European Grand Prix preview: Not like anything we’ve seen before in F1
Insight
Baku European Grand Prix 2016
Posted By: Alex Kalinauckas  |  15 Jun 2016   |  10:36 pm GMT  |  108 comments

Formula 1 moves to its 32nd new country this weekend with the inaugural Baku European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan on what looks like the fastest street track F1 has ever seen. Speeds of up to 350km/h are predicted on the 2.1km long straight, which is the kind of speed only seen at Monza and in the high altitude of Mexico!

The race is the 23rd running of the European Grand Prix, but it will be the first F1 race ever to take place in Azerbaijan. Fernando Alonso is the most recent winner of the European event after his triumph for Ferrari at Valencia in 2012, and the Spaniard has the most wins at the European GP of the current crop of drivers with three, while Vettel has two and Felipe Massa one.

At just over 6km in length, the Baku circuit is the second longest on the calendar, only behind Spa, and it has been designed by regular F1 architect, Hermann Tilke. It is not like anything seen before in F1 as most of the corners are low speed, but the straights are long and fast. This calls for two completely different downforce configurations. It will reward cars with good mechanical grip, like Mercedes and Red Bull and with plenty of engine power like Ferrari and Mercedes.

It looks very much like Mercedes will enjoy a margin this weekend. It is also a high fuel consumption circuit, so there will be some fuel management to be done.

The layout travels around the downtown area of Azerbaijan’s capital city, which incorporates the UNESCO heritage site known as Icheri Sheher, the old city – where the organisers have laid temporary asphalt on the cobbled streets to allow the cars to race through – and the more modern sections on the promenade near the Caspian Sea.

Baku European Grand Prix 2016

As the circuit winds its way around Baku, the width of the track varies greatly. The widest part of the track is 13m, while the narrowest section, between Turns 7 and 8, is just 7.6m. Turn 8 will also be the slowest corner on the track, with an expected apex speed of 53mph.

Baku European Grand Prix 2016

The Baku track is also expected to have an extremely high average speed for a street circuit. This is largely because of the rapid sequence of flowing corners in the final sector that form part of the 2.1km (1.5-mile) main straight, where drivers are expected to be on full throttle for over 20 seconds and hit 350km/h. The Haas F1 team’s pre-race briefing stated that the calculated lap time for the track is expected to be 101 seconds.

Wind could also play a part in the on-track action this weekend, as Baku is unofficially known as the “City of Winds” and unexpected gusts blowing along the sea front could cause the drivers problems as they hit the brakes for Turn 1.

Baku European Grand Prix 2016

There will be two DRS zones this weekend, one on the approach to Turn 1 and one on the straight coming into Turn 3, while McLaren has highlighted the “deceptively fast” Turn 15 as a key corner as it is lined with close barriers.

What’s the strategy for Baku?
Before a car turns a wheel on the new track there are a few observations that can be made. It is a street track and given the high speeds in parts of the track, it’s likely that we will see a Safety Car. This is especially true because, as a new event care will have to be taken to give the marshals time to deal with incidents.

New street circuits tend to be low grip at the outset and the grip should ramp up over the course of three days running. The temperatures will be warm and with the cars likely to run lower downforce, they will slide in the corners.

Pirelli has brought medium, soft and supersoft which is a conservative choice – due to the ‘unknown’ of a new track. The soft is likely to be most people’s mandatory race tyre, while the supersoft will be the qualifier and first race stint tyre. The soft is proving a very durable and raceable tyre, so with pit stops quite slow and unattractive at 24 seconds, it looks like this could be a one-stop race. But there may be surprises when the cars run on Friday.

Heading to Baku: The F1 drivers in numbers

After they finished first and second in last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are now tied together on 1,974 career points, although in should be noted that their tallies are inflated by the changes that F1 has made to its points scoring positions in this century.

Nico Rosberg, who has seen his championship lead cut from 43 points to nine in just three races, is seeking a 14th consecutive front row start – a streak that started at the Singapore Grand Prix last season. Another qualifying statistic, albeit a worrying one for Ferrari, is that Vettel has been quickest in four FP3 sessions so far this season but neither of the Scuderia drivers has yet started on the front row of the grid.

Pascal Wehrlein

Several drivers are on streaks of their own in recent races. Pascal Wehrlein is echoing his Manor predecessor Max Chilton, as he is only driver to have completed every race this season but without scoring a point.

