Hamilton fastest on soft tire after opening day of action in Sochi

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Hamilton fastest on soft tire after opening day of action in Sochi

The latest track to join the Formula One calendar had its debut day of action with free practice for the inaugural Russian Grand Prix, where Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton set fastest time on the P Zero Yellow soft tire: 1m39.630s in FP2.

There is a performance gap of about 1.5 seconds so far between the soft and the P Zero White medium tire, which has also been nominated for Russia. This gap is expected to come down over the rest of the weekend, with the overall lap time also likely to come down considerably.

This is because of the high degree of track evolution inherent in a new circuit, with oils in fresh asphalt rising to the surface before eventually being cleaned away as more cars scrub the track. Dirt and dust on the surface is also gradually swept off, with a clean and rubbered-in line finally emerging.

With this being the first time that the Sochi track has ever been used, the work completed in free practice was essential for the teams to get an initial idea of wear and degradation rates on varying fuel loads. However, this is not straightforward to calculate as the track is getting faster and faster, with drivers also growing more familiar with it. Wear and degradation was minimal, with drivers extracting more than one flying lap even on the softer compound.

Conditions remained dry and warm throughout the session, with 25 degrees of air temperature and 44 degrees on-track at the halfway point of FP2. Initial forecasts suggest that the weather might be slightly cooler for qualifying and the race, adding another unpredictable element to this all-new grand prix.

Paul Hembery: “From what we can see of the first day of action in Russia we’re happy with our choices. The medium and soft tires are the right choice for a new track. With turn three in particular the supersoft tire may not have worked, but we’ll analyze all of this carefully after the grand prix. We’re seeing very low wear and degradation, which puts us on course for an average of two pit stops per car during the race. We’re also facing a high degree of track evolution, which is normal for a new circuit, and this may yet alter the overall picture of tire behavior. Because the circuit was so slippery there was a risk of graining today – which is always the case for a new track – but in the end this did not prove to be a major factor. We’ve got plenty of data to look at tonight and our understanding of the circuit has already improved.”

Pirelli facts of the day: This is the first Russian Grand Prix of the modern era but the Grand Prix of St Petersburg was actually held twice before, in 1913 and 1914 (when the city was known as Petrograd). The first race was won by Russian driver Georgy Suvorin in a Benz, while Germany’s Willy Scholl won the second race, also in a 35-horsepower Benz. The event was then abandoned due to World War I. Pirelli was last represented in international Russian motorsport back in 2009, at Rally Russia. This was based in Vyborg: the hometown of Russian F1 driver Vitaly Petrov.

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