The Russian Grand Prix was first held in Saint Petersburg in 1913, but it was only run twice before disappearing. For most of Formula 1 history having a race in Russia was impossible, but in recent years it very much opened up. With the Winter Olympics coming to Sochi the idea of having a street circuit built into it was floated, and in 2014 the race was held for the first time.
The Sochi Autodrom is a flowing ribbon of 18 corners with very few elevation changes and some of the most enjoyable turns in F1 2018. The Russian Grand Prix has been dominated by Mercedes since it joined the Formula 1 calendar, with Lewis Hamilton claiming three wins and both Valtteri Bottas and Nico Rosberg having one a piece. That speaks to the power-hungry nature of the circuit, but you require some good car control and a responsive setup to get through the final sector. Let’s start our tour of Sochi by looking at the best overtaking points.
Turn 1 is nothing but a flatout right-handed sweep, while turn 2 is a very slow right, meaning there is a big braking zone after you hit top speed with DRS down the straight, resulting in plenty of opportunities to make a pass here. The inside line is always preferable, but if it is defended then the quick left of turn 3 presents a chance to sweep around the outside and hold your position through the next sector.
The other DRS zone comes after turn 10 and through the curves of 11 and 12 to the braking zone of 13 and the tight right-hander. This is a much trickier overtaking point than turn 2 as the curve of turn 12 leads directly into the braking zone for 13, which if your tyres are worn then extends out into the corner itself. This makes pulling out of a slipstream rather tricky, however the racing line hugs the left-hand wall and leaves a lot of space for a dive up the inside. There isn’t much room for error here, as the run-off is small and the track quickly cuts back to the left, but there is no overtaking place past this point so if it is the last lap then this is where you have to make your lunge.
You can make a move at several other corners around this lap thanks to the wide track and ample run-off areas that can save you from a poorly timed move. Turn 5 and 7 are prime for a move if you are in a faster car on fresher tyres. However, there are also some tricky corners around Sochi which can catch you out and cost you a lot of time if you get them wrong.
This long left-hander requires patience as the apex is very late. If you push the car inside too early you are going to drift far too wide on exit, a problem since the next corner comes up quickly and requires you to be hugging the left-hand side. Keep the car wide and don’t turn in too aggressively here or you will wear out your tyres and risk losing the back end.
You can’t end your race by getting this corner wrong, but it is easy to lose time and take unnecessary tyre wear by taking the wrong line here. You can carry more speed though the apex of turn 8 than you think, but then you don’t need to touch the inside of turn 9 at all. If you turn in hard to try and clip that inside kerb then you’ll scrub speed, hurt your tyres, and risk a spin. Instead, hold it to the outside and only drift to the left when the track straightens out.
This is without a doubt the trickiest part of the lap. Turn 15 is an off-camber left that leads immediately to a tight right. Not only is that tough enough, but the walls are very close compared to the rest of the lap, meaning mistakes are punished harshly. You need to take as much of the red/white kerb as possible on turn-in to 15 and take it slower than you think. You can’t let the car drift on exit either as you have to immediately prepare for the turn 16 right-hander. This is the hardest part of the track on your tyres, which makes saving your rubber elsewhere vital.
You need to set your car up for straight line speed around Sochi. That means low downforce, but the rear also needs to be stable enough to take the long turn 3 and some of the speed you’ll want to carry through the apexes of the middle sector. You do need to protect your tyres a little with your suspension geometry, as the best race strategy here is stretching the hypersoft tyres as far as possible and doing a one-stop. You can see our setup here, but remember that your own driving style, controller setup, and level of assists mean you make have to make a few tweaks to maximise pace.
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