At Force India, Nico Hulkenberg has scored points in last two events, the first time he has finished in the top ten in back-to-back races in 2016, but his teammate Sergio Perez saw his own a four-race scoring streak end in Canada. Esteban Gutierrez has out qualified and out raced Romain Grosjean in last two races, but is still yet to score for Haas F1.

Although many drivers up and down the grid are coming under increasing pressure to deliver good performances, two men who hold unenviable recent records are Jolyon Palmer and Daniil Kvyat. The Russian driver is yet to out qualify any teammate in 2016, as he failed to beat Daniel Ricciardo in qualifying while at Red Bull and has been out qualified by Carlos Sainz so far at Toro Rosso, while Palmer has only completed 23 racing laps in last two races thanks to his crash in Monaco and mechanical failure in Montreal.

What do you expect from this weekend’s European Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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1

hmm… just a thought > wouldn’t it be interesting if the cars were setup to adapt to the circuit rather than the other way round? I mean, you can hardly call it a ‘street circuit’ when most of it has a new layer of asphalt laid down!
I just think it would be exciting to hear the commentator express how the Mercedes was faster on the straight but losing time vs the Red Bulls and Williams over the cobblestones…

2

How do you clean up ‘temporary asphalt’ after the race?

3
Alex Kalinauckas

If it’s like the temporary stuff they put down in Paris for the Formula E race, it’s laid over a sheet of plastic so shouldn’t be too difficult.

4

A Special Note towards those who talk badly about F1 and how weak the product is compared to Le Mans 24 hours.. I just tried to get into watching Le Man (somehow 24 hours never appealed to me before) But what i just read went over my head.. BOP WHAAAT?

Added weights to those who qualified higher plus more turbo restrictions plus some cars get more fuel allowed (to equalise them is it it??) because they were dramatically slower in qualifying? WHAT IN THE LORDS NAME IS HAPPENING??? :O

And maybe I couldnt make it out from the article properly but it felt as if some teams could just drive slower in qualifying on purpose to make their competitors look really fast which makes those fast one get penalties in the way of added weight to the car for the race; I assume in a race that is 24 hours long the qualifying deficit can be made up by those that purposely went slow.. but those who get the added weight to them for qualifying well have to live with it for 24 hours? Is that what just happened there??

Also those that sandbagged will probably not get penalties and keep sandbagging trhough the entire 24 hours except in maybe some corners to lets say make a pass?? Whole thing sounded were confusing to me

And they say F1 is confusing?

5

In Lieu of the Horror show and farce that i found going on in LeMans24, F1 is indeed the pinnacle of motorsport where you clearly see which brand stands where when it comes to how competent there are in churning out cutting age engineering.

Its clear, Mercedes is completely on top of Hybrid/Turbo Power, followed by Fiat/Ferrari followed by Renault (point to note is while always lacking power they seem to have good understanding of traction) followed by Honda which was a year late to join. But on the whole.. i cannot imagine them adding weights to the Merc just because Mcbooger or Manor cannot qualify as fast. thats a FARCE!!

So thats a big point for F1 and a huge minus point for 24hrsLeMans.

6

Jordon King ran off into one of the exit run offs some time around 33 minutes left to go in 1st practise for GP 2 and there was a LARGE VAN parked in that RUN OFF AREA and he drove past the VAN, went behind and did a power turn and cam back out. The first session being so dusty do they want to risk doing a SUZUKA moment again JAMES?

7

too much talk about a country being in this or that continent.
look for daniel ricciardo’s lap of the track on f1 2016, it has some interesting elements and will likely produce some good racing with its long straights into slow corners, not to mention that turn 8 complex simply looks spectacular

8

After watching the onboard video of the track, I have to say it looks rather boring. And far too long.

9

In the online video, the driver is driving slowly because there are people working everywhere and all safetys are not up.. the video was almost 3 mins while teams estimate on the simulators a 110 second lap is it?

What is SCARY is.. if that guy in the video was slow.. and the F1 cars are doubly fast.. that track looks like DEATH to me, I really wouldnt wish any of those drivers to be there. That slow video in the red car.. the narrow sections appeared wider than some of the pictures now being shown in full race spec.

