Round 8 of the 2017 Formula 1 world championship takes place in Azerbaijan at the Baku city circuit. The circuit first hoisted its inaugural grand prix last year, then known as the European Grand Prix but this year its hoisting the race under the banner of Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The track is designed by famous and legendary German track designer Hermann Tilke who is known to have also designed many other modern generation F1 tracks. Last year the Grand prix had mixed reactions, as the F1 race lacked excitement and on-track action while those in the feeder categories were full of on-track drama and overtaking so the overall response to the event was a mixed bag.
The Baku city circuit consists of a mix of fast straights and a number of tight and twisty corners which makes setting up the car tricky job for the engineers and drivers alike.
Many drivers reckon Baku as a mix of Monza and Monaco, so the setup here is always a compromise between downforce and overall straight line speed. The setup direction is also greatly influenced by the engine performance, like for example Mercedes can tend to run a higher downforce setup while at the same time achieving decent overall top speed but this is not possible for certain teams like Mclaren or Renault as the Honda and the Renault engine is not a par with those of Ferrari and Mercedes. So, for them the compromise is even greater, making it more challenging.
Now coming to some special features of this track, it features an extremely narrow uphill section at the old town wall that rewards pinpoint accuracy and courage, the other interesting feature of this track is 2.2 kilometers straight along Neftchilar Avenue which will see the cars running flat out before heading back to the start/finish line. The straight is the longest on the F1 calendar with cars topping speeds of over 300 kph.
The run from the pole position to turn 1 is the shortest of all circuits at 206 metres, which then is followed up by a series of 90 degree turns at turn 2, turn 3 and turn 4 with a DRS zone between turn 2 and turn 3 to aid overtaking in the race.
This is followed up by two short straights linked by fast left-right combination of turns 5 and 6. Sector 1 ends after the long straight that follows turn 6.
The fact that this sector poises lot of 90 degree corners means that drivers have to hit their apexes perfectly to get a good exit speed and overall lap-time in sector 1.Also, the start stop nature of the track puts lot of load through the brakes and so it’s crucial to manage the brake temperatures, especially during the race when the cars are following each other closely.
There are two main overtaking spots in sector 1, one is at the end of long start-finish straight going down into turn 1 and the other one is along the straight between turns 2 and 3.The drivers will have DRS(drag reduction system) available to them in the race if they are within 1 second of the car ahead and there are 2 DRS zones, one along the start-finish straight and the other one between turns 2 and 3.
Sector 2 constitutes the tight and twisty part of the circuit and it also poses a unique challenge as the track narrows down to 7.6 metres at Turn 9.
The short straight after turn 6 leads us into turn 7 and the beginning of sector 2. It’s very common to see cars locking up at turn 7 and it’s important that drivers master their feel on the brakes and get the ideal bake balance before qualifying to get a good lap-time.The track now winds up through the old town of Baku with temporary asphalt being laid over the cobbled streets up until turn 12.
Turns 8,9 and 10 form the trickiest part of the circuit as the track gets really narrow here with Turn 9 being the narrowest corner on F1 calendar, that combined with increase in the width of the cars this year is going to make it really tricky and it would not be surprising to see someone clip the wall.
This is followed up by the right and left at turns 11 and 12, where Lewis Hamilton crashed last year during qualifying, and the corner becomes particularly tricky in the evening as the drivers encounter the setting sun which can make spotting the wall at entry of turn 11 difficult.
After that the track runs downhill through the fast complex of right hand kinks at turns 13 and 14 which are taken flat-out, then comes the heavy braking for turn 15 followed shortly by another 90 degree corner at turn 16 marking the end of sector 2.
The exit out of turn 16 is of paramount importance as it then puts us on the 2.2 kilometre run alongside the Neftchilar avenue, running parallel to the beautiful seaside promenade, this is the fastest part of the circuit with drivers being flat through short kinks at turn17, turn 18 and turn 19 eventually leading us onto the start finish straight and the end of the lap of Baku city circuit.
The run down from the exit of turn 16 to turn 1 is going to be the prime opportunity for overtaking in the race as the long straight gives the drivers ideal place for slipstreaming, which combined with the DRS will probably give us the maximum top speed of the new 2017 cars.
Onboard Lap of Baku City Circuit:
Circuit Fact File:
Lap length:6.003km (3.73 miles)
Race distance:306.051km (190.171 miles)
Lap Record: 1.46.485(Nico Rosberg,2016)