Renault preview the Russian Grand Prix weekend, Round 4 of the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrom.
Foreword from Renault Sport Racing Managing Director, Cyril Abiteboul: “Bahrain showed both another positive step in our progress, and reiterated an area where we must focus our attention.
For the first time in the team’s short history, we qualified both cars in the top ten. This was thanks to teamwork from everyone at the track and everyone at Enstone and Viry. Nico was able to deliver the fast laps whenever needed and Jolyon staged an impressive recovery from a difficult FP3.
In the Grand Prix we did score our first points of the season with Nico, but this joy was tempered by the acknowledgement that we should have scored more.
Our focus at the factory in Enstone and then at the test in Bahrain which followed the Grand Prix has been seeking how to unlock the pace of the R.S.17 in race conditions.
Nico and Sergey drove in the test and both were able to give positive feedback. Sergey impressed us by getting up to speed very quickly in this new generation car, despite having not driven since last year.
Sergey will drive in FP1 in Sochi alongside Jolyon. Russia is an important market for us and it is good for them to see their local hero out in action.
We’re hoping that the work of the test can be applied and all the new parts tested will work as well as they did in evaluation when we take to the track in Sochi. Both cars in the points in Russia would be a fantastic reward and another step forward in our 2017 journey.
Elsewhere, Renault reiterated its long term commitment to Formula 1 by showing the R.S. 2027 at the Shanghai Motor Show on April 19. The reaction to this concept car outlining what Formula 1 could be in ten years’ time has been fantastic. We look forward to continuing this conversation.
Finally, last weekend saw the first of our Renault Sport Academy members get their seasons underway with the opening round of the Formula Renault Eurocup. Max Fewtrell, Jarno Opmeer and Sun Yue Yang were all in action with some strong potential seen between them at the start of their rookie years in this highly competitive championship.
After three Grands Prix and one in-season test, Chief Technical Officer Bob Bell looks at the state of play with the R.S.17 heading to the Russian Grand Prix.
What’s the outlook heading to Russia?
We head to Sochi with a reasonable degree of optimism. We have shown a good progression so far in 2017, most notably illustrated by qualifying both cars in the top ten for the first time in Bahrain as well as securing our first points finish. There’s no doubt we have work still to do, equally it’s clear we’ve taken a tangible step forward.
Where’s the current focus of development?
It’s pretty clear and we’re not under any illusion; we are currently qualifying better than we race and that’s a symptom of our current car performance. We have a reasonable understanding of why this is and have a number of developments to address this in the realm of aerodynamics and suspension. We tested new parts – including a new front wing – in Bahrain designed to add more aero-performance to the car and also make it slightly more benign to engender better race pace. It’s a positive of testing somewhere where you’ve just had a Grand Prix that there is a lot of comparable data for evaluation.
Why does the car seem to qualify better than it races?
The R.S.17 is not as well balanced as we’d like over a full stint. Whilst you can get away with this over the course of a qualifying lap – where fresh tyres can mask the balance issue – the performance is less consistent when you take to the longer runs of race stints.
The R.S.17 has a somewhat nervous corner entry, followed by mid-turn understeer, followed by a nervous exit making finding traction a challenge. If we can address these areas, our drivers will have a very effective race car at their disposal. We believe the problems are aero related, so we’re primarily looking for the solution there. Once we have the entry-phase of the corner sorted, the rest should follow more easily.
The big positive is that the car has the basic pace to be able to be qualified well. Our current issue is extracting that pace in a race scenario. If you have the pace the key is maintaining it; it’s easier to translate qualifying pace to race pace than to find basic performance.
What’s wanted in Russia?
Our target for Sochi is another step forward from our performance in Bahrain. We’d be happy with a similar qualifying position allied to improved race pace.
From Russia with Love
Nico Hülkenberg heads to Sochi with a sense of satisfaction after a productive Bahrain test as well as wearing a happy face for a track he rather likes.
What’s the mood headed to Sochi?
I have quite a bit of optimism! I think we made good progress to enable us to improve our race pace for Sochi when we were testing in Bahrain and we have some new bits for the car to facilitate this too. Of course, the Sochi Autodrom is a completely different circuit, so we can’t accurately predict our relative performance until we get there, but I’m feeling positive.
What do you think of the event?
I like travelling to Russia, it’s a cool place and I like the track and infrastructure there. Of course, my main focus is on the track itself and it’s a good one to drive, so I go there with a happy face. . I think we’ve made good progress with the car with some positive updates, which should also make me happy.
