From the gargantuan, opulent racing palace that is Shanghai International Circuit – Formula 1 completes the opening header of flyaway events with its fourth trip to the nation of Azerbaijan…
…one that has not only welcomed the sport with open arms, but also built a reputation for unpredictable races, thrilling fans.
Last year’s edition a case in point, with the Red Bull Racing drivers having some fun pre-event, the pair sharing a Lada for some off-road racing; Max Verstappen testing then-teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s nerves…
SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
“No, I was not trying to scare Daniel. But I know from myself that once you are a passenger, it’s always a bit more scary because you are not in control [anymore]. But I think we kept it quite safe and no major dramas.”
But things reached boiling point in the Grand Prix that followed, after a heated on- track battle: Ricciardo slamming into the back of Verstappen on Lap 40, as the Dutchman moved twice in the braking zone.
… the pair both receiving reprimands from the stewards for the collision, also narrowly escaping grid penalties for the following race in Spain.
While in 2017, the red mist descended on Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who felt he had been brake tested by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton under the safety car, before drawing alongside to bump him.
And it was an incident he came to regret, and also escaped sanction from, after writing letters of apology to the now-late race director Charlie Whiting - and FIA president Jean Todt.
SOUNDBITE (English) SEBASTIAN VETTEL,
4-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“The worst feeling I had after Baku [Azerbaijan Grand Prix] I think, just because I sort of ruined the race with something unnecessary. So, I struggled with that.”
For Mercedes, it’s been a successful track with Nico Rosberg winning the inaugural race, dubbed the European Grand Prix. Hamilton last year, after teammate Valtteri Bottas got a puncture two laps from home.
Ricciardo is the only other winner, his 2017 win an opportunistic one – the Australian making the most of Vettel’s 10-second stop-go penalty for that bump, while Hamilton also had to pit for a new headrest.
Ricciardo’s win sealed with a three-car pass at the safety car restart.
SOUNDBITE (English) DANIEL RICCIARDO,
RED BULL RACING 2014-2018:
“Baku race was insane. It was fun, it was fun even before I hit the lead, I was having a blast. So to then come out on top in all that mess was pretty cool.”
2017 also saw Bottas recover from being one lap down to finish in second, passing Lance Stroll – then with Williams – on the line. The Canadian rookie still securing his maiden podium.
… at this most technical track, where there’s zero room for error.
The Baku City Circuit is on the shores of the Caspian Sea, with the six-kilometre venue featuring 20 turns, 12 left and eight right, with a top speed of 370 kilometres an hour. Sebastian Vettel set the lap record in 2017 for Ferrari. There are two DRS activation zones: between Turns 2 and 3, and along the main straight, with two DRS detection points.
Ferrari will be desperate for Baku to mark a return to form, with Mercedes on near-maximum points after the first three races.
Action with the barriers in close proximity, it’s time to fan the flames in the land of fire at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.