Friday, June 17, 2016


Formula 1 moves to its 32nd new country this weekend with the inaugural Baku European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan on what looks like the fastest street track F1 has ever seen. Speeds of up to 350km/h are predicted on the 2.1km long straight, which is the kind of speed only seen at Monza and in the high altitude of Mexico!

The six kilometre, counter-clockwise layout of the circuit was designed by circuit architect Hermann Tilke.The circuit is planned to start adjacent to Azadliq Square, then loop around Government House before heading west to Maiden Tower. Here, the track is planned to have a narrow uphill traversal and then circle the Old City before opening up onto a 2.2 km stretch along Neftchilar Avenue back to the start line. The circuit is projected to be the fastest street circuit in the world and the second longest circuit on the current F1 calendar behind the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium which currently is the longest circuit on calendar. It is expected that lap times in the 1 minute 40 seconds will be achieved during the Formula One event.

The capital city of the oil-rich nation of Azerbaijan has a PR strategy to match a Hollywood celebrity. Hosting sporting events is a tried and tested way of putting a city on the map and last year Baku held the inaugural European Games to get the ball rolling. The "Grand Prix of Europe" is now set to call Baku home for the next seven years, but it remains to be seen whether the race is a success or goes the way of Korea and India. The official name of the grand prix also tells you everything you need to know about the motivation behind the expenditure as Azerbaijan, which straddles the geographical divide between Europe and Asia, attempts to position itself as a tourist and commerce destination for the West.


Track length : 6.003 kilometers
Race distance : 51 laps (306 kilometers)
Corners : 20 corners in total
Aerodynamic setup : Medium downforce
Top speed : 350km/h (projected)
Total time needed for pit stop at 80km/h : 24 seconds

For an interactive guide to the circuit, F1Fanatic has a fantastic post on it here.

It is not like anything seen before in F1 as most of the corners are low speed, but the straights are long and fast. This calls for two completely different downforce configurations. It will reward cars with good mechanical grip, like Mercedes and Red Bull and with plenty of engine power like Ferrari and Mercedes.

The widest part of the track is 13m, while the narrowest section, between Turns 7 and 8, is just 7.6m. Turn 8 will also be the slowest corner on the track, with an expected apex speed of 53mph. The Baku track is also expected to have an extremely high average speed for a street circuit. This is largely because of the rapid sequence of flowing corners in the final sector that form part of the 2.1km (1.5-mile) main straight, where drivers are expected to be on full throttle for over 20 seconds and hit 350km/h.


The Baku City Circuit may have a few surprises in store for the Formula One teams this weekend but it seems the weather will not. Consistently warm temperatures are expected over the next three days, potentially reaching 30C on Saturday and Sunday. The first day of practice is expected to see a lot of cloud cover which will keep temperatures from getting too high. A fairly strong breeze from the north will also cool things down.

On Saturday the wind will drop, the clouds will break up and temperatures will climb in time for qualifying which begins at 5pm local time. With sunset arriving at around 8:15pm the sun will be fairly low at this point, which given the number of tall buildings in close proximity to the track could create challenging visibility conditions for drivers as they pass in and out of strong sunlight.

Some weather agencies are reporting a low risk of light rain around the time of the race on Sunday, but the general consensus is that conditions will remain dry. Baku typically sees only a few days of rain during June.


For what is meant to be the fastest street circuit seen so far, Pirelli has nominated the medium, soft and supersoft tyres. As is always the case with a brand new venue, Pirelli has had to rely on simulation and acquired information rather than real data, which makes the task of nominating tyres more complex.

The nominated tyres are:

White medium: this has not been extensively chosen, so unlikely to figure prominently.
Yellow soft: a high working range tyre, which could make it very important in the heat of Baku.
Red supersoft: the most popular choice, which will be used heavily in qualifying and the race.

Pirelli Motorsport boss Paul Hembery has admitted concerns over the Baku City circuit which this weekend hosts the Grand Prix of Europe.

"Long straights can create standing wave issues. It seems to be a circuit that shouldn't be too dramatic, but it has that straight, so we have to be very careful on that in terms of what's going on with the standing wave management. If you go to a new circuit, it can throw up some surprises. The tendency to new circuits in recent years is smooth surfaces with very low levels of wear, but there is quite an aggressive straight and standing wave is something we have to manage, so there is an aspect of tyre integrity that we have to monitor well."


There will be two DRS zones this weekend, one on the approach to Turn 1 and one on the straight coming into Turn 3, while McLaren has highlighted the “deceptively fast” Turn 15 as a key corner as it is lined with close barriers.


Before a car turns a wheel on the new track there are a few observations that can be made. It is a street track and given the high speeds in parts of the track, it’s likely that we will see a Safety Car. This is especially true because, as a new event care will have to be taken to give the marshals time to deal with incidents.


Here's how the circuit actually looks like in a moving car.


It looks very much like Mercedes will enjoy a margin this weekend. It is also a high fuel consumption circuit, so there will be some fuel management to be done. While many would have expected Lewis Hamilton to make inroads into the 43-point lead Nico Rosberg built up over the first four races, few would have expected Rosberg to throw away almost all of his advantage in just two rounds. In a straight fight this year Hamilton has usually been the quicker of the two, so it’s down to Rosberg to raise his game.

We have no idea what to expect really from this race. Could there be a smash up at the tightest part? I certainly think so with eager F1 drivers giving no quarters. Will Mercedes outdrag everybody on the longest straight in F1? Probably. Will the field be spread out after just a few laps? Looks like it. Whatever it is, it's always exciting to go to a new track.

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