The consensus all weekend has been that the Russian GP will see drivers opting for a single stop, a result of the low tyre degradation see at Sochi. A cut in the pit lane speed limit for today made multiple stops even less attractive.
However today there were signs that as the pace has hotted up, tyres might be taking a little more punishment than had been anticipated, so we may yet see some drivers stopping twice. Meanwhile there are mixed views about how easy it might be to overtake, and there’s a special focus on the start. Here are the thoughts of some of the major players:
Lewis Hamilton (P1): “I think with these tyres from the long runs it looked like one-stop, quite easily. It looks like you could almost do the whole race on one set of tyres, but you have to do a stop at some point. But I heard it’s getting harder and harder for the tyres as we get faster, so it’s going to be a one-stop or two-stop tomorrow. Undoubtedly it will be a bit quicker on a one-stop, especially with the pitlane speed. Overtaking look quite hard, I watched the GP2 and it wasn’t easy to overtake, but it looked like it was a relatively good circuit for following, so I hope that will be the case tomorrow.”
Nico Rosberg (P2) : “The start is the best opportunity [to overtake] that’s for sure, but after that, because there’s no tyre degradation, it’s one stop, so overtaking is going to be difficult I think. Maybe because there’s no tyre degradation you can go long or something. If I’m quick I can play around with strategy a little bit, and bring that stop further and further away.”
Jenson Button (P4): “Looking at GP2, there was quite a lot of overtaking. If we’re all doing the same strategy it’s always more difficult. But I don’t think you’re going to see a one-stop race. Looking at the amount of laps people are putting on a set of tyres in qualifying, you’re going to be looking at more stops. It’s very easy to lock a tyre around here, especially into Turn 13, and that will change your strategy anyway. I think we’ll see overtaking. We’ll have the DRS into 13 which won’t really do a lot for us, but into Turn 1 it could be very useful. So think we’ll see some overtaking. It’s easier than somewhere like Barcelona.”
Daniel Ricciardo (P7): “If it turns into a two-stop race, it gives us more opportunities with strategy. I don’t think we have the outright speed to do a whole lot, so it would be nice. I think realistically it still one stop. There’s been a little bit of blistering with the tyres, so maybe something like that will make it a two-stop.”
Fernando Alonso (P8): “It will be a difficult race, because overtaking will be hard on this circuit. We know they are extremely hard tyres, and we can do a lot of laps on them with not big degradation, so that will probably push us to not many stops. The pit limiter changed today from 80 to 60kph, so that also will favour the minimum stops as possible. There are also some other possibilities in the race, we’ll see what we can do. The start will be crucial, because that could define more or less the race in a way. It’s the longest distance from the start to the first braking of the championship, so tomorrow the start is probably more important than ever.”
Sebastian Vettel (P10): “In terms of strategy it should be fairly straightforward. The tyres last very well, it should be a one-stop race, so it’s difficult to come up with a different strategy. Obviously we are outside of the top 10 so we have the opportunity to do something different, but then again as I said it’s limited. Overtaking I think is tricky, as the last two corners are fairly quick, it’s difficult to be close enough. We qualified around P10 because that’s as quick as we can go. It would be nice to finish on the podium tomorrow, but equally if nothing special happens, and we have consistent conditions, it will be very difficult to make a lot of progress.”