There’s three sets of back-to-back races during this phase of the season and Singapore-Sochi is definitely the odd one. Going from the heat and humidity of Marina Bay to the crisp air of Russia’s Black Sea coast, framed by the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains of Krasnaya Polyana, requires quite an adjustment.
Sochi has long been a Russian holiday resort, being one of very few sub-tropical locations in the country. More recently, it’s achieved a degree of international recognition, hosting the Winter Olympics in 2014, World Cup matches in 2018 and, of course, the Russian Grand Prix. The Olympic Park was designed with the Sochi Autodrom contained within. The track winds between the various stadia within the complex. It’s not by any means the first Olympic venue to be reused by Formula One – but it is the first with that baked F1 into the design.
Sochi itself occupies a long swathe of coastline and the track is adjacent to the beach and promenade, a long way from the downtown core – but the legacy of Sochi’s Olympic infrastructure is a train station at the track that carries tens of thousands of fans out to the circuit. The event has become extremely popular.
The early years of the race were characterised by a track with incredibly low degradation and almost no overtaking opportunities. Gradually, as the surface has weathered, the race has normalised and provided more of a spectacle. It’s still a smooth surface and dominated by a sequence of low and medium speed corners but there’s been a lot more drama of late.
Russia hasn’t been our happiest hunting ground. In fact, it’s our bogey track, with absolutely nothing in the trophy column after five years of trying very hard. Our best starting position is fifth, for Daniel Ricciardo in 2016 and 2017, which matches our best finish of fifth, which Dany Kvyat first recorded in 2015, followed by Max in 2017 and 2018. Last year’s was, at least, spectacular, with Max making his way up from 19th on the grid. That gives us real cause for optimism this time around.