This weekend sees Formula One’s return to Russia, with the race occupying a much earlier spot in the calendar compared to its early October staging in 2015. As we arrive in Sochi for this year’s event, we reminisce about the last time we competed in the Olympic Park – with the very man who produced a memorable race to finish on the podium back then.
Checo, back on the scene of that famous race. How do you remember it?
It was such a brilliant day! It was one of those races when everything went right – the strategic choices, my driving, and even a little bit of luck in the end. The race itself was a rollercoaster of emotions, right from the start: there were battles, overtakes and many twists in the plot, and in the end we could celebrate. This is actually what I remember most fondly of the whole weekend: being able to celebrate with my team in what turned out to be our best season. I have been enjoying working with them since day one, and that afternoon in Sochi felt like the reward for all the hard work we had put in together.
The strategy for the race was ambitious, and it took some skill to make it work in the end…
It was, but it was the best choice. The call to pit under the safety car, when Grosjean crashed, gave us track position and put us in front of all the battles. It was crucial to be there, in clean air, if we wanted to make our tyres last the distance. It put pressure on those behind us and in the end, all of this contributed to us finishing on the podium.
The last lap must have been exciting inside the cockpit…
I admit I felt really disappointed when both Valtteri (Bottas) and Kimi (Raikkonen) passed me: I felt like this result had been taken from us. At the same time, I knew I had given all I could during the race, there was really nothing more I could have done after racing on the same set of tyres for 40 laps. You can call the collision that gave us third place lucky, but it came about by us being able to defend for so many laps against Bottas and putting him under pressure. In any case, when I finally managed to get back in third, it was an amazing feeling and crossing the line with all my team celebrating on the pit wall was special.
Of course, back then we were heading straight for a couple of very important weeks for you…
Yes, we were just a few weeks away from racing in Austin, which feels a bit like a home race for me, and mainly the first Mexican Grand Prix in 23 years. This result was a massive morale boost, and I think it did a lot to excite the people back at home. They saw we could battle at the front and score some very important results. It was the prelude to a very strong end of season. For me, it was even more important as I was delighted to give a reason to celebrate to all the fans who have supported me throughout the ups and downs of my career.
And now you’re back in Sochi. Will you aim to go out and repeat your 2015 heroics?
Formula One is so hard to predict right now, just look at the first three races! But I think we can be competitive: I like the track, there are a lot of elements in the layout that should suit us and we’re really determined to get our season back on track. We will go out there and give everything we have to get another strong result. Most importantly, we do believe in ourselves and we know we can get on the podium again soon!