It was another dominating day for the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS team in Russia, with championship rivals Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton both topping a session on Friday at Sochi.
Hamilton was second in the opening session before taking a firm grip in the second by going fastest by 0.864s ahead of McLaren driver Kevin Magnussen. He admitted to enjoying the track, and hopes for a decent race on Sunday.
“I like the new circuit; it’s got really good grip and great corners, with a lot at medium speed,” said Hamilton. “It’s good fun. The car has been feeling really good today. McLaren look close, which is great for everyone as it, should make for a decent race.
“We’ve got quite a good balance with the car so there are a lot of boxes ticked but we still have work to do to see if we can improve for tomorrow.”
Team-mate Rosberg was quickest in the first practice session but slipped to fourth in the second after a mistake on his quickest lap cost him a good chunk of time. He admitted the team tried a different set-up to that on Hamilton’s car, but with revert back to the other settings on Saturday after it was proved that Hamilton’s set-up was better. He also feels the race will see very few pit stops due to the low degradation of the Pirelli tyres on the smooth new tarmac.
“That was a very productive day from an engineering point of view,” said Rosberg. “The team decided to go two different ways in terms of set-up. I took a very creative set-up for my car in the second practice session, which didn’t work out. So we will go back to the conservative way for tomorrow, because we saw that Lewis was very quick with that.
“The track is really cool to drive, very enjoyable. Turn three is a very special one and the asphalt is very smooth, so the tyres last long. We won’t see that many pit stops on Sunday, I guess. That’s a bit surprising to me.”
Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff praised the organisers of the Russian Grand Prix for the circuit and the facility. He knows the track still has time to give, and knows the team will need to make the correct decisions with regards to set-up to be able to stay at the front.
“My compliments go to the organisers on the standard of the facility here in Sochi and this challenging new circuit,” said Wolff. “Like at any new track, the surface was very green today and we need running time for the grip levels to build up; we could see that lap times were improving all the way through both sessions.
“The conditions will probably ramp up even further through the weekend and we need to make the right decisions on set-up.”