Frenchman Esteban Ocon secured his first pole position in GP3 in a dramatic qualifying session at the Sochi Autodrom. The ART Grand Prix and Mercedes backed driver topped qualifying at various times and won the battle for pole by a mere 0.040’s over Jenzer Motorsport’s Matheo Tuscher. Kevin Ceccon (Arden International) was third whilst Series leader Luca Ghiotto will start seventh.
Following rain overnight, damp conditions greeted the 24 drivers for qualifying for Round 7 of the 2015 GP3 Series in Russia. Carlin’s Jann Mardenborough was the initial pace setter after setting the fastest time on wet Pirelli tyres with the rest of the field on slicks.
Trident’s Ghiotto then headed the timesheet as the track began to dry, with Seb Morris (Status Grand Prix) next to lead the way. Ghiotto was first to lap under the 2 minute mark, with his rookie teammate Michele Beretta an impressive second at the midway point.
Russian star Konstantin Tereshchenko was also catching everyone’s eye as he rose to P2, displacing the Italian and looked on course to take provisional time, but unfortunately he was caught in traffic after posting two purple sectors.
Tuscher climbed to the top spot, before Antonio Fuoco and then Ocon displaced the Swiss driver. Series leader Ghiotto was soon back up the sharp end, lapping in the 1m54’s as the times continued to tumble down as it was clear to  everyone that pole was going to be set at the very end of the session on a drying track.
Ocon retaliated and was back in P1 by six tenths of a second, before Ceccon found some extra pace to briefly hold command of the timesheet. However, the Frenchman looked ominous and wanted to reclaim provisional pole and dipped into the 1m53’s at the chequered flag, with a perfectly timed lap.
Ocon recorded his debut pole in the category ahead of Tuscher, whose P2 on the grid is a career best. Ceccon in third also enjoys his best qualifying of the season ahead of Alex Palou (Campos Racing), Mardenborough, Matthew Parry, Ghiotto, Emil Bernstorff, Fuoco and Morris.
Catch the forty-minute long race at the earlier than usual time of 13:30.



Frenchman Esteban Ocon posted the quickest time in a wet free practice session at the Sochi Autodrom: the ART Grand Prix and Mercedes backed driver’s laptime of 2:09.319 was two tenths faster than Jenzer Motorsport’s Ralph Boschung. Marvin Kirchhöfer was third.
Free Practice for Round 7 of the 2015 GP3 Series season was run in damp conditions following rain earlier in the day. However, the heavens opened just as the forty-five minute session got underway providing even more of a challenge, with a large number of drivers making their first appearance around the Sochi track.
As the session commenced in cool temperatures, Kirchhöfer was an early spinner at Turn 7. Seb Morris (Status Grand Prix) led the way before the German driver soon found some pace to top the times. Ocon was in second behind his teammate, ahead of Arden International’s Kevin Ceccon and Boschung.
Numerous drivers ran off in the tricky conditions as the rain began to fall heavier. Swiss rookie Boschung shot to P1, one tenth ahead of the German, before spinning at Turn 18. Ocon improved on Boschung’s time by two tenths before a red flag halted proceedings. Alex Fontana drifted wide at Turn 4, and spun off, making contact with the barrier. His session was over, as the clock continued to tick down whilst his car was recovered.
There was six minutes remaining when the session went “green” with the drivers’ queuing out of the pitlane to head back onto the track. As the weather worsened, the times failed to improve with stoppages and spins for Artur Janosz, Zaid Ashkanani and Alfonso Celis. Jr.
At the chequered flag, Ocon remained head of the timesheet, ahead of Boschung, Kirchhöfer, Ceccon, Series leader Luca Ghiotto, Alex Palou, Jimmy Eriksson, Emil Bernstorff, Sandy Stuvik and Seb Morris.
Qualifying takes place at 09.30 am local time tomorrow morning. The four points on pole could prove very decisive in the fight for the title…



