The first time we saw Super-G in Sochi was in 2014 when the Russian city hosted the XXII Olympic Winter Games. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud beat American Andrew Weibrecht by .3 of a second on the 2.096 km (1.302 mile) course with a 622 m (2,041 ft) vertical drop to nab gold in the alpine slalom event.
Three years later, a Super-G of a different sort returns to Sochi, but instead of taking place on the white slopes of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, it will happen on the black asphalt of the Sochi Autodrom as the fastest cars in Formula One history rocket around the 5.848 km (3.634 mile), 18-turn circuit for the 30 April Russian Grand Prix.
With a new set of technical regulations in place for 2017, Formula One cars feature an advanced aerodynamic package that has created a significantly higher level of downforce and a substantial uptick in g-force. A wider front wing, larger barge boards, a lower and wider rear wing and a diffuser that expands 50mm (two inches) in height and width comprise the changes.
And planting these cars to the ground are much wider tyres from Pirelli, by 60mm (2.4 inches) in the front and 80mm (3.1 inches) in the rear, a 25-per cent increase from 2016.
Between the heightened downforce and the grip afforded by Pirelli’s tyres, drivers are able to turn laps nearly five seconds faster than they did last year. Track records have fallen at each of the races run this season in Australia, China and Bahrain. Sochi is home to the fourth race of the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship and likely the fourth venue where another track record will fall.
The higher speeds of these racecars have led to drastically higher g-forces being sustained by the drivers who wheel these cutting-edge machines. After the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean said he was pulling close to eight Gs when running at speed.
“The cars are brutal to drive – we are not far from 8G with the peak in high corners – so it is pretty good fun, but it is hard on the body, it is hard on parts, it is hard on the cars,” Grosjean said. “You better not miss the turning point on some places. The speed we go through the corners is insane compared to the past. You need to be more precise, more accurate, more on it.”
Eight Gs is eight times the force of gravity, which makes a 68 kg (150 pound) Formula One driver weigh 544 kg. It seems like a big number – and it is – but still well within the body’s tolerance for short durations.
Grosjean and his teammate, Kevin Magnussen, developed their bodies this offseason as much as Haas F1 Team developed its racecar.
“There was no point risking not being fit enough or strong enough, so the training was much harder this offseason,” Magnussen said. “It was more strength training. Before you were designing your training programme to not gain any weight, but this year we’re able to train harder with more strength-focused training rather than just long cardio sessions.”
“We’re going through more g-forces, so the neck is stronger and the core is stronger,” Grosjean added. “Your whole body had to adjust to these high speeds.”
The current track record at the Sochi Autodrom is 1:35.417, set last year by Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg in the final round of qualifying. It will fall in 2017. The question is, by how much?
It will likely be a driver from either Scuderia Ferrari or Mercedes who sets the new track record. For the Haas F1 Team, it’s about getting as close to those giants in qualifying on Saturday to start as close to the front as possible for the race on Sunday.
Grosjean’s best starting spot at Sochi is eighth, earned in 2015, and Magnussen’s best grid placement is 11th, earned last year. While Grosjean has a better qualifying performance at Sochi, Magnussen has the better race results.
Magnussen has never finished lower than seventh in his two career Formula One starts at the track, with his best being a fifth-place drive in 2014. Grosjean earned his best finish in last year’s race when he came home eighth.
With bodies built for the speed of this new Formula One era, Grosjean and Magnussen look to build on their past performances in Sochi with strong runs in their version of Super-G.