The Baku Street Circuit is a recent addition to the Formula 1 calendar, first being raced on in 2016. Since then, the track has produced a mixed bag of races, ranging from the absurdly entertaining to the utterly boring. Regardless of that, the circuit is very challenging, as it features both tight 90 degree corners synonymous with street circuits and the longest flat-out area on the calendar. The setup is always a challenging one to perfect around here, as is the lap itself, as barriers line both sides of the track all the way around, there's very little margin for error here. The rear tyres also take a beating here, as there are many hard traction zones out of slow corners.
The first corner can catch you off-guard as it comes so quickly after crossing the start/ finish line and there's huge run-off on the outside. There's a large DRS zone before Turn 1, so this is one of the main overtaking opportunities on track but it's still difficult to get a move done, as both the inside and outside lines have fairly equal grip. Lock-ups are pretty common here, as you'll be hurtling towards T1 at 215mph (346kph) in qualifying and possibly more if you have a tow during the race.
Brake just after the 150m board and down to third gear, avoiding the outside red and white kerbs, but get as close to them as possible for the best line. Ride the humped kerb on the inside but avoid the pit-wall. You can run wide on exit, I find that placing your front right to the right of the kerbing gives you the most speed going into Turn 2. Slow in and fast out is the order of the day in the first sector, being conservative with your braking zones is key to a fast lap. You can also get on the throttle a lot earlier than you'd expect for this one, you can floor it mid-corner if you're brave enough.
The first sector of the lap is entirely made up of 90 degree left and right handers and this includes Turn 2. Brake at 75m down to second gear and miss the kerb on the inside, it will unsettle the car going onto the second DRS straight. Running wide here isn't an option like T1, the unforgiving wall is looming on the outside. Traction is also crucial here, but you've got to be aggressive with the throttle as the upcoming straight leads into what is the best overtaking opportunity on the track.
Turns 3 & 4
You'll be topping over 200mph (320kph) going into this corner once again, and it's another 90 degree left-hander. Brake at the 100m board down to second gear and avoid all the kerbs here, they will unsettle the car. Get on the throttle early like Turn 1 and straighten up for Turn 4, the first right-hander you'll face.
Brake at around 75m and down to second gear, avoiding the kerbs like the plague here. This is an overtaking opportunity if you can't get it down into T3, but avoid the inside kerb at all costs, it will end in accident with the driver you're battling with.
Turns 5 & 6
Get on the power hard into the Turn 5 and 6 chicane and brake just after the 100m board down to second gear. These corners are tighter than the previous ones and will catch you out if you're not careful.
A squirt of the throttle and a dab on the brakes propels you to Turn 6, where you'll need to use a little kerb to get the best exit line. Don't use the kerb for T5, nor use any of the white-painted run-off for T6, you'll get a corner cutting warning more likely than not. Avoid the kerbing on the exit of Turn 6 as well, that will hurt your traction into Turn 7.
Turn 7 is another standard 90 degree right-hander, brake at 75m down to second gear and don't cut across the inside line, that will trigger a penalty. You may think this is an overtaking opportunity, but don't attempt it, there's only room for 1 car in the upcoming castle section.
Unlike most of the previous corners, though, you need to clatter the inside kerb to avoid the outside wall on exit. For Turn 8, brake at about 75m down to third gear and swing the car as aggressively into the corner. There's little to no margin for error here, so take this section cautiously as you build up confidence while practicing.
Officially, the castle section comprises four corners, but you need to treat it as two, the entry left (8) and the exiting right (11). Cut the inside kerbing and accelerate hard up the incline, there is almost a straight line to the top, it requires just a slight swing of the wheel to make it up without hitting the barriers. Brake hard down into second gear just after you get into fourth gear, running wide through Turn 11 will cost you a lot of time.
Turn 12 is another 90-degree corner but one you have to be on your toes for given the proximity of the castle section's exit. Stay in second gear and avoid all the kerbing, especially that on the inside. Turns 13 and 14 are left-handed kinks but you need to be firm with the steering wheel to avoid the outside barriers on the run down to Turn 15. Using the inside kerbing for 13 and slightly cutting 14 is also advisable, as it gives you the straightest line, especially when running with low downforce.
Despite the previous flat-out zone being on a strong curve, you'll be arriving here in top gear and at almost 200mph. Brake just after the 100m board down into third gear and avoid the inside kerbing, it'll send you on a one-way trip to the barriers. Run the right-front wheel outside the exit kerbing like Turn 1 and plant the throttle on the run down to Turn 16. Banging your outside wheels on the outside barrier on exit isn't the end of the world either, as long you hit it at a 90-degree angle, or you'll lose your front wing. Be careful of the barrier on the outside on the entry into T15, it's easy to lose your wing there too.
Another 90 degree left-hander, but the most important on the circuit, as it leads onto the longest flat-out zone of the season, longer in terms of time than even Spa's La Source to Les Combes run. Brake just after the 100m board disappears from view and you can put your front-right wheel over the white line to do so, as the kerbs don't appear until after you start turning in.
Go down to third gear by the apex of the corner and avoid all kerbs, especially those on the exit, you will end up laying down rubber on the Azeri flag if you do so. Put the peddle to the metal and pray you've done enough to shake off you pursuer through the twisty section. Turn 17 is another kink that won't give you much trouble, the difficult part comes after...
Turns 18 & 19
Turns 18 and 19 are effectively a very high-speed chicane, one you round at almost 200mph. Hug the kerbs for both corners, as it's hard to avoid them and the barriers. The line is crucial here, a bad one will land you in deep trouble on the run down to Turn 1 thanks to the DRS and slipstream. It's best to lightly turn the wheel and like the castle section, takes practice to perfect. This is flat out, you won't need to lift even in the Williams, but you will have to feather if you're following another car. Turn 20 is another slight kink and I'm not even sure why it's classed as a corner on the track map. The quickest line is the straightest line near the pit wall, but you have to go to the right in the race, because of the proximity of the first corner.
Low downforce is key around Baku, as you can't overtake without it and you'll be a sitting duck on the straights. I went with 2/4 wings, the lowest you can get away with while still being fast around the corners. On-throttle diff needs to be as low as possible (around 70%), with off-throttle as high as possible (around 90%). Camber as high as possible and toe as low as possible, you can be aggressive with this as well, because tyre wear isn't a huge issue here, especially on the fronts. The springs need to be soft in case you do use the kerbs, around 3 for front and rear. Ride height needs to be in the middle (5/6), with the anti-roll bar high at about 8 because the corners here are short. Brake pressure needs to be high here because of the big stops, around 75%, but no higher, as lock-ups aren't uncommon. Rear tyre pressure should be low, 21.1 psi prevents overheating but you can get away 23.4 on the fronts.