Heikki Kovalainen: Win or Bust for Nico Rosberg at Russian GP

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This weekend's Formula One action brings us to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix.

There is a bit of a disappointing trend with modern circuits like Sochi in that they often tend to be more boring than the old ones. When they are being built, the new modern regulations have to be followed so the safety standards are considerably higher. The facilities around the track are always very impressive but the circuit layout can be less exciting and lack character in comparison to some of the old circuits like Spa or Suzuka.

– Russian Grand Prix: Circuit guide infographic
– Russia: Bottas aiming to disrupt Mercedes with podium finish
– F1: Kvyat lifted by home race prospects in Sochi

Sochi isn’t so bad though, and Russia is a place where Formula One really continues to develop in popularity as a result of Vitaly Petrov and Daniil Kvyat’s exploits. Vitaly was an old team-mate of mine at Caterham and he was the first driver to initiate the interest in F1 in Russia. With over 140 million people living in Russia, there is a lot of potential to raise further interest and staging the Grand Prix is a huge opportunity for success going forward. 

The Dennis dynamic at McLaren
Jenson Button in action during the Japanese Grand Prix.

Since the last Grand Prix in Japan, one of the main headlines has been Jenson Button signing for another year at McLaren. It represents a massive boost to a team who are going through a difficult period this season. With Fernando Alonso also in their ranks, they boast two vastly experienced drivers that can steer the team in the right direction. The main problem at McLaren is the power issue, and in order for this to be resolved, they need to work more closely with Honda. I’m sure they will come back strong, but it’s just a matter of when this will happen. 

Much has been said about Ron Dennis over the past few weeks. I dealt with Ron a lot when I raced with McLaren in 2008 and he was a great guy to work with. He’s very demanding but a great leader and, most importantly, he’s fair. He always makes sure that his employees have the tools and the environment to perform at the maximum level. The McLaren Technology Centre is a very impressive place to go, and what Ron’s created is a nice environment for people to work. It’s not easy to be working for Honda and McLaren with the ongoing power issues, and Ron will be motivating everyone to the maximum in order to get answers. He’s a tough boss but he’s the right person to lead McLaren back to success.

Grosjean’s gamble with Haas?

Another interesting bit of driver news for next season is Romain Grosjean’s move to the new Haas team. Personally, I think it’s a little risky. Romain is looking for the link that will catapult him into a Ferrari seat one day, but if he does not perform well at Haas and slips out of the top 10-15, he’ll lose momentum. There are new and exciting drivers coming into F1 all the time, so he needs to keep his momentum if he wants a seat at Ferrari in the future. He’s produced some good results this season and it’s important he continues to maintain this form going forward. It will be interesting to see what Haas can do and what type of car they will produce next season. 

I had a similar experience when moving to Lotus in 2010, alongside Jarno Trulli. At the time, the facilities weren’t good enough to build and design a competitive car. But Haas, as I understand, have a slightly different project in place. They are getting a lot of technical support from Ferrari and Williams which will benefit them a lot. I’d expect the car to be more competitive than a team that starts completely from scratch, and hopefully they can do well. 

Can Nico stop Lewis?

Back to the action in Russia this weekend and I expect, as usual, Mercedes to be at the front. What happened at Singapore was something nobody foresaw but it was back to business as usual in Japan. In Sochi it will be exciting to see what kind of performance Mercedes can produce against Ferrari and Williams, though the cooler temperatures should favour the former. 

Nico Rosberg has to win in Russia to remain in the hunt for the title and he’ll need some misfortune from Lewis in order for that to happen. It’s quite simply a must-win Grand Prix for the German if he wants to challenge his team-mate and close the already large gap of 48 points that separates both Mercedes drivers in the standings. 

Another battle that excites me is between Ferrari and Williams. I expect Williams will be strong as they performed so well on this track last season. This is another great opportunity for them to carve out a promising result, with Valtteri Bottas leading the siege for a podium finish. 

PREDICTIONS FOR SOCHI

1. Lewis Hamilton
2. Nico Rosberg
3. Valtteri Bottas

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Felipe Massa quickest as rain spoils FP2 at Russian Grand Prix

F1i 9/10/2015
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Fastest time: Felipe Massa.

Felipe Massa set the fastest time of a wet second practice session for the Russian Grand Prix which saw just eight drivers set lap times.

Following a farcical opening session which was reduced by half an hour while the track was cleaned following a diesel spillage, the teams were unable to carry out any dry running in FP2 as heavy rain started to fall 10 minutes before the start of the session.

– Russian Grand Prix: Circuit guide infographic

– Russia: Bottas aiming to disrupt Mercedes with podium finish
– Heikki: Win or bust for Nico Rosberg in the ‘safe’ confines of Russia

With the track very wet in places early on, all of the running that did take place was on the full wet tyre, with McLaren the busiest team. Fernando Alonso took a new power unit in FP1 which resulted in a 25-place grid penalty, but he reverted to an older specification in the second session and completed 12 laps before being told to return to the pits slowly due to a problem.

Alonso had topped the times before pitting, with Max Verstappen spending a spell on top before a number of quicker laps in the closing limits. With Valtteri Bottas having gone fastest, Sebastian Vettel's final lap put him provisionally top before Massa set his time of 2:00.458 to end the session 0.201s clear of the Ferrari.

Vettel was first out on track despite the conditions and ended up with the second fastest time even after running off track at Turn 13 late in the session having outbraked himself at the end of the long straight.

The two Mercedes and Force India drivers joined Marcus Ericsson in completing installation laps but failing to set a lap time, with Ericsson being warned by his engineer there was no point in risking the car in the conditions, with tyre temperatures a concern.

A number of drivers didn't run at all due to the wet conditions, with Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Nasr joining the Lotus and Manor drivers in remaining in the pits throughout the session.

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Carlos Sainz targets Lotus scalp in F1 Constructors’ standings

F1i 7/10/2015
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Toro Rosso star Carlos Sainz in action during the Japanese Grand Prix.

Carlos Sainz says Toro Rosso is keen to extend its current point-scoring streak into this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in order to overhaul sixth-placed Lotus in the Constructors’ championship.

The Spaniard and rookie team-mate Max Verstappen travel to Sochi Autodrom on the back of two consecutive double top-10 finishes, with their Italian squad currently P7 in the standings and 16 points adrift of the Enstone-based outfit.

– Russian Grand Prix: Circuit guide infographic

– F1: Blur announced as Abu Dhabi GP live act
– #360view: Change is needed to end one-horse race

– F1: Kvyat lifted by home race prospects in Sochi

“It should be a good weekend for us,” said Sainz ahead of his maiden Russian GP appearance. “Hopefully we can continue to fight for points! We need to catch Lotus and overtake them in the championship.

“I also like the idea of racing around the Olympic Park, it’s something unusual.”

Fellow F1 debutant Verstappen enters the event with equally high ambitions but hopes he can have a smoother rider than in Singapore and Japan.

Having stalled on the grid at Marina Bay and run into trouble during qualifying at Suzuka, the Dutchman had to storm through the field on both occasions to recover in the points-paying positions.

“Sochi looks like an interesting track,” said the 18-year-old. “It should suit our car well, so hopefully we can have another strong weekend.

“I’ve never raced there, but we’ve done some good work on the sim so I’m familiar with the track.

“I look forward to driving there in real life. It seems like a circuit where there’s room for overtaking and hopefully this time I won’t have to start from the back again.”

Last year’s inaugural Russian Grand Prix saw Toro Rosso place its two drivers – Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne – in Q3, though both faded out of top 10 contention during the race.

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