Despite Pirelli’s choice to bring its softest compounds to Sochi, the Russian Grand Prix saw the majority of drivers complete the race distance with a one-stop strategy.
In keeping with Sochi’s reputation as a circuit with low tyre degradation Pirelli has opted for the softer end of its tyre range for the Russian Grand Prix. The North Italian manufacturer supplied teams with its C3 compound as the white-banded hard compound, the C4 as the yellow medium and the C5 as the red-banded soft tyre. That was the first time this season that the combination has been offered and a step softer than at last year’s Russian Grand Prix.
Despite the softest compounds, teams were expected to focus on a one-stop strategy because of the smooth asphalt of Sochi and the pit lane speed limit of 60kph. That choice was also motivated by the fact that it is usually rather difficult to overtake at Sochi despite the long, 1.1km start-finish straight.
That was indeed the case on Sunday – twelve of the eighteen drivers who finished the race completed the grand prix distance with a one-stopper. In fact, Alexander Albon and Lando Norris could also be theoretically added to the one-stopping drivers as they completed their first stop on the very first lap of the race. George Russell was also on a one-stop strategy, his second stop was only a tactical move to give him fresh soft rubber to send him on a mission for the fastest race lap.
While there were discussions about the durability of the soft tyres at the start of the race, the C5 compound turned out to be a relatively durable tyre for the opening stint with Ocon, Gasly, Perez, Ricciardo and Hamilton all able to strech their first stint until at least lap 15. Most of the drivers starting on the medium rubber pitted at the same time as those starting the race on the soft. The two Ferrari drivers were the only expcetions with Charles Leclerc staying out on his medium compound until lap 28 and Sebastian Vettel streching out his first stint until lap 30.
McLaren’s Lando Norris completed the longest stint on the Hard compound with racking up 46 laps in total. The Briton changed his tyres at the end of the first lap during the safety car period that was triggered by the first lap incidents involving Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll. The Bristol-born driver started to sruggle in the last third of the race, forcing him into the pits for new boots. Valtteri Bottas set the fastest race lap on this white-walled compound, posting a 1m37.030 that became the fastest race lap of the Russian Grand Prix, giving the Finnish driver the additional championship point.
Williams driver George Russell covered the longest distance on the C4 medium rubber, completing a 36-lap stint on the yellow-walled compound. The fastest lap on that compound was registered by Monza race winner Pierre Gasly who set a 1’37.231 during his final short 11-lap stint.
Racing Point racer Sergio Perez covered the longest distance on the red-walled soft compound with the Mexican completing a 20-lap stint which was unimaginable on Friday. The best lap on the C5 rubber was achieved by George Russell who came in to the pits with three laps left, showing a clear intention to grab the additional point for the fastest race lap which eventually went to Bottas.
Pirelli brought its three softest compounds to Sochi, presenting teams with a step softer range than last year. The Milan-based tyre manufacturer’s Head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola said that the race proved that the selection of softer compounds was pivotal, leading to different strategies during the 53-lap race.
“On a hot day in Sochi, with ambient temperatures in excess of 30 degrees, we saw a variety of strategies, as a result of bringing compounds that were a step softer than last year. In the past, Sochi has been mainly a one-stop race, and this was generally the case again but with all three compounds coming into play as part of the different strategies.
„Managing thermal degradation was key, especially on the soft, but we also saw some particularly long stints on the hard. Congratulations to Valtteri Bottas and also to Mercedes – which keeps up its unbeaten record at the Russian Grand Prix,” the Italian concluded.