Introduced in 2014, the current breed of 1.6-litre V6 turbocharged engines have come with a double restriction on fuel consumption (100kg per race) and flow rate (100kg/hour), which has made the energy recovery systems (ERS) a key performance differentiator.
A recent addition to the Formula One calendar, Sochi Autodrom has already established itself as a challenging venue in terms of energy management.
“Usually Russia is quite hard in fuel consumption,” Vettel said. “In the last two years, though, we saw that tyres last very long. So, it becomes important to make sure you’re able to race flat out and you have a fast car in qualifying and you carry that into the race to ensure you have a good and strong result.”
Despite taking a significant step over the winter, Ferrari has yet to capitalise on its progress. While Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen clashing at the start in China certainly did not help, the Scuderia has mostly suffered from poor engine reliability.
According to Motorsport.com, Maranello is considering using its first power unit development tokens in a bid to make up for lost ground in Sochi. Binotto explains what makes the Black Sea circuit so demanding.
“There are very long straights, very high speed corners, but you also have high speed braking and low traction hairpins,” the Ferrari engine boss said. “Probably even more important than sheer power is the entire power unit, together with the energy management because somehow you need to get the balance right between the long straight which require high accelerations, the corners, every other part of the circuit, and finally to optimise the best lap time and the energy management between the internal combustion engine and the whole system.
“In terms of race management, the drivers’ lines can be very different in Russia. There are quite a few opportunities for overtaking and therefore it is quite important to manage correctly the way you accelerate the car by using different strategies in the race, compared to qualifying in hybrid and Power Unit energy management.”
“Fuel consumption is another difficult point in Russia. When we were there two years ago we immediately realised that the 100 kg maximum allowance for the entire race was quite restrictive. In fact, you need somehow to save and manage the fuel during the race and optimise it for the race distance.
“Also, the very long corner number three, with its high centrifugal acceleration, can prove to be difficult for the oil pick-up and thus affect the lubrication system”.
The current fuel limits have often been criticised for preventing drivers from pushing all the time. Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul recently called for the restrictions to be scrapped in 2017, but it should be noted that they have made the hybrid V6 power units around 35-40 percent more efficient than their normally-aspirated V8 predecessors.