PRIXVIEW – Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Round seven sees F1 return to the streets of the Azerbaijani capital Baku on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. Baku returns to the calendar after being cancelled last year because of the pandemic, but four of the five races here have been full of drama and controversy.

Baku is the second race to be held in the former Soviet Union and joined the calendar replacing the Korean Grand Prix in 2016. The layout features some of the largest track withs for a street circuit and some of the fastest straights of the season with a blast from turn sixteen to turn one.

It is also the only Grand Prix in the world to race around a UNESCO world heritage site but also the modern capital with the Flame Towers being part of the skyline, but also the narrowest section of track 7.6m on the calendar as drivers need precision as they drive up past the Maiden Tower through the old city.

Dominating the skyline is the Flame Towers, three striking towers symbolising the countries long history of fire-worshippers that considered Azerbaijan as a birthplace for the prophet Zoroaster. It’s the fastest street circuit on the calendar and the second-longest circuit on the current F1 calendar behind the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Despite being a street circuit, it’s very different to Monte Carlo as the streets are mostly about the same width as normal circuits, but the drama is never far away. The last three races have all seen memorable collisions between teammates as well as Sir Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

Overtaking is possible through the new town, but in the old town, many of the streets are traditional of street circuits. It has one of the longest flat out sections between Turns Nineteen and One of any circuit of its nature, along the 1.4mi Neftchilar Avenue. It holds the unofficial top speed records at 378kmh or 235mph.

However, those titles of the second longest and fastest street circuit are expected to be taken by Jeddah in December when Saudi Arabia hosts its first Grand Prix. Baku has in the previous years cemented its place as one of the best street circuits in the world, as it gives some of the best opportunities of any circuit of its type.

The first race was held as the Grand Prix of Europe, that race didn’t prove to be as dramatic or as action-packed as the following years. Nico Rosberg took the victory to extend his championship lead over Sir Lewis Hamilton, while Baku proved to be the fastest street circuit ever, Valtteri Bottas setting the fastest speed ever recorded at 378km (235mph).

Hamilton meanwhile had a difficult race, he had been stuck in the wrong engine mode for twelve laps and was at first unable to resolve the issue without the help of his team, attacked the revised radio rules. While not a classic, the next year’s race would put Baku on the map.

Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton were going hard early on in the race until the first safety car when they crashed into each other behind the safety car. The safety car was caused by debris from Kimi Raikkonen’s car, Vettel then ran into the back of the Mercedes. The German accusing Hamilton of brake testing him, with the stewards calling it a racing incident.

Then the two Force India’s crashed into each other, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez collided and left debris on the track. The collision gave Ocon a puncture and dropped him to the back of the field. Pérez lost his front wing, and suffered damage to the front left wishbone which forced him to retire after making his way to the pit lane.

Following the final red flag, Ricciardo found himself leading when Vettel was given a stop-and-go penalty. The Red Bull driver comfortable lead by twelve seconds, but was being caught by the Mercedes and Lance Stroll, ultimately they failed with the Bottas only managing second.

Hamilton took victory the following year but the defining moment of the race was when Ricciardo collided with teammate Max Verstappen. While Hamilton was comfortably leading the race through the pit stop phase the two Red Bull’s were trying to fight for fourth.

Verstappen had passed Ricciardo who had the overcut, the dutchman going on the defensive covering off his teammate when they collided causing them both to retire and bring out the safety car. That gave the rest of the drivers a free pit stop before Bottas managed to briefly lose the lead when he locked up.

Bottas, leading the race by more than one second over Hamilton, suffered a tyre puncture and was forced to retire. Hamilton then inherited the lead with three laps to go and took victory two seconds ahead of Kimi Räikkönen.

Mercedes have taken the last two races in Baku, in 2018 Charles Leclerc became the first Monégasque driver to score a point since Louis Chiron in the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, while Brendon Hartley became the first driver from New Zealand to score a point since Chris Amon in the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix.

The 2019 race, saw Bottas beat Hamilton to pole by five-hundredths of a second having the clear advantage over his teammate. The Finn appeared to have the upper hand in qualifying after getting the slipstream from being at the back of the line at the end of Q3 taking pole.

Mercedes went on to take their fourth consecutive one-two of the season, with Bottas holding his own against Hamilton, as Ferrari’s pace in practice failed to materialise with Vettel finishing the race ten seconds off the pace. Leclerc recovering from his crash in qualifying to finish fifth.

Facts and figures

Round 07 of 24
Race Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2021
Venue Baku City Circuit, Azadliq Square, Baku, Azerbaijan
Configuration 2016
Circuit Length 6.003km 3.730mi
Laps 51
Race Distance 306.049 km (190.170 mi)
Lap Record Race 01:43.009 (Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 2019, Formula One)
Outright 01:40.495 (Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2019, Formula One)
Most wins drivers Nico Rosberg * (1)
Daniel Ricciardo
Sir Lewis Hamilton
Valtteri Bottas
Most wins manufacture Mercedes (3) *

*including 2016 Grand Prix of Europe

Fast facts

  • The Baku City Circuit is all about straight-line speed and slow-corner grip. Downforce levels are the second-lowest of the year, after Monza, but Baku has no high-speed corners to put energy through the tyres
  • During qualifying for the 2016 race, Valtteri Bottas of Williams set an unofficial record for the highest ever speed recorded in an F1 car at 378 km/h.
  • Eighth on the grid has supplied as many podium finishes as the pole slot has. Both Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez took third place finishes after starting from eighth in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
  • Sergio Perez, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas all share the record for most podium finishes at this track.
  • Fernando Alonso holds the record for most places gained from a starting position during a race here. The two-time champion went from P19 on the grid in 2017 to P9 at the flag to pick up two points for McLaren.