McLaren tester and Series leader Stoffel Vandoorne was on top form in this morning’s free practice at the Sochi Autodrom: with a laptime of 1:45.326 – six tenths clear from Arthur Pic in P2, the Belgian easily topped the session laying his cards on the table before this afternoon’s qualifying session as title rival Alexander Rossi had a more challenging session and finished eighth.
The pitlane opened under grey skies and in cool temperatures. Raffaele Marciello was the first driver to feed onto the track on Medium Pirelli tyres, but it was Alex Lynn who set the early pace ahead of the Italian. Vandoorne was next to go top, but Lynn was able to go even faster to reclaim P1.
Vandoorne however was clearly on a mission: he was the first man to dip under 1m47s (six tenths clear from Lynn). As Pierre Gasly edged his teammate out of P2 and reduced the gap to Vandoorne, the ART racer found some extra pace again on his next lap to leave the Frenchman 1.160s behind on the timing screens. Vandoorne eventually crushed his rivals’ hopes for glory after he broke the 1m46s barrier with ten minutes left on the clock.
Behind him, Rio Haryanto moved up to P2, but his teammate Arthur Pic bettered his laptime in the final stages of the session and relegated the Indonesian to third. At the chequered flag and behind the top three, Mitch Evans finished fourth ahead of Lynn and Gasly. It was a trickier session for Rossi who seemed to struggle in the opening stages (he span at Sector 11 but was able to resume): the American managed to move up to P7 in the dying minutes, but Sergey Sirotkin edged him out at the chequered flag. Marciello and Nobuharu Matsushita completed the top ten.
With the weather forecast uncertain for this afternoon (light raindrops made an appearance at the end of the free practice), the order might be reshuffled for the qualifying session in a few hours’ time.



Vijay’s Vision
Vijay Mallya reflects on a successful couple of races and targets more points in Russia.
VJM: “I’m feeling optimistic as we approach the final couple of months of the season. In Singapore and Japan we continued to show competitive pace and, despite missing the chance to score with both cars, we remain in a solid fifth place in the championship.
“Russia will give us another chance to unleash more potential from the B-spec car. Even at this late stage of the season we continue to bring new parts to the car thanks to all the hard work back at the factory.
“There’s every reason to believe we can be competitive in Sochi and we expect to be up there fighting for good points.”
Sergio on Russia
Sergio Perez hopes to score points once again in Sochi.
Sergio: “I scored a point in Sochi last year and I’m looking forward to racing there again. They did a really nice job with the track and there are some interesting corners, especially the long left-hand turn three – in qualifying last year we were taking it flat.
“In some ways the Sochi track reminds me of Singapore and Abu Dhabi. That’s because there are lots of 90 degree corners and acceleration zones, which put high energy through the rear tyres. There are some quick parts of the lap too. I remember last year that turn 12 was quite difficult because you are pulling high g-forces and braking for turn 13 at the same time.
“We saw last year that overtaking wasn’t easy and it was a one-stop race for most cars. This year the tyres are a step softer so perhaps that will mix up the strategy options a bit more.”
Nico on Russia
Nico Hülkenberg looks forward to racing in Sochi.
Nico: “The result in Suzuka was just what I needed after a few unlucky weekends since the summer break. We had good pace, we did our homework and we achieved all we could from the race. It was very satisfying to see how competitive we were and that’s given me a confidence boost for the races to come.
“I had my first experience of Russia last year and enjoyed it. The unusual venue inside the Olympic Park is pretty cool and the track itself has a nice flow. The lap is quite long, with many similar corners, and that adds to the difficulty of putting together a perfect lap. The final sector is quite technical and is a big challenge for the drivers.”

F1Weekly Podcast # 691


After a solid outing in Suzuka, Pastor Maldonado looks to maintain momentum for the final five races of 2015, starting with the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi.

Suzuka was a solid race for you, how does that help you heading to Sochi?

