“I’m already really looking forward to getting out on track for the first time in Baku on Friday. In my role as Baku Ambassador, I’m lucky enough to have already seen the plans in detail for the new circuit and watch the venue come together over the past few months. The track layout is a really impressive hybrid of the buzz of a street circuit, with its tight narrow streets and close racing, and a more traditional track, where there are high speeds and solid overtaking opportunities.
“This circuit is a great mix of both worlds, and as the fastest of any previous street track, I’m excited for the challenge and to see what’s possible in these kinds of conditions, where everything is a little bit unknown. I’ve already driven the track on the simulator and there’s certainly a lot that makes it unique – medieval walls close to the edge of the newly-laid asphalt, anti-clockwise corners, minimal run-off – so it seems to have all of the ingredients to give us a bit of drama and the prospect of exciting racing.”
“After a disappointing end to what was a fairly positive weekend in Canada until I had to retire the car, I’m already relishing the prospect of the next race – and at a new track, too. From what I’ve seen of it, the Baku City Circuit looks pretty cool – especially as the city centre has so much history attached to it, yet we’ll be roaring over the cobbles there at over 300km/h (186mph) in the middle of the city walls.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ve transformed the area to accommodate a grand prix race. I’ve heard good things from Fernando about the layout too, with some really exciting narrow sections mixed in with wider areas that should be promising for overtaking. It’ll be tough on the car with its long, fast straight, strong loads on the ERS and high fuel consumption, so we need to buckle down and work hard to get our package set up as quickly as possible for the demands of this circuit.”
|2015 pole position
|2015 fastest lap
||Baku City Circuit
|Distance to Turn One
||2.1km/1.305 miles, on the approach to Turn One (the longest of the season)
||340km/h/211mph, on the approach to Turn One
||295m/0.183 miles, estimated time loss 22s
||56 per cent
||Two, on the approaches to Turns One and Three
||Turn 15, a deceptively fast left-hander, through which entry speeds will be high and the walls will be close. Turn Eight is another notable corner, where the apex is a medieval wall and the track is only two car widths wide
||170km/h (106mph), Turn 16
||86km/h (53mph), Turn Eight
|Major changes for 2016
||2.1kg per lap, making it one of the highest of the season
||High, because the circuit requires lots of full deployment
||Medium. There are six significant braking events around the lap, but this is not expected to be a tough circuit on brakes
||62 per lap /3,162 per race
This is Formula 1’s first visit to Baku, but it isn’t the city’s first experience of international motorsport. For three years, between 2012 and ’14, Baku hosted an international GT race on a separate street track. That sportscar race no longer takes place, but F1 has a long-term deal to race in the city.
What makes the track unique:
It’s the first anti-clockwise circuit of the 2016 campaign, but the track’s unique feature is its 2.1km (1.305-mile) pit straight, along which the cars will reach a top speed of 340km/h (211mph) – the fastest speed on a street track in the history of the sport.
Poor. The asphalt is new, which will make it oily and slippery. Grip levels will improve as rubber is laid down on the racing line, but teams are expecting slippery conditions – similar to those at the Sochi Autodrom in 2014.
Minimal. This is a street circuit, so space is at a premium. Concrete walls line the track, which means mistakes will be punished – and never more than at Turn Eight, where the track is barely wider than two F1 cars. But FIA race director Charlie Whiting is satisfied with the safety standards at the track.
Watch out for…:
Turn One. The cars will have been flat-out for the preceding 2.1kms (1.305 miles), along which is the first DRS zone, so expect lots of drama under braking and overtaking attempts into this slow, 90-degree left-hander.
||17:00hrs local/14:00hrs BST
||51 laps (full world championship points will be awarded after 75 per cent distance/52 laps)
|Safety Car likelihood
||The proximity of the walls will punish driver errors and make it difficult to remove damaged cars. As at other street tracks like Monaco, any on-track incident is likely to result in the deployment of the Safety Car or the Virtual Safety Car
|When to press record
||It’s a new track, so don’t miss a lap of the action! But lap three of the race, once DRS has been enabled, should be exciting. The track is very wide in places, so overtaking should be more prevalent than at other street tracks on the calendar
|Don’t put the kettle on
||Strategy is hard to predict until the cars begin to gather tyre data during practice. But Pirelli is taking relatively conservative tyre compounds to the race, given that it’s a street track, and that could push drivers towards a one-stop strategy
|Weather conditions now
||24 degrees and sunny
||Supersoft/Soft/Medium, a combination that was last seen at the Russian Grand Prix
First Azerbaijan Grand Prix:
The speed is higher in the Land of Fire.
