Brought to you by TJ13 circuit correspondent Marek
The European Grand Prix returns to the F1 calendar this week, having last been hosted in Valencia in 2012. Fernando Alonso won that day, and he is the Official Ambassador for the 2016 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe – to be held on the streets of Baku, Azerbaijan. Fernando stated “I feel absolutely confident in saying that Baku City Circuit is going to be the most memorable circuit on the F1 calendar this year” – so we should be in for a cracking race then!!!
Azerbaijan has recently hosted the Eurovision song contest (2012) and the European Games (2015), so there is no question for F1 that it qualifies as a European race.However, due to a grievous planning error the race will unfortunately take place on the same weekend as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, so defending Le Mans champion Nico Hülkenberg and his fellow F1 drivers will miss the chance to attend the famous race. While the drivers lose out, the grand prix start time should allow TV viewers to switch over to the European Grand Prix just as Le Mans finishes, make of that what you will!!
With Ferrari’s improved pace in Canada, the title race could be about to open up, if they can finally get their strategy right on a Sunday. Vettel will be desperate to secure his first win, while Hamilton is clearly on a roll and will fancy his chances of gaining the lead in the championship. For Rosberg, the slump has to stop, now, if he is to keep his dreams of a first championship alive!
The title European Grand Prix was originally an honorary title given to an existing Grand Prix. It was given first to the Italian Grand Prix in Monza in 1923, which was won by Carlo Salamano in a FIAT. The first grand prix of the inaugural F1 World Championship, the 1950 British Grand Prix, was given the designation European Grand Prix (with the race being won by eventual champion Giuseppe Farina for Alfa Romeo). The practice of awarding the title to national Grand Prix continued up until the British Grand Prix of 1977, with James Hunt winning from Niki Lauda, a race which also saw Gilles Villeneuve make his F1 debut for McLaren.
The title was revived in 1983 but now as a standalone Grand Prix, when the race was staged at Brands Hatch and won by Nelson Piquet. That race was held to replace the cancelled United States Grand Prix, which had been due to take place in New York. As the British Grand Prix was being held in Silverstone that year, the name European Grand Prix was used, and the name has continued to be used to allow a country host a second grand prix since then, allowing F1 to cash in on the success of world champions Schumacher and Alonso with an extra race in Germany (Nurburgring 1999-2007 – although in 2007 there was no official German Grand Prix) and Spain (Valencia 2008-2012). So, with Lewis dominance of recent seasons, let’s call it the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and have Brands Hatch back on the calendar as the European Grand Prix for 2017!!!
The circuit layout is counter clockwise, and at a length of just over 6 kilometers is one of the longest tracks on the calendar. A lap is estimated to be somewhere in the region of 1 minute 41 seconds, so the gap between team mates in qualifying will be interesting to note. The track layout was designed by Hermann Tilke, and is characterised by very narrow sections with plenty of 90 degree corners and long straights. With top speeds expected to hit 340 km/h this will be the fasted street circuit on the calendar. The track races alongside the Caspian Sea before winding its way through downtown Baku and making its way back to the coast via the historic old town.
The drivers will line up on the grid alongside Azadlig Square. After a short burst the first corner is a tight left hander, which should be a prime overtaking opportunity during the race, but could provide a very interesting start as the field all try to gain position at the start on this tight track. There is a short 300m burst down Aleksandr Puşkin street into another left hander corner 2, with the pit exit feeding back to the track on the inside coming out of turn 1, which could provide some interesting moments around the pit stop window. From turn 2 the drivers head back up another straight for about 1 km before reaching turn 3, another sharp left hander. Another short 240m burst brings the cars to the first right hand corner, turn 4, from there winding to a quick left right flick through turns 5 and 6, as the circuit opens into a straight running in parallel with the back end of the circuit, which could provide an interesting perspective of McLaren’s progress against the might of Mercedes!
