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The city circuit by the Caspian Sea comes with sightseeing on top: At the Baku City Circuit, Lewis and other drivers race through the picturesque old town, along the old city walls and a historic castle – through which only a single car can fit at a time – straight past the Government House and modern architecture. The start and home straight run parallel to the seaside promenade. Incidentally, the extraordinary route layout in Azerbaijan was designed by German circuit designer, Hermann Tilke.
Increased probability of safety car
Last year, tyre damage cost Valtteri a well-earned victory at the last minute. We can be certain that he is eager to score the points that eluded him last year. Lewis will undoubtedly seek to hold onto his victory from the previous year. But Baku, which has only hosted the Formula One circus since 2016, has plenty of chaos and a few suspenseful moments up its sleeve. During the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in 2017, the safety car was needed three times, and twice the year after. A disadvantage to the leader, who quickly becomes an easy target for the pursuers on his tail after a restart. But why does the race turn so savage on the streets of Baku?
The wild streets of the city circuit in Baku
First of all, it’s a street circuit. The cars drive on relatively narrow streets, particularly in the old town, with its walls and tight run-off areas. This doesn’t necessarily make driving more difficult, but mistakes are far more costly. In Baku, every error can mean that the mechanics suddenly have a lot of work of their hands and the driver can only stand by and watch. Getting a good result is all about staying out of trouble…
Baku’s World Challenge circuit and its location make the asphalt track a unique challenge – not only for drivers, but for technology as well: For the best possible grip, Formula One tyres need temperatures around 100 degrees. In Baku, however, it can be difficult to get the tyres into the optimum temperature range. The Azerbaijan Grand Prix takes place relatively early this year, so temperatures on the track could be very low. Large parts of the route are in the shade and do not heat up. Baku may see the lowest asphalt temperatures of the entire season.
The layout of the circuit further complicates matters, as the tyres cool down on the long straights and the slow bends. Simply not enough energy is generated to heat them. All the more challenging is the situation, should the safety car be needed. Then the cars drive even more slowly and generate even less energy. For this reason, drivers in Baku tend to perform aggressive warm-up manoeuvres to heat up their tyres.
Formula 1 in Baku: A balancing act of technology
The Baku City Circuit has an unusual layout that consists, so to speak, of two circuits in one: The long straight with a hard braking zone at the end exhibits similarities with the north Italian high-speed circuit in Monza. The narrow and angular section through the old town, meanwhile, is reminiscent of the legendary city circuit in Monaco.
This combination creates a balancing act when tuning the vehicle. On the long straight before the first bend, the brakes cool significantly. For this reason, it would be best to reduce the brake ducts, to keep the brakes as warm as possible. Then, however, the brakes would overheat in the old town. There, the lack of long straights means that the brakes hardly have a chance to cool between the many bends.
The selected downforce too requires some compromise. When Baku hosted Formula One for the first time, the teams discovered that the high downforce cost them time on the long straights, due to the increased air resistance. Since then, the teams have tended to opt for a setup with less downforce. The wings are not quite on the same level as Monza, but tend to be in the medium downforce range, as used by teams in Spa or Montreal.
The city trip is sure to be hard work. This one for the engineers, in particular. Which team will find the right compromise between the overtaking-friendly straights and the slow bends? The narrow, and yet fastest city circuit in history (with top speeds of more than 320 km/h) leaves little room for error. This makes the Grand Prix in Baku one of the most exciting events in the Formula One calendar – against a stunning backdrop. Expectations are high.