Azerbaijan’s F1 heritage
This is the country’s first F1 race. However, there’s already an underlying enthusiasm for the sport, due in part to the success of the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, just 900kms (559 miles) to the north west of Baku. The race organisers are expecting many Russians to attend the race.
Smallest winning margin
Baku’s rise into a global tourism and business hub has been relatively quick. The medieval city staged the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, from which it went on to host the inaugural European Games in 2015, and it’s already been confirmed as a host city at Euro 2020. Formula 1 is the city’s biggest catch so far.
Did you know?
Five other circuits have hosted the European Grand Prix: Nürburgring, Jerez, Brands Hatch, Valencia and Donington Park.
McLaren has won the European Grand Prix four times: in 1984, ’93, ’97 and ’07.
Gemma, aged 22, from Edinburgh, asks: “How much preparation can the engineers and drivers do prior to arriving at a new track like Baku?”
McLaren’s answer: “We have already completed many laps in the simulator, which has allowed us to hone the set-up of the car and to show the drivers the layout of the circuit. As a result, there should be no surprises when the on-track action gets underway on Friday.
THE DRIVERS ON: THE EVENT
#14 Fernando Alonso
“Having seen the development work in Baku as it’s neared completion over the past few months, it’s clear that the organisers have put a lot of planning and resources into the infrastructure around the circuit, and it promises to be a very significant event in the region. There are a lot of fans who’ve been excited about this grand prix for a long time now, so I’m looking forward to racing in front of them and putting on a good show in front of a new audience of fans that we’ve never reached before.
“The Canada race weekend started relatively well, but in the race we were outpaced by stronger teams. It was difficult to maintain heat in the tyres in cooler temperatures, which meant they didn’t perform as well, so we struggled to keep up with the guys in front. Some of Baku’s characteristics are similar, and despite being a street circuit will still be very demanding on power units and chassis. But, we’ll attack the weekend in our usual way, and keep pushing for more improvements in each session.”
#22 Jenson Button
“In terms of things like strategy, tyres, temperatures, of course we have a lot of simulator data – a few of the guys in the team have visited and already have a pretty good handle on the conditions – but until we get there, it’s all a bit of unfamiliar. Having a new circuit on the calendar definitely does spice things up a bit and puts everyone back on a more level playing field, at least initially, so I’m looking forward to the challenge of a new track.
“It’s imperative we bounce back quickly from the disappointment of Canada and the fact we go to a completely new grand prix means the focus will rapidly shift from one to the other – there’s definitely a heightened sense of anticipation and excitement for the next race. We’re working hard to keep improving race to race and despite the blip in Canada, hopefully we can continue seeing gains – however small – in the next few crazy weeks of back-to-back grands prix.”
HEAR FROM THE MANAGEMENT
McLaren-Honda Racing Director
“The Baku City Circuit promises to be another exciting spectacle on the Formula 1 calendar, and opens us up to a plethora of new fans and an even wider audience on the global sporting stage. From the initial visits that have been conducted there, and Fernando’s reports from his trips to Baku as Ambassador, we’ve received very positive feedback on the circuit and the infrastructure surrounding the venue, so we’re hopeful of a thrilling grand prix weekend in prospect.
“After a frustrating result in Montreal, it’s fortunate that we have very few days to turn our attention to not just the next race, but a completely new event, to get to know its characteristics, gather lots of data and interpret reams of information. The issue with Jenson’s power unit in Canada is still being investigated, but rest assured that together with Honda we will identify the issue and work hard to ensure it’s not repeated, as we have done in every grand prix so far this year.
“Montreal was particularly tough on our package despite our best efforts and our car’s strengths, but we knew it would be difficult and it was therefore justifiably disheartening to finish just outside the points. However, Baku is a new set of characteristics to prepare for, and we look forward to testing our chassis and power unit against the rigours of the world’s fastest street circuit, taking in the sights and sounds of a new grand prix venue and atmosphere, and presenting some enjoyable racing for our fans.”
Honda R&D Co Ltd Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer
"Though the circuit layout and atmosphere will no doubt be very different to the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit, we believe that Baku will be similar in its stop-and-go characteristics and long straights, so we think it’ll be another tough challenge for the team. Therefore, within the small window of time given to us between these two races, it’ll be very important for us to analyse and understand the data from Canada to bring out the current potential of the power unit in Baku.
"This particular back-to-back race will be strenuous for the team to adjust and prepare everything for this race weekend, but being part of the inaugural F1 race in Baku is surely something to look forward to, so I’m very excited about that."