At the end of the straight the cars will have a sharp right hander turn 7 which leads into the historic old town, with the cars bursting down a short stretch before winding left into a narrowing track uphill past the old fortress walls into turn 8 and jinking thru turns 9 and 10. Thankfully the cobbles here will be temporarily covered, but the track is at its narrowest here, turn 8 being just 7.6m wide. Careful people!! The cars crest the hill turning right at turn 11 and dip slightly into a left hander turn 12 as the track widens out again. From here the cars will accelerate winding left around Turn 13 and a slight curve at Turn 14, blasting down towards turn 15, a downhill left hander passing the Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall and heading down towards the coast. The drivers then turn left at turn 16 and from here blast their way 2.2 km along the coast to the start/finish straight, winding gently right/left/right/right through turns 17 to 20. With the cars reaching maximum speed here, expect plenty of action as the cars return to turn 1.
Tyres with Pirelli:
Formula One visits its first all-new country since Russia in 2014 (the 32nd country the championship has been to since 1950) when the European Grand Prix – a label not seen on the calendar since Valencia in 2012 – is held in Baku. 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 CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW:
As this is a street circuit, with new asphalt, low grip and high track evolution is expected.
Wear and degradation might be quite low, which is why a medium spectrum of tyres is chosen.
Overtaking is tricky with a narrow track, which means that qualifying and strategy is vital.
As teams have no knowledge of the track, we would expect a lot of running in free practice.
Very high top speeds are expected on the long 2.2-kilometre straight along the esplanade.
Baku will also be the second-longest lap of the year (6.006km) after Spa.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS:
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.
THE LAST EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX:
The last European Grand Prix was actually held four years ago, in Valencia (where it was also the eighth race of the season). Fernando Alonso won for Ferrari from 11th on the grid.
PAUL HEMBERY, PIRELLI MOTORSPORT DIRECTOR:
“We’ve heard lots of interesting things about the circuit, and it seems that its character, lap length, and speed will certainly make it stand out. Obviously it’s never easy when you go to a circuit for the first time, but the conditions and the tyres are of course as always the same for everyone. The selection of compounds we have nominated should cope with a wide range of potential conditions; now of course it is down to the teams to get the most out of their choices and to identify the best possible strategies, which is why the running we see in free practice will be particularly important.”
There’s a later start than normal: the grand prix begins at 17:00, for a total of 51 laps.
OTHER THINGS THAT HAVE CAUGHT OUR EYE RECENTLY:
There hasn’t been an exceptional variation in the tyre choices from each team for Baku.
Weather forecasts have predicted warm weather but also high humidity: rain is possible.
While the circuit uses existing streets, a lot of the surface is brand new asphalt.
1985 –Brands Hatch – This race saw local favourite Nigel Mansell take his first ever Grand Prix victory, while Alain Prost sealed his first Drivers World Championship. Prost’s only challenger was Michele Alboreto, who had to retire when his Ferrari caught fire, dramatically driving back into the pits aflame, smoke engulfing the car as he hopped out, his championship hopes dashed by yet another failure for the fragile Ferrari. Prost now needed to finish only 5th or higher to seal his first title, and he delivered with a fourth place finish. Senna had led from pole in his Lotus, but when Keke Rosberg (Williams) tried to overtake on the 7th lap Senna squeezed him into a spin, collecting Nelson Piquet (Brabham). Rosberg had to pit but was able to continue, rejoining a lap down just in front of Senna and Mansell, with Mansell swooping past Senna as Senna was blocked by the lapped Rosberg, who continued to block Senna as Mansell made his escape. Rosberg recovered to finish 3rd.
1993 – Donnington – Ayrton Senna took a famous victory in changeable conditions, with a star performance also being put in by his young compatriot Rubens Barrichello. After dropping to 5th place after the start Senna emerged at the end of the first lap in 1st place. In the changing conditions, Senna made 3 stops less than rival Prost in the all-conquering Williams, and Senna’s touch in the awful conditions led him to romp home, lapping everyone bar Damon Hill, and Senna even set fastest lap going through the pits!! It was an agonizing race for the young rookie Barrichello who came oh so close to giving the young Jordan team a podium before his car came to a halt 6 laps from the end.
