2018 marks the third time Formula 1 has travelled to Baku in Azerbaijan, located on the crossroads of Europe and Asia.
Azerbaijan’s capital is a fascinating mix of modernity and ancient culture, making it an ever-increasing hot spot for tourism.
… though 75 per cent of state revenues and 45 per cent of the nation’s GDP still comes from its major exports, oil and gas.
The Baku City Circuit is on the shores of the the Caspian Sea, with the 6- kilometre track featuring 20 turns, 12 left and eight right, with a top speed of 370 kilometres an hour. Sebastian Vettel set the lap record last year for Ferrari. And there are two DRS activation zones – along the main straight and between Turns 2 and 3, with two DRS detection points.
But, it’s a temporary circuit, with even the 30,000 tons of asphalt used to cover the old city’s cobblestones a short-term fix.
The layout takes in the seafront, with a 2.2 kilometre straight, along the esplanade – the longest on the F1 calendar.
… as well as a feature unique for the sport in parallel straights between Turns 6 and 7, and Turns 19 and 20.
SOUNDBITE (English) TOM BUTCHER,
TRACK MANAGER, BAKU CITY CIRCUIT:
“The cars travelling in both directions, divided by an FIA-compliant safety barrier. I believe [it’s] the first time this has ever happened in Formula 1.”
The track also visits Baku’s old city for one of the sport’s tightest sections between turns eight and 12 – passing Sabayil Castle.
Baku City Circuit is also one of five anticlockwise tracks on the calendar along with Singapore, Austin in the USA, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
Naturally, Azerbaijan is seeking to establish itself in F1 with an ever-increasing offering of action on-track-and-off.
But with races like last year’s, Baku’s future is bright – with Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo hoping for a repeat of his 2017 win in chaotic conditions. His brilliant pass on three cars, including both Williams, at the final safety car restart - the overtake of the season.
SOUNDBITE (English) DANIEL RICCIARDO,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
“Three highlights would be: Baku, Baku and Baku. Baku was certainly one. Obviously, the race, the win, that was a real standout for me in the year.”
But it was a nightmare for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German having a red-mist moment bumping into the race leader Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton – after he thought he’d brake tested him under the safety car.
… costing him valuable momentum in his title campaign.
SOUNDBITE (English) SEBASTIAN VETTEL,
4-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
"The worst feeling I had after Baku I think - just because I sort of ruined the race with something unnecessary. I struggled with that.”
For Hamilton, it was even tougher. Having been hit by Vettel, his headrest then came loose – requiring a pit stop, dropping him down the order.
…with his teammate Valtteri Bottas snatching second on the finishing line from Williams’ Lance Stroll – coming back from one lap down after a clash with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on the opening lap.
Stroll, though, was still happy to take his first-ever F1 podium, the second youngest to do so after Max Verstappen.
SOUNDBITE (English) LANCE STROLL,
F1 DRIVER, WILLIAMS:
"Yes, it was a great weekend for us, it was a great day. Coming into it I don’t think we expected a podium, but it was a crazy race, so much happened, and you know we just had a clean day and took home a solid third place. I will remember it for the rest of my life."
High speeds, with the barriers often just millimetres away – it’s time to go back to Baku for more action in the land of fire.