Round 8 of the 2016 season sees Formula 1 head to Azerbaijan for the first time. It’s a weekend of high expectations and, at the same time, a weekend where no one quite knows what to expect. Below, Lights Out takes a look at why this could be one of the most memorable weekends of the year.
WHO WILL HAVE THE BEST PACE?
It’s difficult to predict if Mercedes will have an advantage here or not. Though there are long straights – some of the longest all season – there are also many slow corners, which are better suited to Red Bull. Add to this the Ferrari, which could have won the Grand Prix in Canada if it weren’t for a strategy error, and we could see a very tight qualifying session. In Canada, the top four drivers were separated by just 0.4 seconds. Could that gap be tighter in Baku?
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BATTLE ROYALE AT MERCEDES
Lewis Hamilton has an opportunity to take the championship lead from Nico Rosberg this weekend, with the Brit now just nine points behind the German. Not much has gone right for Rosberg since his great overtake on Hamilton at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix but of course, that was not to last, as the Mercedes took each other out of the race at the very next turn. Two races to forget for Nico in Monaco and Canada, against two wins for Lewis, means that the battle to be at the top of the championship is well and truly on this weekend.
A brand new track means very little data on tyre usage, so this could be the most important Friday of the whole season. Simulator work has gathered much of the data that the teams have so far about tyre usage on the track, but it’s impossible to know for sure until the cars are out on track how long the tyres will last and what the optimum strategy will be. Pirelli have made conservative tyre choices, so a one-stop strategy seems quite likely, though again we won’t have a clear idea until after practice. Supersoft, soft and medium are the tyres elected for use in Azerbaijan by Pirelli – the same as in Russia. Here are the tyre choices for this weekend:
— Pirelli Motorsport (@pirellisport) June 13, 2016
DRIVERS GETTING IT WRONG
Obviously, none of the drivers have ever completed a real lap of this track before. The Force India drivers have admitted that they haven’t yet tested the track out on the simulator. Lack of knowledge means that there’s likely to be more on-track incidents. Expect there to be plenty of collisions with the walls over the weekend. Turn 1 will be especially tough to master, as the drivers come off the throttle, and close the DRS wing, at the end of a 2.1km straight to be faced with a 90 degree corner. The tight section from Turn 8 onwards is also likely to be a hotspot for drivers getting it wrong. Both Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg have expressed some concern at the lack of run-off areas around the track, especially at Turns 3, 7 and 14. If anyone has a mechanical failure, or stops on track, then it could be a potential hazard. The pitlane entry is another area of concern.
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The tightest turn on the calendar at just over 7 metres wide, which is just wide enough for 2 cars. If there is a collision with a barrier here, the track could quite easily become completely blocked. Will anyone dare to make a move on the uphill section, alongside the medieval castle wall? Watch Daniel Ricciardo take a virtual lap of the Baku City Circuit:
The GP2 cars will be first to test out the track at full speed, as practice for the support race’s weekend gets under-way before Formula One practice on Friday morning. GP2 Practice sessions are usually chaotic, so Friday will be an interesting day for the feeder series. The Feature Race on Saturday will also be the first real race on the track, so you can expect that the majority of F1 drivers will be watching to try and work out some good spots for overtaking on Sunday.
NO ONE KNOWS WHAT TO EXPECT
Many of the drivers are claiming that this track is difficult to compare to any other, as it doesn’t really resemble anything else that we see on the calendar. Whilst some have compared it to Valencia, others have compared it to the Singapore track, Montreal and even Monza. The main point that the drivers seem to agree on is that this will be one of the most challenging circuits of the year.
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What are you looking forward to seeing this weekend in Baku? Will the track live up to expectations? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Header image: Force India F1 Team