Here’s why the Football World Cup will give us a crazy Baku race

The previous race held at Baku before this weekend’s 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, was rich in drama. Insiders suggest we should be getting ready for a similarly chaotic race. And part of the reason why is due to the football World Cup in Russia.

2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Previous races in Baku had been held later in the year; in June when the weather has been much hotter. This year we see the race in much cooler conditions found in April.

The 2018 F1 calendar required a reshuffle due to the fact that the Football World Cup is being held in neighbouring Russia, specifically at the Grand Prix venue of Sochi. Coupled with the return of the French Grand Prix after a 10 year absence from Formula 1, finds the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix taking place in April.

Racing in April will give the teams more to think about in terms of setup and strategy. Dealing with the 2018 Pirelli tyres is difficult enough. Now the teams are faced with the problem of how the Pirellis will behave when the ambient temperature is ten degrees lower than in 2017 and 2016. Instead of a warm 30ºc air temperature, this weekend it’s expected temperatures will be more like 15 to 18ºC. We certainly won’t come close to 30ºC track temperature from previous years.

Further, Pirelli have become softer through the range available, but also more durable. Also, Pirelli have admitted to using far too conservative compounds in previous races and so have opted for aggressive softer rubber for this weekend.

Add this together and we will likely see different strategies on offer to the teams which should lead to exciting racing just as we saw in China and Bahrain. The question is however, will Mercedes and to some extent Ferrari learn from their catastrophic errors of strategy TJ13 revealed earlier this week?

The teams will be paving the way into the unknown, the practice sessions take place at a time different to the race making it impossible for the teams to predict tyre behaviour due to differing air temperatures.

The nature of the circuit will also provide yet more temperature headaches for the teams, if the sun is out it’ll only partially heat the track surface due to the tall buildings but then there’s a lot of the usual Spring time cloud cover often found at this time of year, we’ll see dramatically lower track temperatures.

The result? It’s unlikely the drivers will be able to bring their tyre temperatures into the correct operating window, and the result will be huge slides at an incredibly fast track with monaco esq barriers ready to catch out mistakes in a spectacular fashion.

A year ago, the drivers fought with the fact that the front and rear tyres warm up differently. It will not be easier for the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

 

What to expect from the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

A Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton fightback? Lewis has not had the best of times in Baku, off form in 2016, and losing out to a loose headrest last year on a weekend where he looked to be the class of the field, so will he make it third time lucky this weekend and in so doing kickstart his title defence? We are 3 races in to the season and there have been no victories yet for pre-season favourites Mercedes, but reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.

While it’s true they may have a tighter operating window to bring out the best in their W09, it is still a formidable machine – let’s not forget a certain victory in Australia was stolen from Hamilton only by the intervention of the safety car, and while a gearbox penalty hindered Lewis in Bahrain, Valtteri Bottas finished hot on the heels of Vettel’s Ferrari (with many speculating that in a similar position Lewis would have found a way by the struggling Ferrari to take the win).

Last time out in China Mercedes may have struggled in the cold conditions on Saturday, but it took the appearance of the safety car to wrest the win away from Valtteri Bottas. So write Mercedes off at your peril! Sebastian Vettel was the big loser last time out, with the race seemingly his to lose at the start, Ferrari were caught napping as Bottas undercut Vettel to take the lead at the pitstop, before the safety car threw Red Bull a lifeline, and Max Verstappen threw Vettel’s likely points gain over rival Hamilton right out the window with an ill-advised move into the hairpin.

So Ferrari will be under pressure to regain lost momentum, and will no doubt remember how lost points early in the season caught up with them in last year’s title battle. Red Bull got their tactics spot on last time out in China, and will be hoping for another mixed up race to allow their drivers a chance to get in amongst the Mercedes and Ferrari’s.

Daniel Ricciardo did absolutely no harm to his employment prospects with his wonderfully precise charge to victory in China, but Max Verstappen will be hoping to put his poor run behind him and have a clean weekend where he can convert his undoubted talent into a result on Sunday. Behind the leading tri of teams the midfield battle promises to be a tight affair again, with Renault steadily improving Haas will want to capitalize on their early good form, while Force India will hope to atone for last years disappointment in Baku.

McLaren and Williams are both looking a shadow of their former glories, and with McLaren no longer promising the sun (until Barcelona at least), it could be another hard slog for Alonso and Vandoorne, who will hope to at least be ahead of the Honda powered Toro Rosso’s around the long straights of Baku, while at Williams, the high of last year’s Stroll podium must seem like a million years ago, and just being able to compete with Sauber might seem like good progress.

Last year’s race saw Daniel Ricciardo emerge triumphant after a back to front drive that saw him take full advantage of the safety cars/red flag on offer to slice his way through the field after having to pit early due to rising brake temperatures resulting from him taking on debris from an opening lap collision between the Mercedes of Bottas and the Ferrari of Raikkonen.

