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Trackside Performance Analysis: Standing on the anchors at Sochi’s Turn 13

Special Contributor

Mark Hughes
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SOCHI, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 27: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red

To understand the subtleties of car performance and driver technique, there’s no substitute for standing trackside and observing (and listening to) the protagonists at work. For FP1 in Russia, Mark Hughes watched how the drivers coped with the big stop from flat-out Turn 12 to tight Turn 13...

The left-handed kink of Turn 12 is flat in eighth, followed immediately by a heavy braking zone for the third-gear right-hander of 13. It’s probably the most spectacular section of the Sochi track, particularly in the early Friday session with the surface still dusty.

Lando Norris is one of the first to go full attack through there and the McLaren gives a menacing little twitch towards the wall on the left as he stands on the brakes. It can go badly wrong here – as his team mate Carlos Sainz could no doubt explain, having buried himself in the barriers in 2015 – but Norris is expressing himself fully here, a big flamboyant arc from the kink into the braking zone and even using some of the kerb on the left to widen his entry angle.

READ MORE: Verstappen splits Ferraris as Leclerc tops opening Sochi session

The stand-out car at this point of the track is the Red Bull, with Max Verstappen able to turn in visibly more suddenly than any other – his initial lateral acceleration perhaps 20-25% greater than, say, a Racing Point. Flat through the kink, he’s fully straight and aligned with the side of the track for about 20 metres before he stands on the brakes – right on the 50-metre board. That’s about 15 metres later than Sergio Perez who is hustling the Racing Point very respectably.

Norris is expressing himself fully here, a big flamboyant arc from the kink into the braking zone

Verstappen is earliest on the gas too, the only one all session who is hard on it even before the apex. Essentially the RB15 looks covered in downforce and in a much happier place on this smooth surface than it was over the Singapore bumps last week.

The Ferraris came out together a little later and on the same red-striped soft tyres as Verstappen. Charles Leclerc, his confidence high, tried a Red Bull-like direction change but it just induces the Ferrari into a time-costing oversteer slide. He brought the entry aggression back a notch after that, more in line with Sebastian Vettel in the sister car.

Neither is able to be as late on the brakes as Verstappen, but with the proviso that they are probably arriving at the corner from a higher speed. The Ferrari looks nicely drivable again, but is just not quite as planted through there as the Red Bull.

WATCH: Ricciardo spins Renault into the Sochi barriers during FP1

Just as the Ferraris were getting up to speed Daniel Ricciardo locked up his Renault’s front tyres massively. Nico Hulkenberg in the sister car had a similar, but smaller, incident there a few seconds later – neither driver clearly comfortable at this point with how the R.S.19 was responding to the demands asked of it.

Charles Leclerc, his confidence high, tried a Red Bull-like direction change but it just induces the Ferrari into a time-costing oversteer slide

The Williams cars didn’t look night and day slower than most of the field in terms of their entry speed, but both George Russell and Robert Kubica had to manipulate the throttle more pre-apex to contain the understeer, so the mid-corner speeds were naturally well down. But aside from the braking issue, the car looks quite manoeuverable at low speeds, albeit without the sheer grip of the top cars.

Mercedes did most of their running later in the session and on the medium tyres. They looked efficient and drama-free but it’s difficult to make a direct comparison with the turn-in alacrity of Verstappen, given the less grippy rubber. Lewis Hamilton is able to take a similarly late line through the kink, with grip to spare to steer back over to the left and straighten up before standing on the brakes.

An early snapshot of Sochi performance, but one that signals already the various merits of the cars – and why we should be in for another close battle this weekend.

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