SOCHI, Russia -- Marcus Ericsson says the combination of the smooth asphalt of the Sochi Autodrom and Pirelli's new 2017 tyres have set up a dilemma about how teams approach qualifying on Saturday.
Russia's track has become synonymous with its smooth asphalt since joining the calendar in 2014, meaning tyre degradation is minimal. That has been further exaggerated this year with Pirelli's more durable rubber, with Friday practice showing teams continuing to improve over their short and long runs -- unlike most tracks, where the first or second lap will be the optimum qualifying lap before drivers encounter a performance drop-off.
The three practice sessions have shown that is not the case in Sochi, with teams continuing to find lap time gains on the ultra-soft tyre. Ericsson says the addition of Pirelli's new tyres has complicated matters even further.
"It's no secret that the track is very special with the asphalt here, we've seen that historically," Ericsson said. "But now it's more stiff tyres, more durable tyres, so it's even more extreme this year. We can just go on and on and they just go faster, both in my long run and my short run, it was just like the more laps I did the faster I went. It's never been like that anywhere else, really."
Saturday's FP3, the precursor to qualifying, showed the same trend, and Ericsson thinks it is especially difficult to work out how to approach qualifying for the slower teams already running with a power or downforce deficit.
"We need to really analyse it and see, because the fuel effect is still quite big so it's difficult to know if we should do one longer run. Like in FP2, I did four push laps, with slow-down laps inbetween, nine laps in total and my ninth lap was the fastest -- in a quali sim! That's like a Formula 3 sim, you know, it's not Formula One's style. So with that in mind we really need to analyse what is best to do, whether you do a long run with a lot of laps or if you do a normal two [lap] run.
"That makes it a bit difficult and for us with slower cars, less downforce, it's even more difficult to get the tyres to work properly, then the faster guys get tyres working a bit better and the gaps are a bit bigger between the top and the bottom."