It was a race that nobody quite seemed to want to win, with Sebastian Vettel losing his cool and a likely victory after tagging Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes under the safety car in a fit of road rage, Vettel having first driven into the back of the Mercedes and incorrectly blaming Lewis for brake testing him. While the ensuing penalty would take Vettel out of the equation for victory, Lewis Hamilton lost out to the seemingly ridiculous case of a loose headrest forcing him to pit.

Max Verstappen looked lively early on but had to watch from the pit lane after an early Renault failure, left to wonder what might have been as he saw the leaders fall by the wayside one by one. For Force India, the race was a complete disaster, and what could have been a realistic shot at a famous 1-2 finish went up in smoke as Perez and Ocon made contact not once but twice through turns 1 and 2, the second time proving terminal for both their chances, and also the chances of Kimi Raikkonen, who would pick up a puncture from broken bits of Force India left strewn about the track.

Felipe Massa looked for a while like he might have a shot at a final F1 victory only for a rear damper failure to sideline his Williams. Valtteri Bottas, who looked like he had thrown his weekend away with that clumsy clash with Raikkonen on the opening lap, recovered from a lap down to finish second, stealing the place from Lance Stroll’s Williams on the line, a fine result for Stroll, one achieved by keeping his composure when those around him seemed unable to.

Before the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – The History:

This weekend will be the second time we have the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on the calendar, with the Grand Prix in Baku running under the banner of the European Grand Prix back in 2016. On the super fast road circuit mayhem was widely expected back in 2016, all the more so after an eventful GP2 support race, but the race turned into a rather timid and tidy affair.

Nico Rosberg won the race with a comfortable Sunday drive, with his only stress being a few steering wheel adjustments required to sort out his Mercedes. With a ban on driver instructions being rigidly enforced at the time his team-mate Lewis Hamilton was not so lucky, with Hamilton’s hopes of recovering from a poor qualifying session dashed by him being unable to find the correct mode for his Mercedes, with Lewis losing buckets of time as his Mercedes kept de-rating.

Sebastian Vettel took a steady second place for Ferrari, while Sergio Perez was the hero of the day for Force India, passing Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari for the final podium place on the last lap (a move that must have had the Force India pit wall biting the fingernails, seeing as Raikkonen had a time penalty that would have seen Perez claim third anyway!).

While the first race around the streets of Baku was largely incident free, last years race provided plenty of drama and saw Daniel Riccardo come from the back to record a famous victory for Red Bull, but the big question after the race was – when did Sebastian do dangerous driving? Vettel having driven alongside and bumped into race leader Lewis Hamilton under the safety car!

Circuit Characteristics for the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

The 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix will run around the streets of Baku, with the track mostly sitting below sea level. The circuit layout is counter clockwise, and at a length of just over 6 kilometers is one of the longest tracks on the calendar. The track layout was designed by Hermann Tilke, and is characterised by very narrow sections with plenty of 90 degree corners and long straights. 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, and with DRS available down the very long start finish straight, expect to see plenty of moves into T1 during the race, with 3 cars regularly running side by side as the jostle for position into the first corner. 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.

Turn 2 should see plenty of action, it was here that Valtteri Bottas barged his Mercedes into the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen on the opening lap last year, and also the spot where the two Force India’s of Ocon and Perez collided. From turn 2 the drivers head back up another straight for about 1 km before reaching turn 3, another sharp left hander, which saw a nice move by Romain Grosjean to pass Daniil Kvyat back in 2016.

Another short 240m burst brings the cars to the first right hand corner, turn 4 – not really an overtaking spot, but a place where a compliant number 2 can allow his team leader pass (it was here that Kimi Raikkonen allowed Sebastian Vettel past in 2016!). Out of Turn 4 the track winds to a left right flick through turns 5 and 6, watching out for the walls on exit as the circuit opens out into another short straight running in parallel with the back end of the circuit.

At the end of the straight the cars face into a tricky sharp right hander turn 7 (it was here where Nico Hulkenberg bit off a bit too much corner and slapped his front right into the wall, ending a golden chance to end his podium drought).

Exiting turn seven 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.

It was here that Sebastian Vettel went into the back of Lewis Hamilton last year under the safety car, and then again into the side of him as Vettel lost his composure! 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 DRS detection point just after Turn 20.

The pit entry is on the start/finish straight (which caught out Kimi Raikkonen back in 2016, his Ferrari straying across the pit entry line as he followed in Ricciardo’s slipstream as the Red Bull pitted, leading to a penalty for the Ferrari driver). With the cars reaching maximum speed here, expect plenty of action as the cars return to turn 1, with the DRS activation zone on the straight giving further assistance.

