F1

F1 2018: Azerbaijan Grand Prix track preview & strategy

F1 heads to the streets of Baku for a third time, but can the race deliver the thrills and spills of 2017? Neil Morris examines the characteristics of the City Circuit.

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(Photo credit: Pitlane02)

The Baku City Circuit first appeared on the calendar in 2016 when it hosted the European Grand Prix. The following year it returned as the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and produced one of the most incident-packed races of the season. 

The 6km (3.7 miles) track is the second longest on the roster and it also includes the longest straight at 2.1km. This straight leads into Turn One where drivers will reach more than 370km/h before braking. The current lap record is held by Sebastian Vettel who posted a time of 1:43.441 in 2017.

Driver and team challenge

The main challenge of the circuit is to achieve maximum straight-line speed and high grip through the slow corners. This means keeping downforce levels as low as possible while generating sufficient energy through the tyres to maintain grip and avoid early degradation. Drivers who can take care of their tyres through the bends while keeping their car as light as possible on the fast sections will do well here. 

But the burden of getting the balance just right will also fall onto the shoulders of the engineers, who will be tasked with translating practice data into the perfect race setup. Communication between driver and garage will be vital during Friday and Saturday practice. 

Flat out into Turn One

The initial run to Turn One is short but on each subsequent circuit the drivers will approach it flat out with brakes that have been cooled for a full two kilometres. Late braking with cold components can cause many issues, so expect to see a few drivers locking up a wheel or two trying to take advantage of those who are playing it safe.

Every inch counts

With such high speeds reached, drivers will need to use every inch of track (and kerb) available, a task made easier by a soft suspension set-up. But the risk of over-cooking on entry is always there, particularly at tight downhill sections such as the approach to Turn 15. The lack of run-off areas means that any miscalculations could bring the barriers into play. So don’t rule out another safety car on Sunday.

Struggling for grip early on

As with other street circuits, there is little in the way of grip at the start of the weekend. This combined with the set-up of the cars will mean slow times on Friday but the pace should pick up as rubber gets laid down throughout the weekend. Overall, the circuit is not too heavy on the brakes with Turn One providing the greatest challenge.

Cooler conditions

The race is being held two months earlier than last year, so conditions will be much cooler. As a result, teams will be expected to run on softer tyre selections than last year. The 16:00pm start time and abundance of shadows on the streets will also bring temperatures right down as the race progresses.

Strategy expected to play a major part

Last year, the Grand Prix was won on a three-stop strategy prompted by a safety car and red flag situation. However, if the race remains incident free, some teams may look to get by on a single stop this term. All three of the top teams have opted for different tyre selections. And within the teams, there are also different selections with only the Red Bull pair choosing identical sets.

Tyre choice and race strategy could once again be the deciding factors here as the drivers look for the perfect set-up in very different conditions to last year. 

Can we expect another thriller in Baku? Let us know by commenting below.

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