run on public roads. The surfaces of both the public road and the purpose-built portions are incredibly smooth, and the track remained consistent between its debut in 2014 and when Formula One visited last year. Tire degradation is minimal compared to most tracks, allowing for teams to employ a one-stop strategy while still giving drivers the freedom to push hard.
  • The Sochi Autodrom is one of four Formula One venues with ties to the Olympics. Sochi hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics and the city’s massive buildup was specifically for those games. Prior to Sochi, the Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya was home to the start/finish line for the road team time trial cycling event when Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics. The backstraight at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal runs adjacent to the Olympic rowing basin used during the 1976 Summer Olympics. And the Magdalena Mixhuca Sports City, in which the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is located, hosted numerous events during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
  • DYK? The original Russian Grand Prix was held 103 years ago in St. Petersburg and it was won by a local, Georgy Suvorin, in a Mercedes. The race was run again the following year, won by German driver Willy Scholl, again in a Mercedes.
  • During the course of the Russian Grand Prix, lows will range from 11-13 degrees Celsius (51-56 degrees Fahrenheit) to highs of 21-23 degrees Celsius (70-73 degrees Fahrenheit). Relative humidity ranges from 55 percent (mildly humid) to 97 percent (very humid), with a dew point varying from 3 degrees Celsius/37 degrees Fahrenheit (dry) to 12 degrees Celsius/53 degrees Fahrenheit (very comfortable). The dew point is rarely below -2 degrees Celsius/28 degrees Fahrenheit (dry) or above 14 degrees Celsius/57 degrees Fahrenheit (comfortable). Typical wind speeds vary from 0 kph/0 mph to 18 kph/11 mph (calm to gentle breeze), rarely exceeding 27 kph/17 mph (moderate breeze).

  • Pirelli is bringing three tire compounds to Russia
    • P Zero Yellow soft – less grip, less wear (used for long-race stints)
      • This is one of the most frequently used tires in Pirelli’s range, as it strikes a balance between performance and durability, with the accent on performance. It is still geared toward speed rather than long distances, but it remains capable of providing teams with a competitive advantage at the beginning of the race where cars are carrying a full fuel load, and at the end of the race where the fuel load is much lighter and the race effectively becomes a sprint. It is a high working-range compound.
    • P Zero Red supersoft – more grip, medium wear (used for shorter-race stints and for initial portion of qualifying)
      • This is the second softest tire in Pirelli’s range, and it is ideal for tight and twisting circuits, especially in cold weather, when maximum grip is needed. The supersofts warm up rapidly, which has made it a stalwart choice for qualifying. But with increased grip comes increased degradation. It is a low working-range compound.
    • P Zero Purple ultrasoft – highest amount of grip, highest amount of wear (used for qualifying and select race situations)
      • This is the softest tire in Pirelli’s range, with rapid warming and massive performance. It is best used on tight and twisting circuits that put a premium on mechanical grip. However, because it is so soft, it has a limited lifespan. It is a low working-range compound.
  • Two of the three available compounds must be used during the race. Teams are able to decide when they want to run which compound, adding an element of strategy to the race. A driver can also use all three sets of Pirelli tires in the race, if they so desire. (If there are wet track conditions, the Cinturato Blue full wet tire and the Cinturato Green intermediate tire will be made available.)
  • Pirelli provides each driver 13 sets of dry tires for the race weekend. And for the first five grands prix of 2017, Pirelli sets the allotments – two sets of the hardest tire available, four sets of the medium compound and seven sets of the softest tire. Come the sixth race of the year at Monaco, teams will be able to choose the specifications of 10 of its 13 sets from the three compounds Pirelli selected.
This article contains: Russian Grand Prix