TYRES WITH PIRELLI FOR 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix:

2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Compared to last year, the selection of tyres that Pirelli brings to the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix are two steps softer, with soft, supersoft and ultrasoft nominated. One step comes from the actual selection, the next from the fact that all the compounds are a step softer than their 2017 equivalents anyway. That’s not the only important difference. This year, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix is being held two months earlier than it was previously, meaning we can expect cooler conditions.

THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW

  • With the race starting just after 4pm, track temperatures cool rapidly as the sun begins to go down. None of the free practice sessions take place at exactly the same time as the race start though.
  • Because Baku is a street circuit tightly enclosed by buildings, there are many areas of lights and shade, making track temperatures even harder to assess.
  • The main straight is two kilometres long, which means that the tyres can cool down before the braking area at the end of it. After Spa, Baku is the second-longest lap of the season.
  • Last year’s strategy was affected by safety cars and a red flag, which can play a prominent role on the narrow track – cars have often tangled in the tight confines of Baku previously.
  • The winning strategy involved three tyre changes last year, with the second one taking place during the safety car period and the last one under red flag conditions. Daniel Ricciardo won the race starting from 10th position on the grid with a supersoft-soft-supersoft-supersoft strategy.
  • One of the biggest challenges for drivers last year was warming up the front and rear tyres at the same rate. With cooler conditions, this problem is likely to be accentuated.

 

 MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING

“The 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix should have quite a different look to it this time, being held two months earlier and presumably presenting a contrast to last year in terms of weather conditions, when track temperatures peaked at more than 50 degrees centigrade. Last year, we felt that we were a little too conservative with the tyre nomination in Azerbaijan, in the first year of the new tyre regulations, as the medium wasn’t really used. So, we felt that this year we had scope to be a little more aggressive with the nominations. This should lead to all three compounds being used as realistic race options, and some inventive race strategies, as we saw at the last two grands prix in Bahrain and China”.

WHAT’S NEW?

  • Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have all gone for different tyre choices, with the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers also both differing slightly in their individual selections.
  • The Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup got underway at Pirelli’s home circuit of Monza last weekend, with Audi R8 LMS driven by Vanthoor/Riberas/Mies coming out on top.
  • Formula 2 resumes in Baku, as the only support race on the Azerbaijan schedule.

MIN. STARTING PRESSURES (slicks) EOS CAMBER LIMIT 22.0 psi (front) | 21.0 psi (rear) -3.50° (front) | -2.00° (rear)

2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Memorable Moments

2017: Seb loses the plot! Having run into the back of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes under the safety car, a furious Sebastian Vettel decided to drive alongside Lewis to do a bit of good old fashioned arm waving to show his frustration with what he perceived was Lewis attempt to brake-test him (telemetry would point out that Lewis had merely taken his foot off the loud pedal rather than applying the brake!). Did Seb lunge into Lewis intentionally, or was it just a very embarrassing result of Seb getting both hands off the wheel to remonstrate? IN either event it was certainly a loss of control which would cost Vettel a likely win! Afterwards Seb was left to wonder – when did I do dangerous driving?

2016: “This is ridiculous, guys. I don’t know, looking at my frickin’ dash every five seconds trying to find a switch that’s in a wrong position” – Really. Welcome to F1, the pinnacle of motorsport, 2016 style, as Lewis Hamilton desperately tried to sort the problems in his Mercedes whilst flying through the streets of Baku. Not a good advert for F1.

2016: Checo grabs third – Perez passes Raikkonen into T1 on the last lap to secure yet another podium position for Force India – like him or not, Perez has a knack of being in the right place at the right time when a podium position is up for grabs – he’s been on the podium 4 times for Force while long time former team-mate and 2015 Le Mans winner Nico Hulkenberg is still awaiting his first trip to the F1 podium.

Support Races

Formula 2 will provide the support action during the Grand Prix weekend. In the opening round in Bahrain, a tight qualifying battle saw McLaren prospect Lando Norris just pipped Mercedes George Russel to pole position, but when the lights went out Russel got a bad start and would drop down the order, while Norris jumped out in front to take a dominant lights to flag victory, leading home a 1-2 for Carlin on their return to the series after missing 2017, with team-mate Sergio Sette Camara coming home in second.

Former Red Bull junior Sette Camara was chased to the end for his second place by Renault development driver Artem Markelov, with Sette Camara just holding on to second place. Markelov, who had a storming race through the field after starting at the back, had to be content with third place, but would go on to win the sprint race to leave him second in the standings behind Norris, with Sette Camara in third.

Previous Results:

Year Driver Constructor
2017 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull TAG Heuer
2016

(European Grand Prix)

Nico Rosberg Mercedes
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2 responses to “Here’s why the Football World Cup will give us a crazy Baku race

  1. “McLaren and Williams are both looking a shadow of their former glories, and with McLaren no longer promising the sun…”
    I’d say Williams is more like a ghost in the sunlight than a shadow.

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