Following an inspection from motor racing’s governing body, the FIA, Formula 1 Race Director Charlie Whiting has confirmed that the Sochi Autodrom will be granted the necessary licence to host the Russian Grand Prix in October.
Speaking to journalists assembled at the Sochi Autodrom, Whiting said he was pleased with state of the circuit:
“The circuit, everything has been done exactly according to the plans. The kerbs are all good, the verges, the track itself, the barriers, the fences, the guardrails, the walls, everything is in extremely, extremely good condition. Everything has been done to the highest standards and I’m extremely pleased,” said Whiting.
“The circuit is in extremely good condition, and the circuit will be issued with a licence.”
The circuit is a 5.872 kilometre, Hermann Tilke designed track with 18 turns, making it the third longest circuit on the calendar featuring the equal fifth highest number of turns. Only Silverstone and Spa are longer, at 5.901 kilometres and 7.004 kilometres respectively.
The Sochi Autodrom is a tight, technical street circuit through the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Park, with a whopping eleven of the circuit’s eighteen turns bending at close to 90 degrees. Although the circuit features long straights, this huge number of sharp right-handers may suit teams like Ferrari and Red Bull by limiting the power and straight-line speed advantage enjoyed by Mercedes. The longest of the high-speed sections is 650 metres long.
From the start/finish line, drivers will continue down the straight until they enter a sweeping right-hander, on to another high-speed straight. Drivers will be looking to outbrake each other in the braking zone at the end of the straight, as they approach the first of the circuit’s 90-degree right-handers.
From there, drivers will have to tackle a long left hand turn that arcs for close to 700 metres, before another short braking zone in to a 90-degree right hander.
From here on drivers will work their way through a series of tight bends, before being able to go again drive at full throttle down the back of the track. After another braking zone that is likely to see some overtaking, drivers will then negotiate another series of sharp bends before coming on to the home straight.
Organisers have previously estimated lap times of 1:36.9 minutes, with an average speed of 215kph and a maximum speed of 320 kph.
Although the track appears to offer plenty of opportunities for overtaking, it remains to see if this will translate to a race that will please drivers and engage viewers.
Setting aside the very obvious political concerns attached to the Russian Grand Prix, there are some concerns as to whether the Tilke-designed track will deliver an exciting Grand Prix.
Tilke’s designs have come under fire in recent years, with a host of critics complaining that the tracks are too similar to one another and too forgiving of driver error. Given that Tilke has designed or modified almost every track on the F1 calendar, this has many fans and experts concerned.
Echoing the views of many, Jackie Stewart said in 2011 that while he welcomed improvements to driver safety, Tilke’s designs went too far the other way. Stewart argued that circuits such as Abu Dhabi failed to adequately penalise driver error, allowing drivers to exploit run-offs to gain an advantage.
Indeed, early impressions of the track are reminiscent of the much-derided Valencia Street Circuit, a circuit that found little favour with drivers or fans.
That’s not enough to write-off the potential of the Russian Grand Prix. There are multiple opportunities to overtakes, and at first glance many of the walls seem close enough to keep drivers honest through most of the race.
Either way, the only true test will be to host a Grand Prix, which is now certain to take place from 10 October to 12 October this year.
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