McLaren Honda - Russian GP preview

There are several permanent circuits in Russia, but the street track in Sochi is the first home of F1 in the country.

McLaren Honda - Russian GP preview
Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-31
Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-31
Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-31
Fernando Alonso, McLaren
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-31
Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-31
Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-31
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-31
Jenson Button, McLaren and Fernando Alonso, McLaren
Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-31
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-31
Fernando Alonso, McLaren with the media
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-31
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-31
Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-31
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-31
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-31
Jenson Button, McLaren MP4-31

Ice hockey is Russia’s national sport, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the opportunity to stage a grand prix in the country came on the back of Sochi’s 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The popularity of F1 is growing every year and more spectators are expected at the race this year because it takes place over the May holiday period.

#14 Fernando Alonso

“I enjoyed racing in Sochi in both 2014 and 2015 – the track lends itself to close battles and I hope we’ll be able to mix ourselves in with the pack again there this year. The long, fast straights are generally where our car is weaker, but it’s very well balanced, so I’m looking forward to seeing if we can maximise the strengths of our package at this track.

“I particularly enjoy Turn Three; it’s a sweeping, multi-apex left-hander that requires a lot of precision; it’s easy to get out of shape as you go around the corner, so good balance and car control are very important. Many of the corners are off-camber too, so it’s fun trying to hook it all up all the way through a lap.”

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been too long since we last came to Sochi, but I’m looking forward to comparing last year’s car performance with the MP4-31’s. Our car feels very positive, and our progress is encouraging, but I hope we can achieve the potential we can see in our package and put in a promising performance on Sunday, which is when it all counts.

“It’ll definitely be a tricky race – competition in the midfield is very tough, and a lot of the teams are looking pretty strong, with solid reliability. We had a smooth weekend reliability-wise in China and we’re definitely learning a lot race-by-race, so I’m hopeful we can have a stronger result in Sochi. This race is particularly hard on fuel, so along with the tyre strategy there’ll be a lot of elements to manage. With each day I feel stronger since my accident, and I can’t wait to get back in the cockpit again on Friday and see what we can do.”

Jenson Button #22

“The Sochi Autodrom is one of the fastest city courses we go to, so it doesn’t share many of the same characteristics in terms of set-up compared with other similarly configured tracks. For a modern venue, the racing there has so far been pretty good – the track is wide and fast, and there are a few good overtaking opportunities and some interesting, slower corners at the end of the straights to mix it up a bit.

“The asphalt has a lot of grip, so it’ll be interesting to see the different directions the other teams go in with regard to pitstops and tyre strategy. The new tyre rules definitely spice things up a bit as more variables are brought into the mix, so we’ll need to get on top of that to maximise our chances of keeping positive momentum through to the end of Sunday’s race.”

“The last couple of races have been a bit like rolling the dice for us, and we haven’t managed to hook up the perfect weekend yet. We’ve seen some promising results on a Friday and Saturday, but over a long Sunday afternoon race we’ve found it more difficult to maintain our pace. The car feels good and we’re definitely heading in the right direction, but we need to keep pushing and working hard to bring more improvements and power for us to see further progression.

“That said, we knew China would be a tricky circuit for us over a race distance, and we struggled for pace with our tyres towards the end. Hopefully Sochi will be an easier race to manage tyre-wise; we’re consistently putting new parts on the car, and we saw improved reliability at the last race. It’s easy to say we deserved to take more from the first three races, but we need to pull together all of the elements over all three days to give ourselves a fighting chance of scoring some points.”

Eric Boullier – McLaren-Honda Racing Director

“This is our third visit to the Sochi Autodrom, a fantastic purpose-built facility in the heart of the ‘Russian Riviera’ and surrounded by the architectural legacy of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Every grand prix there so far has been very well organised and the fans make us feel very welcome.

“With each race weekend, we’re learning a lot about the strengths and limitations of our package, and our development programme is relentless as we seek to achieve improved performances on a Sunday afternoon. We know there is a lot of potential in the MP4-31, but there’s still some work to do both by McLaren and Honda to unlock it, which we haven’t managed to do so far.

“Russia was the venue of one of our stronger performances in 2015, and we’re all very keen to replicate that next weekend. Our focus is pulling together all of our strengths and ensuring we can battle with our nearest rivals as high up in the pecking order as we can – and consistently over a race distance. We’re certainly making improvements in all areas, so we’ll be pushing to translate that to the final classification screens in Sochi.”

Yusuke Hasegawa – Honda R&D Co Ltd Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer

"It has only been seven months since the team was last in Sochi, where Fernando celebrated his 250th race last year, but it’s a pleasure to be back at such a dynamic circuit.

“Sochi remains a demanding track for us. The long straights combined with the stop and start nature mean the balance of energy management is essential to get right during the sessions. Unlocking power and managing fuel will also be key, and, with fuel consumption high, it will be important for us to recover as much energy as possible under braking.

“Overall, the track is quite technical, so it will certainly be a challenge for the team and the drivers. We think that our power unit is nearly there, so we’re looking towards another solid weekend of running and hope that we can be in a position to score some points in the race on Sunday."

McLaren-Honda

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