Round four of the 2017 F1 championship and we're making the transition from early-season flyaways to the traditional meat of the season – the make-or-break stretch bookended by Spain and Monza. And leading us there, not altogether gently from Bahrain to Barcelona, is this weekend's Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom.
It's a race that has a vibe all of its own – and one which even four seasons in we're still trying to get a handle on. It's a coastal resort but one that was home to the Winter Olympics. It has a Mediterranean climate but in the past has often been on the chilly side, and it features a track that has previously appeared to defy the laws of physics in that tyres just don't seem to degrade there at all. It's also a track that hasn't been terribly kind to us so far, with just a single top-five finish to show for our efforts.
So will be a land of opportunity for us this year or (to bizarrely quote rock fossils Genesis) a land of confusion? Only our drivers have the answers – and here they are...
Max, the stats (three points finishes from six starts) suggest the Sochi Autodrom is not the Team's best venue, but you beg to differ, is that right?
MV: It's an interesting track. It has a lot of long straights but despite that fact, Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso have actually done pretty well on that track in the past. It's a special track and it's still very new. It's also in the middle of the Olympic Park and that gives a special atmosphere to it.
It's a special track.
It has a very particular layout too.
MV: The corners are mostly 90 degrees, which you normally never experience. It's quite a flat track with not a lot of elevation changes and some difficult braking zones. It's always challenging to come from high speed into a low speed corner and achieve the best out of it in braking. I'm definitely looking forward to going back there and have a good race.
The circuit and the Olympic Park are about 30km from the city of Sochi itself. Have you had the chance to explore?
MV: Last year I visited the city centre in Sochi which was pretty interesting and I found a really nice restaurant that I will definitely go back to this year. I'll keep the name secret for now though.
In the past the Sochi Autodrom has seen very little tyre wear, which heavily influenced strategy. How do you feel about visiting the track with this season's more durable tyres. Will it be hard to get them working?
DR: Now that we've been to the track a few times I think the tarmac will be better. It's a bit like Austin in the first few years, when it took a while to bed in. But I expect this year for the track to be grippy and with these cars it should be quite fast.
It's a pretty busy track; there is not much room to rest!
Does that bode well for the team's prospects?
DR: I would say it's going to be more enjoyable than it has been so I'm looking forward to that. It's also a pretty busy track. There is not much room to rest. Yeah there is a long straight but other than that there is quite a bit going on. It keeps you thinking.
Some parts of the track remind me a bit of India. Kind of flat and you can take the curbs quite easily. There are also a lot of third and fourth gear corners. The layout has definitely grown on me since we started racing there.
What about the location? We're at the seaside – any thought of going for a dip?
DR: We're also going there a bit later this year so there is a chance of it being a bit warmer than in previous years. It's a pretty cool place. It's near the ocean and our hotel is right next to it. I've never gone into the water though because it's too cold for me!