Event timetable

Session

Local

BST

Friday

P1 12:30-13:30 09:30-10:30
P2 16:00-17:00 13:00-14:00

Saturday

P3 13:00-14:00 10:00-11:00
Qualifying 16:00-17:00 13:00-14:00

Sunday

Race 16:00 13:00

What happened in 2019?

Bottas took pole ahead of Hamilton, despite practice looking as if the sliver arrows were going to be on the back foot as Ferrari looked to hold the advantage. The Finn appeared to have taken advantage of the slipstream, and got the edge over his teammate.

Baku the land of fire, proved once again to be a challenge for all the drivers as the session was interrupted multiple times by red flags and damage to the circuit. Verstappen was left with only a single run in Q3 after Charles Leclerc crashed the Ferrari into the castle.

Once again it proved to be the Mercedes who was in fine form, Bottas took control from the start ahead of Hamilton. Ferrari meanwhile dropped away with Vettel struggling to find the pace. Leclerc’s crash had taken him out of the fight, but he worked his way to fifth.

Verstappen was becoming a consistent challenger, this year Honda was really stepping up to be part of the front runners he finished fourth. But all was not perfect, Pierre Gasly retired from the race with plumes of smoke.

It was another strong race for the Racing Point of Sergio Perez, the Mexican had run as high as fourth with him settling for sixth. Perez looked to be comfortably ahead of his midfield rivals with the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat looking not to be a challenge.

Baku may not have had the drama of recent years, but the conclusion was clear Mercedes were stronger than last season. Hamilton also knew at this early stage it was Bottas he would need to beat, but could anyone join them?

Race Result – 1) V. Bottas, Mercedes, 01:31:52.942, 2) L. Hamilton, Mercedes, +1.524, 3) S. Vettel, Ferrari, +11.739

What to watch for?

Mercedes have always managed to bounce back and win the following race after disappointments. This circuit should suit them and is very different to the narrow streets of Monaco, its wider straights and slightly more room to overtake however the barriers are still there and make mistakes you will crash into the barriers.

Like in Monaco, although this year was a rare exception, safety cars and yellow flags are more common being a street circuit. One of the biggest challenges is reacting to these and getting the strategy right. Mercedes, I think should be the stronger of the two teams, but Red Bull will be close.

In the last three races, we have seen close battles and this season in the midfield, especially between McLaren and Ferrari. Baku in some way is like Monaco as anything can happen, but this I think has to favour McLaren who have looked very strong at circuits like this.

This is a very difficult circuit for the teams as they need to balance low-speed sections and the need for high downforce on the long straights, its about compromise and there is no perfect set-up. But the right compromise is always the challenge and that remains the case in Baku.

We know that the midfield battle has been tight and McLaren, in particular, Lando Norris, has raised his game this season and we could I think see them have a race like Monaco. But their main challengers will I think be Ferrari who are appearing they are making huge progress in the midfield group, but this is a street circuit we need to remember that anything can happen.

This means teams need to be on the ball once again, but its not as critical as Monaco but still is important for taking advantage of others misfortune. That also means drivers need to be ready to react to things when they happen, we have a high possibility of safety cars being on a street circuit.

Monaco was a surprise as we had no major drama or safety car, I have to believe that is unlikely to be the case given the laws of probability. We cannot however guarantee that, but I believe evidence from previous races suggest there can be dramatic where things can change very quickly.

2019 vs 2018 Race Data

P1 Fastest

P2 Fastest

P3 Fastest

Q1 Fastest

Q2 Fastest

Q3 Fastest

Race Time

Fastest Lap

2019

01:47.497 01:42.872 01:41.604 01:41.426 01:41.388 01:40.495 01:31:52.942 01:43.009

Diff

+3.510 +0.077 -1.487 -1.109 -1.122 -1.182 -12:08.751 -2.140

2018

01:44.242 01:42.795 01:43.091 01:42.538 01:42.510 01:41.677 01:43:44.291 01:45.149

A lap of Baku City Circuit

Along the long straight for Nico Rosberg starting with him crossing the pole position box on his way to turn one. Turns in beautifully to just tap the inside kerb and on exit before the short run to turn two which he takes the apex really well before running as close as he can to the wall.

Another long run to three again takes the apex before going to the wall on the exit and across the circuit before hitting the kerb on exit of four. Through the kink into five the first chicane which he takes well and on exit of six goes to the inside lining up well for seven.

Short run between eight nine ten takes it perfectly unlike Hamilton. Good through thirteen and fourteen which he seems to be flat out. Kerb through entry and on exit of fifteen. Good through seventeen where he puts his foot down to be flat through nineteen and twenty to cross the line with a 01:42.520.

Tyres

White Hard (C3)

Yellow Medium (C4)

Red Soft (C5)

Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.