Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Ferrari Forging Their Way; Russian Grand Prix

This weekend Formula 1 returns to Sochi, Russia for the Russian Grand Prix.  The lead story is how Ferrari has finally proved to be a capable challenger to Mercedes, having won two of the first three races this season.  Sebastian Vettel is holding the top spot in the driver’s standings in what should constitute an amazing rarity in contrast to the past few seasons where Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg has held the position.  

Hamilton has remarked that he welcomes the challenge of finding competition at the front but now way be saddled with a notion of buyer’s remorse.  Ferrari has figured out something that Mercedes is finding problematic, and that is how to work with the new tyres implemented this year.  Ferrari is working in a better spot, getting them up to temperature and getting more out of them, while the longer Mercedes car is struggling to find such a mark.  That doesn’t mean that Mercedes won’t find it in the near future, but the question will be: if things continue as they are, will Ferrari be too far out in front?

A word of note – Ferrari has led all three practices thus far in Sochi.  In many ways, that is no surprise, as they’ve obviously been strong this year, but it also shows how Mercedes has had to really turn it loose to earn the poles that they have.  

Suaber's implementation of the T-wing ahead of the Russian GP (photo: Getty Images)
Suaber’s implementation of the T-wing ahead of the Russian GP (photo: Getty Images)

– The FIA has announced that the shark fins and T-wings will be outlawed next year.  This move seemed like a fait accompli.  The use of these body modifications is one that teams have snuck through as the regulations made no mention of them before now.  Of course, because of that teams have still invested in making the most of the current circumstances, notably as Sauber introduced their own T-wing for the Russian GP.  

– Poor Stoffel Vandoorne.  That description may be a little overstated, as regards to his position in the world.  The McLaren driver has, however, endured a terrible start to his debut as a full-time driver, having finished a total of zero races.  True to form, Vandoorne suffered from a loss of power in the first practice related to the MGUK issue.  With that disappointment, he will move on to his fifth turbo of the season and also incurs a 15-spot grid penalty.  

Haas-F1 continues to suss out their braking issues.  At the Bahrain GP they began testing the Carbone Industrie brakes and looked to be moving forward with them.  At Sochi, they began by using the CIs but Romain Grosjean felt that the brakes were getting too soft and now the team will revert back to the Brembo.  The reason for mentioning this aspect is that braking has become the main issue with this team since they joined the grid.  This year they have worked on entire braking system, and cooling seems to be the biggest issue.  But really, the key factor is to keep the core temperature in range so that they’re not cooked but also not too cold.  

Kimi Raikkonen continues to be plagued by questions about his abilities and focus.  That Ferrari have questioned his motivation could often be seen as a tactic to put proverbial irons to his feet but that kind of strategy has never quite worked with the enigmatic Finn.  Raikkonen is one of those perplexing personalities in the sport, one who has shown an amazing amount of skill, and appears to have the ability to win at any time, but has also failed to display a consistent focus over the past few years.  One might actually wonder just what it is that pushes him.

With his teammate Vettel leading the standings and having scored two wins this year, Raikkonen’s results look disappointing.  But as the team is now favoring Vettel, a concept that always seems a bit mystifying, there might be all the encouragement he needs.  Raikkonen’s defiant attitude may be the right mindset moving forward, one where his desire to ‘stick it’ to management may bring about the results everyone is hoping for.  

– In a move that seems humorous, Honda has held talks with other teams on the grid with an eye toward supplying engines beginning in 2018.  The funny aspect of that idea is that Honda’s performance has been just shy of lackluster and makes one wonder why any team would think that joining with Honda would be worthwhile.  Well, as with many things, there’s probably a myriad of reasons.

To start, any team signing with Honda, and Sauber has been the one rumored to be taking it on, would likely be doing so at a significantly reduced rate as compared with Mercedes or Ferrari, or even Renault. Those savings could then be used to focus on the chassis and other components.  Another reason that Honda may be exploring their options is that they question how long they will continue to be associated with McLaren.  The hopeful promise of their reunion, one that would return them to their championship glory days, has gone nowhere.  Whether or not McLaren sticks with Honda is up for debate.  Of course, another reason that Honda is looking to expand addresses one of the failures of the McLaren relationship – and that was one built on exclusivity.  Should Honda be able to gather more data by implementing their engines at other teams the gains would be monumental and benefit all parties.  

Russian Grand Prix

The Russian Grand Prix has been held a total of five times.  The first two races ran in St. Petersburg in 1913 and 1914.  And then nothing.  It took one hundred years for Russia to set up another grand prix, with it coming to fruition in 2014, as the series ran on a track built on what was the complex for the Winter Olympics.  Hence, some of the sights surrounding the Sochi Autodrom are the remaining stadia.  The circuit is a flat track that features 19 turns and is a scosche over 3.6 miles in length.  Lewis Hamilton won the inaugural event at the track and did so again in 2015, and his teammate Nico Rosberg won in 2016.  The race had been the fifth to last event last year but in the 2016 race calendar shakeup it moved into Spring. The race can be seen at 8 AM, EST on NBCSN.  

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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The race tomorrow at Sochi promises to be the most intense of the season to date. As close as the top 3 were in qualifying, who ever leads into turn one is going to be hard to beat.

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