Azerbaijan GP Preview | Baku nightmare or city success?

Preview to Round 8 of the Formula One World Championship, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Formula One heads back to Baku for the city circuit’s second Grand Prix, but under a new name – the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Moving away from the European Grand Prix title that the city hosted its first Formula One race under, and into its own national race.

When Formula One first arrived in Azerbaijan, it was a relative step into the unknown as teams and drivers learnt their new surroundings for the first time. Tackling the new challenges faced by the Baku City Circuit and planning the best route through the city to the paddock.

Best to adapt to the challenges presented last year was the would-be World Champion, Nico Rosberg, as the German secured the first pole and win in the low-lying city with its coastline along the Caspian Sea.

Contrastingly, Azerbaijan’s debut on the F1 calendar was a disaster for fellow Mercedes-driver Lewis Hamilton, who crashed out of qualifying and struggled to a fifth-placed finish basked in engine woes. Woes that the then radio regulations meant the team could not aid him with, leaving the three-time champion focusing on changing modes on his steering wheel rather than attacking the second-longest circuit on the calendar.

Hamilton - European GP 2016 - Mercedes - www.mercedesamgf1.com:en:mercedes-amg-f1:gallery-silver-arrows-in-baku:

Lewis Hamilton climbs the run alongside the old town wall at the Baku City Circuit. Photo credit: Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

This year, Hamilton’s hopes will lie on the race’s name change being a dream outcome that leads to city success rather than another Baku nightmare. Aiding the Briton in further reducing Sebastian Vettel’s championship lead after victory last time out at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Hamilton’s sixth pole and sixth win in Montreal saw Lewis match the legendary Ayrton Senna’s career pole tally to move the Mercedes racer into joint second on the all-time list. Pole this weekend will promote Hamilton into second place outright with the possibility to match and overtake first placed Michael Schumacher prior to the summer break.

As for the championship leader, Vettel’s Canadian Grand Prix got off to a rocky start as first corner contact with Max Verstappen sent the Ferrari into the pits for an early stop. Teeing up a masterful drive to chase down a podium position in the final stages, falling just short as Force India’s Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon fought each other at the benefit of third-placed Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo leads Force India - Red Bull

Daniel Ricciardo leads Sergio Perez, Kimi Raikkonen and Esteban Ocon during the 2017 Canadian Grand Prix. Photo credit: Red Bull Racing.

For the second race around the Baku City Circuit, Formula One will be racing around the same 3.730 miles used for the countries debut race. Returning F1 to the second longest circuit on the calendar, one that utilises 20 corners and features a 1600m main straight.

The lengthy main straight, though, is not really straight. With the 1600m starting off with a brief flurry of corners – leaving the actual straight at 1200m, the joint longest in F1. With that, Formula One saw record speeds set at the countries inaugural race – with then Williams driver Valtteri Bottas clocked at 378 kp/h (235 mph).

Prior to Bottas’ record pace, the F1 top speed record was held by Juan Pablo Montoya who posted 372.6 kp/h at Monza back in 2005 for McLaren. A team who will struggle to reach speeds anywhere near that this year amidst another season of struggles with their Honda power unit.

Baku City Circuit 2017 - F1

A circuit guide to the Baku City Circuit, home of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Copyright: Formula1.com

Away from the long straight, the Baku Circuit Circuit features a fast flow of corners to round out the lap. But with limited runoff, every corner presents a challenge as disaster can strike at any moment – particularly heading towards the old town wall at turns 8, 9 and 10.

Beyond the narrow passage that passes the old town wall, a mistake under braking at turn 15 can see your session come to a swift end. As carry too much pace into the corner and not bailing out will see you breeze out into the wall. As shown by Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez who ran wide into the tecpro barrier and damaged the rear of his Force India.

Although not terminal, Sergio Perez was also amongst the early victims of turn one. But thanks to the long main straight, the opening bend features one of the few runoff areas – welcoming overtaking lunges. Yet, with DRS proving less effective under the new aero-heavy regulations, a greater deal of bold lunges elsewhere may prove more prevalent in 2017.

Baku - European GP 2016 - Mercedes - www.mercedesamgf1.com:en:mercedes-amg-f1:gallery-silver-arrows-in-baku:

Baku, home to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Photo credit: Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

Having clashed with Le Mans in 2016, Formula One’s return to Baku comes one week after the 24-hour endurance race ends. Seeing no clash between F1 and the WEC, after qualifying in Azerbaijan clashed with the start of Le Mans and the chequered flag in France clashed with lights out in Baku.

Like last year, meanwhile, both Sky Sports F1 and Channel 4 will have live coverage of Formula One’s second full street race of the year (not including the Russian Grand Prix, a race situated just 900km (560 miles) away in Sochi).

Coverage begins on Sky Sports with their F1 Report, while Channel 4 kicks off with Free Practice One.

Sky Sports F1
21/06 – 20:50 – F1 Report: Preview
22/06 – 12:00 – Driver Press Conference
22/06 – 20:45 – Paddock Uncut
23/06 – 08:00 – Formula 2 Practice
23/06 – 09:45 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports 1)
23/06 – 12:00 – Formula 2 Qualifying
23/06 – 13:45 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports 1)
23/06 – 16:00 – Team Press Conference
23/06 – 16:45 – The F1 Show
24/06 – 08:55 – Formula 2 Feature Race
24/06 – 10:45 – Practice 3
24/06 – 13:00 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports 1)
25/06 – 10:55 – Formula 2 Sprint Race
25/06 – 12:30 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 12:30 – Track Parade
=> 13:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 13:30 – Race
=> 16:30 – Paddock Live
28/06 – 20:30 – F1 Report: Review

Channel 4
23/06 – 09:55 – Practice 1
23/06 – 13:55 – Practice 2
24/06 – 10:55 – Practice 3
24/06 – 12:25 – F1 Meets… Toto Wolff
24/06 – 12:55 – Qualifying
25/06 – 13:00 – Race
=> 13:00 – Build–Up
=> 13:35 – Race
=> 16:10 – Reaction

BBC Radio
22/06 – 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
23/06 – 09:55 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
23/06 – 13:55 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/06 – 14:00 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live)
25/06 – 14:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)