Circuit Name: Baku City Circuit
First Grand Prix: 2016
Number of Laps: 51
Circuit Length: 6.003 km (3.73 mi)
Race Distance: 306.049 km (190.17 mi)
Lap Record: 1:43.441 (Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 2017)
The Baku City Circuit situated within a stone’s throw of the Caspian Sea in the nation’s capital will play host to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the 2nd time in 2018. The circuit hosted its first Grand Prix in 2016 under the title ‘European Grand Prix’ attracting controversy because of Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record.
As the latest of Hermann Tilke’s circuits, the Baku City Circuit was planned to start adjacent to Azadliq Square, then loop around Government House before heading west along a 1 km straight to the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower, circling the Old City before opening up along Neftchilar Avenue back to the start line.
The circuit was projected to be the fastest street circuit in the world, with a top speed close to 360 km/h, and the second longest circuit on the current F1 calendar behind the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. At the 2016 European Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas set a new unofficial Formula One top speed record in qualifying when Williams Martini Racing claimed to have data showing him reaching 378 km/h (235 mph). This eclipsed the previous record of 372 km/h (231 mph) set in 2005 by Juan Pablo Montoya for McLaren while testing at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza.
Following the inaugural event, many drivers praised the circuit for the challenge offered by its mixture of long straights, slow technical sections and no margin for error due to the proximity of the walls. However, Pirelli found that 90% of the rear tyres used in free practice had been cut by the bolts securing kerbs to the ground not being drilled into the ground far enough, while Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg expressed concern over the lack of run-off areas which would be dangerous in the case of an incident such as a high speed puncture or mechanical failure.
The narrow city streets have the effect of limiting overtaking to a degree, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The long 2.2 km (1.4 mi) stretch along Neftchilar Avenue following Turn 16 allows drivers to get a great tow and overtake at the 90° left-hander at Turn 1. This is heightened by the DRS zone located on the pit straight which makes Turn 1 the prime overtaking opportunity.
Another 90° left-hander at Turn 2 offers a second overtaking opportunity to drivers. The corner narrows somewhat and features a high kerb on the inside that can be the source of problems for drivers who clip it. Turn 2 was the scene of the opening lap chaos during last year’s race. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas jumped off the kerb and collided with Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari. It was also the place where Force India team-mates Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon collided on lap 20.
Aside from the main straight, the other DRS zone is located on the run into the 90° left-hander at Turn 3. Despite how tight this section of the track becomes, this is still a potential overtaking spot for drivers. Long straights allow top speeds, but the circuit also requires good traction, braking, and tyre management.
What The Drivers Say
Marcus Ericsson (Sauber): “The race in Baku will be our first street race of the season. It is quite a cool track, with a good mix of high-speed sectors and challenging corners. What is special about the track is that it features some twisty parts, mainly around the castle. The track is very narrow there, and you must be very precise as a driver. Another challenge will be to set up the car to suit the demands of the circuit. Tyre management will be a key factor, as the degradation of the tyres is quite high during the race. I look forward to going to Baku, and continuing our strong performance from the first three races of the year.”
Charles Leclerc (Sauber): “I look forward to going back to Baku. I had a strong race there last year, when I was competing in Formula 2, and feel quite comfortable on the Baku City Circuit. I particularly like city tracks. They are challenging for drivers, as you cannot afford to make any errors. The atmosphere there is great, and the view of the old town and castle is spectacular. It will be interesting to learn about the tyre management during the practice sessions. This will prepare us for the challenges of this circuit, and allow us to work on finding the right set-up and perform well in the race. I’m excited to be back in the car.”
Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso): “Baku is a really exciting track because, first of all, it’s a street track so the risk is doubled or higher due to the walls everywhere, but I also think just the characteristics of the track with that long straight make it interesting. It’s super-fast! I think last year the top speed in Formula 1 was really crazy, so as a driver it’s super exciting but it’s also super risky. I’m excited to go there. I remember watching the race last year as a reserve driver and it was one of the most exciting Formula 1 races of the season so I’m happy to be part of it this year and hopefully, it’s going to turn out well for us.
“The narrow bit near the castle? I think it’s the tightest corner of the championship. In a way, it’s a corner where you can make a lot of time but you can lose everything as well because it’s a low speed corner. In the low speed corners, a few kilometres minimum speed can make quite a lot of time. Every time you go there it’s interesting, because you are a few centimetres every lap from the barrier so in terms of focus it’s really intense…it’s not a track where you can go a bit wider on the outside kerb and then maybe you just touch a bit of grass and you have some dust coming out of the tyres.”
During last year’s race, the number one tyre option for top teams was the red-banded supersoft rubber. Eventual race winner Daniel Ricciardo made the switch to soft tyres when made an early pit stop to have debris cleared from his brakes on lap 6. The Safety Car was eventually deployed on lap 13 to remove Daniil Kvyat’s stranded Toro Rosso signalling a wave of drivers joining Ricciardo on softs including championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
A collision between Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez led to the race being red-flagged after 23 laps. Many drivers inside the top ten, including Hamilton, Vettel, Felipé Massa, Nico Hülkenberg as well as Ricciardo took the opportunity to switch back to supersoft rubber, which they ran all the way to the flag.
Expect two-stop strategies to be run this weekend with Pirelli running ultrasoft, supersoft and soft tyres in Baku. Tyre management will be a key factor this weekend due to the stresses placed on them over the course of the 6.003 km circuit.
Williams’ Lance Stroll takes you on a virtual hot lap of the Baku City Circuit: