Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Weekend Preview
Fans have been spoiled in recent weeks as motorsport’s famous ‘Month of May’ concluded last weekend with the legendary Indy 500 and the revolutionary Ocean X-Prix. The racing action is not yet over, however, as June kicks off with a bang in Azerbaijan as the Formula One circus descends on the narrow streets of Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix!
Written by Aiden Hover, Edited by Bruna Brito
The Baku City Circuit, located on the picturesque coast of the Caspian Sea, winds itself through the narrow streets of modern Baku before looping back on itself through the historic Icheri Sheher. At its narrowest point, the circuit is a scary 7.6 metres (25ft) wide as it threads itself between the Old Town’s medieval walls. Before long, however, the cars embark on a whopping 2.2-kilometre (1.4 miles) straight stretch along Neftchilar Avenue, allowing them to reach a frightening top speed of 360 km/h. The rest of the 6.003-kilometre (3.730 miles) circuit is made up of 20 precision perfect, often 90°, turns that require an awe-inspiring amount of skill to navigate – particularly as the barriers are ever-waiting to claim their victim. The 2019 pole time of a 1:40.495s set by Valtteri Bottas will be difficult to beat, but all 20 of the determined Formula One drivers will be sure to risk it all to prove themselves as the best of the best.
The Baku City Circuit is a relatively new addition to the Formula One calendar, however, it has already played host to several incredible moments of racing history. The track’s inaugural event in 2016, playing host to the European Grand Prix, saw a rare mistake from Sir Lewis Hamilton as he crashed out in qualifying and was forced to fight back through on Sunday whilst his teammate and championship rival, Nico Rosberg, went on to claim a crucial win before going on to win that year’s title. For the first Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in 2017, the track would treat us to yet more controversy as Hamilton was once again involved with championship drama as his rival that year, Sebastian Vettel deliberately crashed into the Brit’s Mercedes behind the safety car. This earned the German a time penalty, but the drama was not over there as Hamilton himself was forced to make an extra stop to fix a loose headrest! This race also saw collisions between the two Force India drivers of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, resulting in damage to both ‘Pink Panthers.’ Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo would pull off an incredible three-car overtake on his way to win the race whilst Lance Stroll claimed his first podium result for Williams after a photo finish with the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas – who himself had fought back from being a lap down after a lap one incident with Kimi Raikkonen.
Ricciardo’s joy of 2017 was quickly forgotten in 2018 as the Australian came together with his RedBull teammate Max Verstappen following a race-long battle. With the two RedBulls out of the race, Valtteri Bottas looked set to comfortably win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix until heartbreak occurred with a late-race puncture, giving the win to Lewis Hamilton. Further back through the field, Fernando Alonso impressively limped back to the pits with only two wheels following a lap one incident and yet would still achieve 7th place come the checkered flag. Esteban Ocon and Kimi Raikkonen also came together to bring out the safety car in a dramatic fashion. This race was also the host of the famous ‘I think Ericsson hit us’ team radio line as Romain Grosjean crashed behind the Safety Car on his own accord. Valtteri Bottas’ bad omens were amended in 2019 as the Finn finally reigned supreme with a stunning lights to flag victory.
What can we look forward to this year, however? As Formula One returns to Baku for the first time since 2019, the fight looks to be between the RedBull of Max Verstappen and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, yet again. Two weeks on from a disastrous Monaco Grand Prix for the two Silver Arrows, a race that resulted in Max Verstappen and RedBull taking over the championship lead, they will be hoping for much more this weekend. With Hamilton finishing P7 and placing blame mostly on his team, tensions will surely be high within Mercedes. Although, their Monaco weekend wasn’t a total waste as they set yet another record – the longest ever pitstop, at 43 hours and 15 minutes. Bottas was forced to retire due to a stuck wheel nut that couldn’t be removed until the car had been returned to Britain. RedBull, after a dominant win last time out, will be looking to continue its form as Sergio Perez is finally stepping up to his role following a masterfully performed strategy that allowed him to finish P4.
Both Ferrari and McLaren showed strong pace in Monaco with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris both finishing on the podium. Their respective teammates, however, both failed to score with Daniel Ricciardo being lapped by his younger teammate. Charles Leclerc didn’t even make the start due to damage received in a qualifying session that saw him take pole position. The two teams will want to capitalise on their strong pace with both cars this time out to cement their fight for P3 in the championship.
The midfield also looks particularly strong following good finishes for a number of drivers. A double points finish for Aston Martin puts them in good stead for Baku with Sebastian Vettel looking to have returned to form. Pierre Gasly drove well in Monaco to fend off the Mercedes of Hamilton to finish P6 – something he’ll be hoping to replicate on Sunday. His Alpha Tauri teammate of Yuki Tsunoda struggled in Monaco and will be wanting to improve in Baku just as will Fernando Alonso who was beaten by his Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon.
Alfa Romeo performed exceptionally well last time out with Antonio Giovinazzi scoring the team’s first points with Raikkonen narrowly missing out. They look strong heading into Azerbaijan – as do Williams who, whilst celebrating their 750th Grand Prix as a team, beat out their nearest rivals in Haas as well as Yuki Tsunoda. Baku also looks to be a circuit that will suit the Williams car as it favours engine power. The less said about the Haas F1 team the better as both cars were lapped three times around the Monaco street circuit and Baku does not seem like it will be any better for them.
Be sure not to miss any of the action this weekend with lights out at 13:00 BST on Sunday! All that can be said for now, however, is ‘Well done Baku.’