8 October 2014
F1: Button anticipating new track ‘buzz’
Jenson Button admits that, despite 14 years of experiencing F1 venues, he still gets excited at the thought of breaking new ground.
McLaren veteran Jenson Button has seen new circuits come – and, on the odd occasion, go too – in locations such as China, Bahrain, Singapore, Korea and Valencia – but still admits to getting a buzz when a new venue is added to the schedule.
Despite plans for a Russian Grand Prix being mooted as far back as 1983, the Sochi Autodrom represents the first purpose-built F1 facility in the country, having been given the green light in October 2010. Since then, F1's favoured architect, Hermann Tilke, has designed and built a challenging 18-corner layout that is the third longest track on the 2014 calendar, and Button can't wait to get out and drive it.
“It's always interesting to visit new circuits – it's fun to get out and explore the contours of the track, the kerbs, the run-offs, the camber – all the things that you don't really fully experience until you're on-site and able to see the track for the very first time. That'll be my priority on Thursday.”
The Sochi track is ostensibly a street circuit, but it has an interesting mix of permanent and temporary sections. The infrastructure around the paddock and pit-lane is permanent, using buildings originally erected for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but the track itself is temporary.
Lined by walls, it has little run-off and it will punish driving mistakes, but the presence of two straights – the longest of which is 650 metres – pushes speeds higher than many permanent circuits on the calendar. Simulations carried out by McLaren predict an average speed of 215km/h, placing Sochi on a par with Albert Park in Melbourne and making it quicker than Monaco, Montreal and Singapore.
“From what I've seen of the place, it's sort of a mix between the tracks we raced on in Valencia and Korea – plenty of long, fast straights hemmed in by concrete walls and high barriers, and a selection of medium-speed corners that seem to have been designed to test the abilities of a car.
“As with all these new venues, they only really begin to unlock themselves once you get out on the track for the first time. I've lost none of my enthusiasm for going to new places, so I'll be keen to get out there on Friday morning and get a feel for the place.”
The 18-corner layout contains several of Tilke's signature design features. The two longest straights are book-ended by slow corners in an effort to help overtaking, and there's a multi-apex left-hander towards the start of the lap that is reminiscent of turn eight in Istanbul, albeit with a much slower entry speed.
“In terms of facilities, the circuit looks first-class,” McLaren racing director Eric Boullier confirmed, “It feels a little bit like a street circuit – it features a plentiful array of 90-degree corners, many of which look likely to be taken at around the same speed.
“It'll be interesting to measure the popularity of the race; McLaren has long participated at the Mobil 1-backed Moscow City Racing summer festival, which regularly sees huge crowds, and it would be nice if Sochi could replicate the appeal of that event. I hope it's a successful weekend – for the sport and for McLaren.”
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