Back to Baku
These days the attention of tsports community is once again focused on Baku, where the eighth stage of Formula 1 world championship - Azerbaijan Grand Prix - will be held. As Red Bull Racing writes in an article "BACK TO BAKU", it is the first-ever Azerbaijan Grand Prix. We have been here before – the Baku City Circuit is joining the Nürburgring, Brands Hatch and Jerez on the list of circuits that have hosted both the European Grand Prix and their own national race.
It pushed all the curiosity buttons being a new venue in a new country and a street circuit to boot. It's fair to say this combination attracted some trepidation: permanent circuits are generally built to a template that's replicated wherever we are in the world – but street tracks are always an exercise in compromise: cramming a paddock, pit garage and associated facilities into whatever space is available. It isn't always a stress-free environment in which to work.
Fortunately, Baku was pretty good. Everything worked, and had the bonus of situating the paddock in the middle of a nest of hotels. It may seem a strange thing to focus on – but there's never enough time in a race weekend, and being able to walk back from the garage to a hotel room in ten minutes and vice versa instead of hanging around for minibuses and crawling through city traffic is always welcome.
The speeds last year surprised everybody being quite a bit higher than predicted. The first practice session was something of an eye-opener with some teams having perhaps been too happy with the low downforce parts. Any faster and the cars would have been going backwards in time. Is there such a thing as an F1 car that's too fast? In terms of top speeds, definitely. Minimise the wings and the car has less drag and goes faster on the straights – but smaller wings mean less downforce and so slower through the corners. It's always a compromise, with half an eye on lap time and half on being competitive for overtaking or defending. The Baku circuit is difficult in this regard because the two halves are very different. The start-finish straight (not actually straight – but full throttle all the way) is truly massive – 2km flat out – but the rest of the circuit is typical street circuit: tight corners, often 90°, and low gears. Finding the compromise between those two competing demands is tricky (but we've got a year's worth of data to rely on) so it's not quite the leap in the dark it was last year, even with radically different cars and tyres.
We're going back to Baku with expectations of doing better this time around.