Coming to Russia, our expectations were pretty much in line with those we had for Australia and China, in that we thought we could perform reasonably well, with the aim of getting both cars into the top ten in qualifying and the race. The good thing about the Sochi track is that it has plenty of medium speed corners, which would play to the strengths of the car. On the negative side, it is also a more power critical circuit and what we are seeing now is that the steps the developing engines have made or are making, are beginning to kick in, so we know we are at a disadvantage to them. But we hoped the positives and negatives would balance out.
(Carlos Sainz during Russian Grand Prix's Free Practice)
Overall it was a mixed bag, because on Carlos' car we covered the work we needed to and he was generally more happy with his balance than Max and so he was able to put in a string of good runs on the first day, including a particularly strong race run. We know that if we find a reasonably good race pace on Friday, it generally gets enhanced on Sunday, due to improved track conditions. With Max, it was the complete opposite in that he wasn't at all happy with the balance and the way the car felt. It lacked rear end support so he did not get representative running done on Friday and we really only had half the data we needed to think about strategy for later in the weekend. The other small concern we had was our short run performance, which on Friday wasn't quite where we wanted to be. That was predominantly in the third sector of the track, where we were being limited a little bit with rear tyre performance towards the end of the lap. We saw a bit of that in China as well, so this was something we knew we had to work on for Saturday and also in general.
(Max Verstappen during Qualifying)
With the changes we had made overnight, both drivers found that the car was a little bit easier to drive. We headed in the right direction for set-up and, particularly with Max, it was a big reset for him. We built in some understeer into his car and that stabilised things and felt better for him, so he was a lot happier. We still suffered a bit at the end of the lap on a one-lap run, but improved it a bit in free practice. We tried to do a final long run with the Supersoft tyre, because we had predominantly run the Soft tyre on Friday.
In quali, we were targeting Q3 and we made it with Max, setting the time on his first run in Q2 rather than his second. We swapped the strategy in Q2 between the first and second runs, from a single lap to what we call a push lap, a cooling lap and a push lap again, effectively two timed laps, because it's often difficult on this track to warm up the tyres, but that strategy didn't appear to be any quicker than a single timed lap. Max got through to Q3 but Carlos didn't get a good end to his single lap and that caused him to miss Q3. We didn't have the best approach to Q3, when I think P7 would have been possible, rather than our actual P9.
The race pace was there with both drivers and we had worked a lot with them on tyre management so they knew what they had to do. Max obviously had to start on his used Supersofts from Q2 and we had to be a bit careful as we were not sure what to expect. Therefore, we had looked at both a one or a two stop strategy, in case he got bad degradation.
With Carlos we started him on new Supersofts and planned a one stop, moving him to a new set of Softs. As it turned out, Max's tyre degradation was much better than at any other time in the weekend. He did the longest opening stint on Supersofts and this left us in a much more comfortable position. He was in an easy sixth place, slightly shy of the Williams pace on the Supersofts, a bit better on the Softs. All he had to do was continue as he was doing, he was very competitive and maybe he could have challenged Massa towards the end as he seemed to have higher tyre degradation than us. However, we then suffered a Power Unit failure. Up to that point, our strategy, the tyre management and the driver's pace was all working really well. It was really frustrating and a shame as the driver and team were doing exactly what they needed to do to score some decent points.
Although both drivers managed to avoid the opening lap chaos, in a completely freak situation, Carlos picked up a piece of Red Bull front wing end plate in the front of his left hand sidepod. It was sticking out of the cooling inlet and dramatically increased engine temperatures and he had to turn his engine right down. It also lost him an awful lot of aero performance which meant he had both much reduced engine power and less downforce for the opening laps of the race. We didn't know exactly what the problem was so we had planned to investigate it at the pit stop. So we pitted him very early and it was immediately obvious what the problem was with that huge bit of bodywork sticking out. That was removed and we put him on soft tyres and our only option was to run him to the end of the race. It made it very hard for him as he was stuck in traffic and he was at a disadvantage because his tyres were older than those of the cars around him. It was a huge opportunity missed, because from a car and driver perspective we did everything we could and had very bad luck with both cars.