Faster, higher, stronger goes the motto of the Olympics but for this weekend’s trip to Sochi, home of the 2014 Winter Games, we’ll substitute the second of the those elements with the word ‘older’… though only very slightly.
On race day in Russia, Max will reach a major landmark – his 21st birthday – and while it seems slightly odd to be marking the ‘coming of age’ of a driver with 75 grands prix, four wins and 17 podium places under his belt, this weekend promises to be a big one for our Dutch racer, as he reveals.
It’s not just about birthday bashes, though. There’s a race to run in Russia and if we’re honest, we could do with a healthy dose of the other two bits of that Olympic slogan this weekend.
The Sochi Autodrom has been a bit of a bogey circuit for us since it joined the calendar in 2014, and our best result of fifth (in 2015 for Daniil Kvyat and in 2017 with Max) suggests it’s not a place where we can expect great results. But as Daniel Ricciardo says, it’s a track he’s now got to grips with, and while it’s not our best venue, anything is possible…
Big weekend in prospect: you’re coming off the back of two podiums in three races and you’ve got something else to celebrate on Sunday, too, haven’t you?
Yes, this year’s Russian Grand Prix will be a special one for me. It is my 21st birthday on Sunday, so hopefully I can make it one to remember. I think I celebrated my 18th there also, so it won’t be new to have my birthday in Sochi.
As birthday venues go, what do you think about the Sochi Autodrom?
I feel Russia is an up and coming grand prix as it still feels quite new to me. As well as being in the Olympic Park, the track has a unique layout. The views form part of the track and the hotels are really nice. On one side you have the mountains and on the other, the sea.
How do you feel about your chances of bagging yourself an extra present on Sunday afternoon in the race?
It’s not the best track for our car so it’s vital to get the set-up right for specific corners, we know we will lose time on the long straights so cornering is key.
Sochi is one of the newest venues on the calendar. Is it one you enjoy?
It’s a pretty unique circuit; it’s very flat and open. In some ways it feels like driving flat out in a car park, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable lap. Apart from the long straight, there’s a lot going on, and it’s a layout that keeps you thinking. It’s definitely grown on me since we started racing there.
When we first visited Sochi, the circuit’s chief characteristic was that it had incredibly smooth track surface, with almost no tyre degradation. Has that changed over time?
The track surface has improved over the last few years. When we first went there the track was very slippery but the grip levels have improved as the track has rubbered in, making it a more enjoyable circuit to drive. It’s not a track I’ve had an amazing result at and it doesn’t really play to our strengths, but this is racing, so anything can happen.
Regardless of the race result, there are still likely to be some celebrations in Russia this weekend for Max’s birthday. All set?
I guess I need to go out and find Max a decent 21st birthday present, or maybe I’ll just dedicate my race win to him (laughs)!