While the architecture surrounding the track is beautiful there is something very UNHOLY about this track. True one can say its like monaco but faster.. but monaco itself is unreal and thank god its slow – But this one is FAST. I hope the drivers are extra careful about yellow flags and red flags for this race to avoid multi car collisions.

My initial enthusiasm for this track is severely dropping now and a sense of dread is setting in which shall only be lifted once the race is over on Sunday, only to return the next year again.

10

you need to relax dude, the track was vetted by alonso and whiting before any car turned a wheel there.
its likely safer than Monaco all things considered, and the last death in f1 was a freak accident followed by poor medical procedures to recover the driver.

relax, the race will be fun and sections of the circuit genuinely challenge the drivers.
you can’t suddenly get cold feet cause it looks like the drivers will actually get challenged

11
Tornillo Amarillo

Geography for everybody:

Azerbaijan is an European country with its capital in Asia.

In Baku, the capital, has been built three penguin-esque crystal towers that everybody loves. But there is not penguins in Azerbaijan. However it’s been reported that “a penguin that escaped from the flood-ravaged Tbilisi zoo has been found alive near the border with Azerbaijan.”

Azerbaijan is bounded by the Caspian Sea, so the country is a partner of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization… Uh?

Now everything is clear for me.

12

High speed or not, this track looks like an absolute bore as far as producing good racing. Hope I am wrong.

13
Tornillo Amarillo

I wanna do a case for HULK. He’s getting so boring for me…

FI needs the HULK’s consistency, his points and the money it means, but HULK himself needs a Podium or Nothing!

It is excellent for FI having a finisher most of the time like HULK and a podium finisher from time to time like PEREZ. But that plays well in the hands of PEREZ only.

HULK, if you are reading this lines, and I am pretty sure you do, please take into account that in Baku things could be mixed up, so do whatever to get the fricking podium. Otherwise, …

Otherwise, …

OK

14

haha, otherwise.. otherwise KIMI may win 😀

15
Tornillo Amarillo

I think getting pole will be important in a new circuit. Anybody else risk of being tangle.

I think that splitting strategies for both cars would be advisable.

I would stay in qualy tyres until first safety car (say no more than 40 laps), then Softs until the end. So 1 stop strategy for everybody, save you get more SC.

For P11 backwards, I’d put Soft until safety car (yeah 40 laps maximum) then Super-Softs.

I’m so grateful I can write cualquier verdura (anything) here without risk of paying any fees, penalties or commenting fines… for now.

16

Tires could be a surprise: http://readmotorsport.com/2016/06/15/pirelli-baku-straight-cause-tyre-failures/ looking forward to the first practice !

17

Interesting to see how many races will end at Turn 8. It looks like an insult towards all the safety work done in the sport.

18

I’m rather looking forward to the possibility of an “African grand prix’
… I think Japan would be the the best place for it… Or maybe Norway…

19

I am guessing from all the initial comments even Europeans are not convinced this is Europe. I guess Bernie is using the socioeconomic/political definition of Europe (i.e. any country willing to give me at least $30 million a year to host a race), not the geographic. As for the race, I expect this race will rank next to Russia in F1 worthlessness. Expect a Mercedes to post the track speed record two laps before the end of the race after running at least 2/3rds f the race on one set of tires.

20

Long straights and slow corners equals exquisite torture for car set ups!! I’m here in Baku for the race… Can’t wait!!

21

Incredibly dangerous if your car had a wing/brake failure at 200mph and you hit the concrete wall 5 metres away from you, then clobbered an adjacent barrier. Nice to see the FIA taking safety seriously.

22

My thoughts too when I read this article yesterday, then today Jenson has come out with concerns about T3, T7, and T13 having little to no run off areas and issues with the pit lane entrance. I hope this is not the case of FOM fees trumping driver safety.

23

sounds like another stop-go circuit from Herman.

24

Rosberg’s front row streak started at Japan ’15. Both Mercedes were off the front row at Singapore last year.

I hope they go through the red flag procedures with the drivers for this race. If there’s a crash between turns 8-10 then the marshals will be screwed, trying to remove it. If the leader(s) pass the start line before a red flag, that will be a right mess. They should have routes available to bypass any potential bottleneck areas.

