Friday noticebook – Russian Grand Prix

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Russia, Sochi International Street Circuitru

Formula One moved from Singapore to Russia for this weekend where the sixth edition of the Russian Grand Prix takes place. As the season news nears conclusion, drivers and teams have already set their focus on the preparation for the 2020 season.

Finally the right path – Ferrari introduced major aerodynamic changes to its difficult SF90 at Singapore. The new nose with a big cape and a revised floor delivered the expected results, enabling Charlec Leclerc to snatch the pole position from the clutches of his rivals on a track where Ferrari were supposed to struggle. The team could then convert its pace into a one-two finish on Sunday which confirmed the improvements to the balance of the car thanks to the upgrades. At Sochi, Ferrari were in a good form during the Friday practices which left team principal Mattia Binotto encouraged.

The Swiss-Italian confirmed on Friday evening that his team would switch its focus completely on the 2020 car and would interrupt the development work for this year’s car. "It was important to confirm how good was the package coming here, different types of tracks and set-ups. I would say that we are really now focused mainly on next year's car, back at the factory. And if any there are updates this season, will not be as major as the one we had in Singapore."

Unsecure future – Although Robert Kubica’s future is uncertain after the Pole announced his departure from the Williams team, his main sponsor PKN Orlen is expected to stay in Formula One. The one-time grand prix winner is said to be in talks with DTM outfits for next season. However, the possible switch to the German touring car championship will not mean the end of the presence of his main sponsor in Formula One. The Polish oil company is rumoured to be in serious talks with the Haas team after the American outfitn split with its former title sponsor Rich Energy a few weeks ago. If the deal goes through, Kubica could become Haas’ test and development driver in 2020.

Not decided yet – Ahead of the weekend, dark clouds gathered over the future of the Russian Grand Prix. The huge country joined the sport with its modern Sochi Autodrom in 2014. Different sources indicated on Thursday that the venue could hold the Russian Grand Prix for the final time next year. However, Russian officials have denied that the country’s grand prix could be relocated from Sochi. Russian president Vladimir Putin is said to intend to move the grand prix from Sochi to St Petersburg. However, a spokesman for Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak denied the possibility of the change, claiming that Sochi has a contract until 2025.

Budget cap trick – Ferrari is set to build a brand-new F1 simulator in Maranello. Its current unit nicknamed ‘The Spider’ has been in use for a decade. Formula One is expected to introduce an EUR175 million budget cap for the 2021 season. The looming budget cap could be the driving force behind Ferrari’s new investment as it intends to complete the design and building of the new simulator before the budget cap makes its debut.

Not a complete overhaul – Formula One is set for a big rule shake-up in 2021, and Liberty Media seemingly wants to start experimenting with possible novelties as soon as in 2020. In recent months, there have been many discussions about possible changes to the qualifying format, but F1 motorsport boss Ross Brawn said that any modifications for next year would be only experimental in nature. “We don't want change for the sake of change; we want to improve our sport, because, rather like the development of the cars, if you stand still you risk slipping backwards,” he said.

Rumours and whisperings from the paddock indicate that the Liberty Media could select a few grands prix for 2020 where the old-fashioned qualifying format would completely disappear to give place to a short qualifying race. In this session, drivers would start in a reversed grid based on the actual Drivers’ Championship standings and the outcome of this shortened race would determine the starting order for the traditional grand prix on Sunday. The idea is based on the cases when drivers of the leading outfits need to start a race from the back of the grid and therefore they are forced to storm through the field. Teams are expected to vote about the introduction of these short qualifying races in selected venues in the coming weeks.

Not a good feeling – Robert Kubica admitted that his very first visit at Sochi has been rather difficult so far. Despite enjoying the challenge of exploring and discovering new layouts, the Pole did not find the grip and the right balance with his FW42 during Friday practices which also meant that he did not have the necessary confidence behind the wheel. “However, today was one of hardest days behind the wheel, in terms of the balance and overall grip. This is the kind of track that you must carry a lot of speed and the corners are short. You need good stability on entry and confidence in the car, which we do not have yet,” he said.