After taking his third fourth place this season last weekend in Mugello, Daniel Ricciardo is hungry to go one better as he lines up the Sochi Autodrom.
What's the plan for Sochi this weekend?
DR: I want to keep up the points-scoring run. My race was pretty short in Sochi last year with a bit of Turn 4 chaos. I think after that race, I remember quite vividly thinking 'we have to do better in qualifying, so we are not in the midfield'. It wasn't my strongest weekend last year with qualifying, so it's something I want to put emphasis on this year, to try and get on top of the track. It's never been my strongest circuit and there are still some tricks for me to learn on it. I'm looking forward to going back and trying to figure it out.
What do you make of the Sochi Autodrom?
DR: There's a really long run towards the first real corner, which is a big braking zone. DRS is pretty big on the straight into there. It can be an action-packed race with the walls and medium to high-speed corners. It might be cooler at this time of year; I'll pack a hoodie or two! It's a flat circuit, completely different to Mugello, which is pretty up and down, and Sochi is literally the opposite. Personally, I'm looking to improve on a few personal weaknesses there.
How do you evaluate the recent races?
DR: We want to continue the strong run and score well this weekend. We're in a really tight midfield fight with a number of teams with one or two tenths either way the difference between the second row of the grid or ending outside the top ten. That challenge is exciting, it means we have to find everything from within the car and make it work. We had two fourth places from the last triple header, the target remains to take those big points to keep in the championship fight.
It was an early end for Esteban Ocon in Mugello with an overheating brake issue. But that gives him an extra ounce of determination to return to the points this weekend in Sochi; a track the Frenchman enjoys racing at.
What do you like about Sochi?
EO: Sochi is a cool track to race on. I have good memories there including the 2017 and 2018, races in Formula 1 when I scored some decent points and I remember the performance was good for me. I'm really looking forward to racing in Russia again this weekend. It's been quite special there and I've always had a warm welcome from the Russian fans. There are some fans this year as well, so I'm looking forward to seeing the atmosphere back again. Overall, that's very positive. We think the car is going to be competitive there, and we'll do our best preparing and make sure we back it up when it matters.
Where are the main challenges on a lap?
EO: The track is all medium and low-speed corners. The first sector is fun with the long straight and some overtaking opportunities into Turn 2. In the low speed, there's opportunity to gain time and that is something our car has been good at this season.
How pleased are you with current performances?
EO: We're right in the battle in the midfield, with a number of teams within distance of third in the championship. We scored the most points from those teams between Belgium and Mugello so clearly, we have the capability for some good things. Our focus is only on the next race and doing the best we can to score solid points. There are a few things we can work on and, on my side, we haven't quite got the most from it on some occasions so that's the goal this weekend to get some decent points.
The team heads to Sochi this weekend for the seventh ever Russian Grand Prix. And, the 6km circuit, brings a few challenges as Chief Race Engineer, Ciaron Pilbeam explains.
What are the set-up considerations for the Russian Grand Prix?
CP: The first two sectors at Sochi consist mainly of medium speed corners, although there is the long, fast flat-out Turn 3, which is full throttle in qualifying but hard on the tyres. The last sector has a series of slower, more closely spaced corners, where the rear tyres can overheat, even in qualifying. There are some kerbs at different places around the track and an unusual track profile in Turn 15, and a compliant setup can help with these aspects of the track.
What's there to say on the Pirelli tyre range?
CP: The tyres are one step softer than we had at this circuit last year, and we have the softest compound in the range, the C5, for the first time this year. Our Friday running will focus on its behaviour on short and long runs, and this work will feed into our qualifying and race strategy decisions on Saturday and Sunday.
How does the team assess its performance at Mugello?
CP: We have mixed feelings about Mugello. We developed the setup well through the weekend, adapting to the track and tyres, and by qualifying the car was competitive, although we didn't make the most of it in Q3. Esteban's retirement from the race was frustrating as he could have finished well, but we understand the problem and know how to avoid it in future. With Daniel, we had a tantalising glimpse of the podium, but were beaten by quicker cars. However, we matched our highest ever finishing position of fourth, and scored more points than our direct rivals in the Constructors' Championship, so we should not be too upset, and rather should take heart from the good pace that the car has shown over the last few races.