25

A track needing good mechanical grip like Redbull for the slow corners and Massive Power like Ferrari for the High speed straights.. MEANS MERCEDES will win I guess 😀

Ever notice how Ferrari stings like a bee at the starts and Redbull Floats like a butterfly in sliding conditions? But its the Merc that picks up the wins usually so meh :/

Not sure about Redbull lowering downforce in lieu of top speed because the slow corners they have better suspension / mech grip anyway. Will that not hamper them in the high speed sequence of corners James?

So which Merc if its a Merc? Will it be Nico? But the high speed sequence of turns before the final straights – gut feeling says Nico will be conservative initially but build up throughout the weekened while Ham will probaly find the limits and end with a crash by free practise itself. So I would put my money on Ham for this one unless Vettel can hold on to his Ferrari and its Slippery ways.

26

I get the points about calling this the European GP, and yes it is a little unusual, and yes its probably PR and marketing from the Government there.

But why are people so outraged by this that they seem to be writing off the weekend as a complete farce already? Its a point but it’s hardly going to be the defining point of whether I enjoy the weekend or not.

The track could be good, the race could be good, the surface is completely unknown and there are so many things that could really make this a good race, not to mention that again Testicular girth could play a big part in qualifying order.

Equally it could be less than spectacular but people please, lets enjoy the excitement of the potential while it lasts.

27

+ many billions!!

28

At first sight i am worried about the top speed of 350 mh on a street circuit. What if somebody goes off, is there enough room to decelerate before hitting a wall?

29

IF you condiser the two straights being side by separated by just a barrier with cars going in different opposite directions.. If the camera crews can get the shot.. we could see a passing of atleast 350+250 = 600 Kmph a FEW FEET AWAY FROM EACH OTHER separated by a concrete divider. That is just AWESOME!

30

Damn, I just checked the map of the circuit with a bit more interest and the side by side section wont really be very fast as one side is just after a sharp chicane like thingy while the other is right at the start of the start finish straight albiet after a high speed corner.. so what 200+ 150 kmph= 350 kmph speed difference? There goes my dreams of seeing two cars crossing each other at 600kmph difference. Maybe the next new track will have it. LAS VEGAS! Someone please tell Tilke :'(

31

And this concrete divider is approved by FIA, so what is to worry… Anyway as is said elsewhere a lot of people will have looked at the safety side of this. But what is the reasoning behind it, why is it deemed safe? Are accidents like Alonso this year of Verstappen last year impossible here?

32

Seriously…… This is motorsport & F1. It’s designed to be fast & ‘dangerous’ (yes, dangerous). There should be more 350 km/h tracks with some risk.

No fear though, Tilk would have made sure it ‘Driving Muss Daisy’ safe & boring as usual

33

It will have met the same basic criteria for FIA approval as any track. If something still is glaringly dangerous, the drivers will have brought it up after their track walks today, you would hope too.

Big accidents can happen anywhere though and it’s the ones that happen in less obvious places or with slightly unusual trajectories that are scariest.

34

Both Button and Rosberg did bring up issues with the track lay out. Specifically the amount and location of the run off areas, one of them (can’t remember which corner) having to turn right to access it which will obviously be challenging if the car is out of control

35

I agree. Someone may die…

36
Stephen Kellett

“NOT LIKE ANYTHING WE’VE SEEN BEFORE IN F1”.

You’re right. A European Grand Prix that is not held in Europe. Azerbaijan is in Asia.
This is just stupid. It’s about money. Nothing less.

37

I think that Lewis could take the lead in the WDC this weekend! It will be interesting to see which is the number 2 team this weekend (between Red Bull and Ferrari) the long straight favours the power of the Ferrari PU but the layout of the circuit favours RBs mechanical grip advantage. My money is on RB but the higher temperature could help Ferrari. How close they are will also be interesting, especially if cars can split the Mercedes drivers in qualiy

38

lets hope this one is different as formula E and its city centre tracks have show this format to be a bore.
Maybe the speed and noise will make the difference.

39

It seems odd that there is a trend towards city tracks being very long these days. You instantly think Monaco for a street race, with a lap time around 80 seconds, but the recent additions of Singapore, the brief stint with Valencia, Sochi and now Baku are all around the 100 second mark which feels high for an F1 track. I wonder if there is a good reason for this, such as making sure there is enough character in the track or trying to represent the city. It must make the logistics even harder, shutting more of the town, but given the fees they will pay F1 to host the race I suppose it will be a drop in the ocean.

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