Formula 1 is back at Baku. The Azerbaijan street circuit has quickly become a favorite for the Formula 1 teams, even with some such as Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo after finding the limits of talent in last year’s event. The historic city will be hosting its fourth Grand Prix, and some of the teams have received updates to their powerplants, enabling them to take further advantage of the narrow road circuit.
The Red Bull/Toro Rosso quadruple have received some extra poke for this weekend, with new Honda powerplants supplied to the two teams. Although there is some extra squirt, the engines have been upgraded in a crucial area: reliability.
“This weekend, we will introduce the Spec 2 version of our internal combustion engine across all four cars right from the start of the weekend,” Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda Racing’s F1 Technical Director, announced ahead of the running in Baku. One of the reasons for bringing it to this race is that we found that Kvyat’s PU (power unit) problem in China was down to a quality control issue. The main benefits of Spec 2 are improved durability and life and better reliability. It also offers a slight improvement in performance.”
The team expected to have been just that bit further up the ladder, Ferrari, has also had the engine wand waved, says Team Principal Mattia Binotto: “Coming off the back of three races that definitely didn’t go the way we wanted, this GP is another important moment for us. We have prepared for it very well, analysing all the data we have acquired up until now, looking at areas where we can improve and working on adapting the car’s set-up and the power unit management to the characteristics of the track. In fact, Baku features a very long straight, which places special demands on the engine, both the internal combustion part as well as the hybrid elements.”
These changes do certainly promise some closer quarter racing at the front of the field. Ferrari have also made some minor changes to the floor of the car. It’s in the rear corner areas just ahead of the rear wheels, and the changes are designed to change the airflow in order to minimise the turbulence by redirecting the air itself. Notable is that Mercedes-Benz haven’t announced any wholesale changes, having so far performed incremental changes thus far this season.
Another that will be copping a change is Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi. The likeable Italian has not had a great season so far, with his car providing some headaches. A Control Electronics or CE unit crueled his run at Shanghai during qualifying, and has been replaced for this weekend. Unfortunately for Giovinazzi this is the third unit fitted and, as a result, will cop a ten grip place penalty as the F1 powers that be have specified just two units as an allowance.
Baku’s layout will certainly test the changes to the cars that have been announced. At just over six thousand metres in total length, including a massive straight in the anti-clockwise race direction, and leads into three left handers at 90 degrees each. Into a small straight, a right hander before another 90 degree left hander, and the Baku track becomes a near-circle, one that includes a series of chicanes to test handling and tires.
Total race distance is 306 kilometres, and spread over 51 laps. 2017 has Sebastian Vettel as the fastest lap with 1:43.441, with 2018 seeing Lewis Hamilton as the first to greet the checkered flag. Practice starts on Friday 26 April at 13:00 local. Qualifying gets underway at 17:00 on Saturday with the race itself set to light up the streets at 16:10 local.