You always approach a race on its own merits so my outlook heading to Russia is not affected by what happened in Japan. It was positive for us to have a solid race and get some good points, of course, but that is what we try to achieve at every race, regardless of what happened at the one before. Equally, if we have a race like Suzuka for all of the remaining events it would be a strong end to the year.

What were your first impressions of Sochi last year?

It was a great and amazing event, really well organised and with a good attendance. It was a special experience to arrive at a new country for Formula 1 – and a new country for me – then see strong immediate support like we did. I’m looking forward to returning and seeing how they built upon their strong first event.

What was it like when you drove the track for the first time?

It’s always a strange experience. You don’t know exactly how it will be, even though you’ve walked the track it’s very different when you’re sat in the car and actually driving. You have to push to the limit to realise the fastest way around. It’s a very technical circuit. Last year we saw the grip level improve a lot over the course of the weekend as it was new which meant we really needed to work hard on the setup to maintain the balance and get the car working as well as it could.

What do you think of the Sochi layout?

There are very many corners, with a couple of sections of stop and go. It’s quite a long lap and a reasonably technical one too. If you make a small mistake in one corner, you are punished for the rest of the lap. If you’re off line for one corner, it might not be until one of the straights that you can recover. Off-line is very slippery too so you’re doubly punished! Every single part of this track is important! In terms of enjoyment, I like the first sector the most, but it’s a good track overall.

How much easier is it heading there for a second time?

It will be much easier this year. Last year was all about discovery and learning; this year we should be several steps forward so be able to unlock more pace quicker.

Romain’s headed elsewhere for 2016, any thoughts on who you would like as a team-mate?

Honestly I have no preference. Throughout your career you work with a variety of team-mates so you get used to working with different people. Ultimately, everyone is trying to make the car faster and perform as well as it can for an event, so you’re all working to the same objectives.

We’ve seen the outline race calendar for 2016, what are your thoughts?

Firstly, as a driver you want to race as much as possible so I’m looking forward to 21 races. It looks like a good line-up of events and it will be interesting to visit races such as Malaysia and Russia at different times of the year as well as Baku for the first time.

Renault have signed a letter of intent to buy Lotus F1 Team, what does this mean for you?

This is positive news and I’m looking forward to things progressing here. I’ve worked with Renault in the past and know that they are real racers. I know Enstone always works very hard and we’ve seen what the Enstone and Renault combination has achieved in the past. Let’s hope there are great things ahead.

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Dany, it’s home race time. Can you count the number of times you’ve given interviews about the Russian GP?

Impossible to count – hundreds? I have talked about it a lot but it’s the same for any driver, the home race is always the busiest! So, what do you want to know about – the track?

Well, last year we couldn’t talk about it as no one had driven on the finished product before, so what did you make of it?

I would describe it as a classic modern-style track. But what’s really important is that there is quite a lot of room for overtaking, which usually makes for good racing. It does have some quite interesting, quite unusual sections. There are some challenging braking areas, in Turn 13 for example. Also Turn 4 is quite tough. I would characterise it as a very technical circuit. It probably doesn’t really have a standout, balls-out corner, it really does make you think a lot and it takes some time to work out the best way round it. Having said that, it’s my home race and I enjoy it a lot. The atmosphere last year was fantastic, there were so many fans giving me support. It really feels awesome to be there.

Last year, with Toro Rosso, you had a great qualifying but the race didn’t quite work out did it?

Yeah, qualifying was great [Dany was fifth on Saturday] but the race was just… how can I say this… well, it was crap. We had problems with fuel consumption during the race and it was just a really disappointing day. I’m hoping we will be able to give the fans there something more to cheer about this year.

Does all the attention at a home race mean it’s harder to concentrate on the job in hand? Do you struggle to find some headspace to focus on the race?

In a way it’s true, sometimes you do get some strong attention but that’s part of the game and what you have to take from it is that the attention comes from the fact that perhaps you have been doing something good, which is a positive.

You have to understand that the fans are coming out to support you and that is something quite special – I’m happy to have the attention, it gives you a bit of a lift


The Premiere Motorsport Podcast