What are your thoughts of the track when you’re behind the wheel?
It’s one of the longer laps of the season and this is compounded by there being a lot of corners. This makes it a big challenge for any driver as you need to get every turn in each sector together perfectly, especially in qualifying. It’s a very quick and flowing track, which is why I like it so much. There are a number of tricky bits too, especially braking into the corner at the end of the back straight. The final sector is a bit more technical and slow in its nature, but overall it’s a fun track.
What was on your wish list for improvement at the Bahrain test?
Of course, I’m a race driver so I want improvement in every area! The car is basically good, it’s just a number details where we need to improve. The positive is we know what these areas are and what we need to do to improve them. We want more downforce and to improve the car aerodynamically and we want to use the tyres better in the race.
What’s you track record like in Russia?
I haven’t had the greatest amount of luck in Sochi with two retirements and a 12th placed finish, so it would be great to score my first points there in 2017!
Three races in, how are you enjoying racing the latest generation F1 car wheel to wheel?
It’s fun, but you get used to new things so quickly! We’re on top of the new level of downforce from a driving point of view; it’s quickly the status quo. It’s a different experience racing wheel to wheel, but I want to be doing this more through fighting my way up the order!
Planning a Revolution
Sochi Autodrom has been a positive location for Jolyon Palmer, it being the track where he secured his 2014 GP2 Series championship title, through a race win. After his first top ten qualifying performance in Bahrain, Jolyon’s aiming for his first top ten race finish of 2017.
What are your thoughts on Sochi?
For me the best thing about Russia is that I won the first ever GP2 Series race there and that race won me the championship, so I have very good memories of the Sochi Autodrom! I got a great start so led from the first lap but was under a lot of pressure all the way. It’s great to win any race, but to win a race where you’ve had pressure at every turn, that’s a real achievement.
What’s the challenge of Sochi in a Formula 1 car?
It’s a smooth and still pretty new track with plenty to think about in its layout. We’ve seen that it can start with pretty low grip levels at the beginning of the weekend, but it will be interesting to see how the extra downforce of 2017 copes with that. Last year we struggled to the car where we wanted in qualifying but we went better in the race.
How do you feel progress has been so far this season?
There’s definitely been progress, but there’s certainly more to come. Getting into the top ten in qualifying for the first time in Bahrain was particularly satisfying. I’d struggled a lot in the FP3 session, so myself and my engineer, Chris Richards, sat down and we changed the set-up of the car so it worked far better. My race in Bahrain was frustrating as we weren’t able to unlock the pace from the car – which was something Nico suffered from too. The real positive is that the team is taking a step forward at every race so we’re hopeful that Sochi continues in this vein.
After a productive test in Bahrain, Renault Sport Formula One Team Third and Reserve Driver Sergey Sirotkin will be jumping into Nico Hülkenberg’s R.S.17 for FP1 in Sochi. He can’t wait…
It’s fair to say you’re looking forward to FP1?
Obviously I’m very much looking forward to it! I’ve learn so far this year that it’s not very easy to be at a race track but not in the car. Watching other drivers in action and competing is pretty frustrating as I want to be out there. I am learning a lot with the team and it is a positive and enjoyable process, just not as positive and enjoyable as racing itself.
How was the Bahrain test?
The Bahrain test was a good first time in the R.S.17. The cars are really quick this year but I feel back in rhythm despite having not been in a race car for six months. It was a full programme and I enjoyed every second of being in the car, even if the programme was not the most exciting for the driver. Ultimately, I’m here to do what the team tell me to do, so that’s my approach to FP1; if I have to do aero runs, that’s what I do. If I have to drive a qualifying simulation on Ultrasoft tyres, then that’s what I’ll do too!
What do you think to the track?
I drove last year in Sochi so I’m familiar with what to expect. It’s a modern-style F1 track with some interesting aspects to it. There have been some interesting Grands Prix there. The most challenging sector is the final one, off the back straight, as there are some tricky braking areas through corner after corner, then it’s really crucial to keep the rear of the car under control through this sequence.
Is it good to be in the car at home?
I’m proud of being a Russian driver so to be in front of thousands of Russian fans is always going to be a highlight. That said, I would settle with being in the car anywhere! Of course, there will be a lot of attention in the press and media, and many people I know will be there – which is always nice – however my focus is fully on track. I’m there to do the best job possible and focus on the entire race weekend not just FP1 when I’m in the car.