1997 – Jerez – Mika Häkkinen took his first Grand Prix victory (after team orders required David Coulthard to move aside), but a race that will be remembered for a crash between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve that settled the championship in Villeneuve’s favour. Schumacher led the championship by one point from Villeneuve coming into the race. In a tense qualifying session, the top three drivers all recorded the exact same time, with first Schumacher and then Frentzen equalling Villeneuve’s time! Jacques started from pole but Michael got past him into the first corner, and retained the lead until lap 48, when Villeneuve attempted to overtake Schumacher. The pair collided, Schumacher was out, and Villeneuve continued on to come home in 3rd and take his only World Drivers Championship. Schumacher would be stripped of his second place in the championship, which was officially awarded to Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
1999 – Nurburgring – Johnny Herbert wins for Stewart GPs only victory. A crazy race run in dry-wet conditions, this seemed to be a race that now driver wanted to win! Surprise championship contender Frentzen retired from the lead due to an electrical failure in his Jordan. Next up to retire from the lead was Coulthard in a McLaren, who slid off the damp track having elected to stay on slicks as the rain fell. The same would happen Fisichella, spinning his Benetton out of the race from the lead. Next to take over the leas was Ralf Schumacher in a Williams, but he lost out when he suffered a puncture. Herbert took over having managed the conditions, and continued on to take a memorable victory, with teammate Barrichello making it a double podium for Stewart in their first year in formula one.
2012 – Valencia – A great performance saw Fernando Alonso win on home soil from 11th on the grid, taking 2nd place from Romain Grosjean around the outside of Turn 1 on the restart from a safety car period and inheriting the lead after Sebastien Vettel retired. The closing stages of the race also saw Lewis Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado come to blows fighting for the last podium spot, with Lewis forcing Pastor wide as he tried to overtake around the outside only for Maldonado to come straight back onto the track spear Hamilton into the wall. The crash promoted Michael Schumacher to 3rd position, for what was to be the great German’s last podium finish in F1.
As the season returns to Europe the main contenders will hope to solidify their chances in the 2016 title race. The pressure will be squarely on Ferrari (as always), to show that 2016 is not a lost cause. Kimi Raikkonen has shown better form overall this year compared to his sluggish 2014 ad 2015 campaigns, but will need to prove that he can bring more to the plate than just team harmony if he is to be re-signed for 2017. Sebastien Vettel had hopes of challenging the Mercedes duo for the title at the start of the season, but with Ferrari’s early technical and tactical struggles, he needs to start beating the Mercedes duo if he is to mount a challenge. Red Bull have the chassis to excel in the tight twisty section around the old town, but the long straights will play into the hands of the still dominant Mercedes engine. Max Verstappen will be hoping to excel after a mature showing in Canada, while avoiding the barriers to atone for his Monaco nightmare, while Daniel Ricciardo will just be hoping Red Bull can give him a clean opportunity to bring the fight to the Mercedes duo. Despite improvements made by the challengers, it’s still hard to look past the Mercedes duo. With no previous experience of the track, expect to see Lewis Hamilton try to psych out Nico Rosberg by throwing down the gauntlet early on Friday. With the tight nature of the track and their desperate need to out-do each other, it might be another tense day for Toto and co on the Mercedes pit-wall.
GP2 will provide the support action during the Grand Prix weekend. With 2 races down already pressure is building on those hoping to lay a claim to promotion to F1 In2017, and with this pressure we can expect the GP2 drivers to give us an early taste of where overtaking is possible or not advisable around the streets of Baku. Pierre Gasly is expected to be first in line for promotion to Torro Rosso next year, but Red Bull have shown they have high demands and being at the head of the queue can count for nothing if they are not sufficiently impressed (as we saw with heir apparent Antonio Felix da Costa losing promotion to Danill Kvyat in 2014), so Gasly will be determined to record his first victory of the season and press his claim to the presumed vacant Torro Rosso seat for next year. Likewise Sergy Sirotkin has shown race winning pace but made mistakes when pushing for victory in both feature races so far this year, and needs to kickstart his campaign in Baku. Winner of the Barcelona feature race Norman Nato took the series lead in Monaco, and will be hoping to keep the momentum going, while Monaco feature race winner Artem Markelov’s confidence will be on a high after recording his first GP2 victory and moving to second in the standings. Williams development driver and winner of the sprint race in Barcelona Alex Lynn sits 3rd in the championship and will be hoping to press his claim for the championship.
|2011||Valencia||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2010||Valencia||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|1985||Brands Hatch||Nigel Mansell||Williams-Honda|
|1983||Brands Hatch||Nelson Piquet||Brabham-BMW|