Azerbaijan joins the Formula 1 circuit for the first time this weekend as the paddock looks forward to a challenging and untested street circuit in Baku.
What will Baku offer?
The 6km (3.7 miles) Baku City Circuit is set in the heart of the capital. At first glance, it appears to be a mix of the Monaco and Singapore street circuits – tight, narrow corners in some sections, and long overtaking straights in other parts.
For all the challenges of creating a new street circuit, the engineers and designers seem to have combined the seaside promenade with the historic city centre to deliver a track that will reward speed, accuracy and courage.
The cars will leave the start line and enter a rectangular section with consecutive 90 degree corners around Turns 1, 2 and 3.
The most challenging part of the lap looks to be Turns 8, 9 and 10 where the drivers will need to navigate a narrow uphill section at the old town wall where the track is only two car widths wide.
The high-speed Turn 15 will also be a corner to watch with the close walls threatening to end races early.
The Baku City Circuit then opens up between Turn 16 and Turn 1 with the longest straight on the Formula 1 calendar of almost 2.2 kilometres that will see the cars bursting the throttle at 340km/h (211mph) – the fastest speed on a street circuit in the history of the sport.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso is the Baku Ambassador and has seen the track come together over recent months.
“There’s certainly a lot that makes it unique – medieval walls close to the edge of the newly-laid asphalt, anti-clockwise corners, minimal run-off – so it seems to have all of the ingredients to give us a bit of drama and the prospect of exciting racing.”
The simulators are being worked hard
This is the first visit to the Baku City Circuit for all of the teams so the drivers have been putting in the hours on their simulators to prepare before tacking to the track.
The simulators gives drivers an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the track and assists the engineers come up with a baseline set-up.
“In terms of things like strategy, tires, temperatures, of course we have a lot of simulator data,” explained Jenson Button.
“But until we get there, it’s all a bit of unfamiliar.”
“Having a new circuit on the calendar definitely does spice things up a bit and puts everyone back on a more level playing field, at least initially, so I’m looking forward to the challenge of a new track.”
And that challenge will be compounded by the low grip levels expected at Baku. The new asphalt laid for the race will make the surface oily and slippery. The grip levels should improve over the weekend as rubber is laid down on the racing line but expect to see some last-minute hot laps during qualifying to take advantage of the evolving track.
The battle of Baku
The Baku Street Circuit is a real unknown and offers the prospect for some upsets.
With a disappointing result in Canada, the Haas team have their sights set on delivering a surprise result and gaining some valuable points.
“The big teams have more information because they go and get more information,” said team principal Guenther Steiner.
“Normally, they are better off because they’ve got more people to get prepared. They will always have an advantage, but at a new venue like Baku, sometimes you can get lucky.”
The close proximity of the track walls will also punish driver errors and will likely see the deployment of the Safety Car or the Virtual Safety Car and some quick changes in strategy.
But the extremely long fast section at the end of the lap will play to the strengths of Mercedes and probably leave Red Bull and Ferrari fighting for second best.
The race will start at 17:00 local time and will run over 70 laps.