Baku has only been on the calendar since 2016, first as the European Grand Prix and then as the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from 2017 onward. In its three years in F1 it has become a fan favourite thanks to the amount of chaos caused by tight corners, high speeds, and close barriers. 2018’s race saw just 13 cars finish and in F1 2018 the mortality rate can be just as high.
You’ll be lucky to get through a race without the safety car coming out, and the proximity of all the barriers means that you have to be extremely careful with your lines throughout the whole lap. Escape roads early in the lap provide some relief from the barriers if you overcook it into a corner, but they will cost you an age if you have to use them.
Despite being a street circuit, there are a few places you can make a pass around Azerbaijan if you are brave enough. A wheel wrong though, and your race is over.
Back straight & turn 1
The Baku City Circuit has the longest flatout blast in F1. from the exit of turn 16 all the way down to turn 1 is full throttle. While this can create some issues for drivers through the 18/19 kink, what it does do is generate an all-mighty slipstream that can throw a chasing car ahead of another before you even get to the braking zone for turn 1. Daniel Ricciardo used it to pass three cars at once on route to a win in 2017, and Valtteri Bottas used it to rob Lance Stroll of a second place finish at the same Grand Prix. If you can’t quite pull past down the straight then you can do it up the inside into turn 1. There is more space on exit than other corners here, allowing you to open the steering a bit and squeeze your opponent out.
Turn 3 is the start of an extended chicane, but it presents an opportunity for the brave. The exit of turn 2 is tricky to get right, and the run down to 3 is long with a DRS zone too. This creates chances to take a dive up the inside. Beware though, the left turn is sharp and there is no extra space you can steal on the inside or on exit. There will be no room for a cutback from your opponent if you get this right, but it can cost some of your front wing to get it wrong.
This is only for the mad & desperate. Turn 15 is the next braking point after turn 12, but it is downhill and has no room for error. The right hand wall squeezes you on approach, and there is not extra space on exit. This kind of move is only to be attempted at the end of the race when you are battling to get a point, a podium, or the race win.
Most of the corners are very tricky around Azerbaijan though, especially the middle sector and castle section, which is the narrowest on the F1 calendar.
This is the one that will catch you out the most. Turn 7 looks simple on approach but is far tighter than you would expect and has no space on exit. Losing a piece of your front wing is common place, and if you take it too tight you can clip the inside wall and lose a whole wheel. To get it just right you want to straddle the kerb and use up all the space on exit so you carry as much momentum as possible.
Castle Section (Turn 8-12)
This is the narrowest section of track in F1 2018, and has caught plenty of drivers out over the last three years. Lewis Hamilton famously broke his suspension here in qualifying in 2016. The trick is to take a shallow angle into the first apex and take some of the kerb on turn in. Be careful though, as too much will bounce you into the right hand wall. Keep on your angle to the second left and then keep it tight to the wall through the right-hander so you can get maximum angle on the left hander that takes you back out to the open streets. The exit from turn 12 is vital to posting a good lap time here.
The final true corner of the lap is 16. A slow left hander that starts you on your run all the way back to the pits. As a result it is hugely important to nail the exit otherwise you will be a sitting duck down the straight. Take the entrance slower than you would think and get the car rotated early so you can get the power down. This is all about maximising exit speed.
Baku is all about straight line speed, both acceleration and top speed are important so use as much differential as you dare and cut as much drag as possible. of course, you can't run a 1 front wing because you'll never make it through the tight corners, but it needs to be as close to unstable as you can live with if you are to hit the top speeds required to truly conquer this circuit. You can find our setup here, but your own particular driving style may well require a few tweaks to be made.