This year sees the second running of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix around the streets of Baku. Last year’s race was a huge success with the magnificent backdrop of the city proving a hit with all the teams and fans.
It’s a classic street race in most regards, with no room for error and tricky off-camber corners prepared to punish the smallest mistake. Let’s not forget Lewis Hamilton breaking his right steering arm on the apex in qualifying and the countless cars going off at turn 15 in every session in 2016. It’s a hard track to get right and the drivers will be challenged to the fullest of their ability.
One thing that is unusual for a street track is that there is a long massive straight on it, which means that teams have to think hard about the compromise of down force for drag. It’s a lot like Macau in this regard and it means that there will be plenty of overtaking. The circuit is six kilometres long that makes it the second longest after Spa on the F1 calendar. We will see speeds in excess of 350 kph on the massively long front straight and there should be plenty of overtaking.
The high top speeds mean that the power unit plays an important role, just like it did in Canada. Mercedes and Ferrari powered cars will enjoy an advantage here so expect independent teams such as Williams, Force India and Haas to show better than expected.
I was quite surprised to see Red Bull go reasonably well in Canada despite having a Renault in the back of their cars. So I think they have made a step forward recently and I expect them to be best of the rest again this weekend.
At the front though, it’s all about Mercedes and Ferrari, who still enjoy a significant advantage over the rest of the field.
We saw in the last street track that Ferrari had the advantage over Mercedes when they won with Sebastian Vettel. However in Canada it swung the other way with Hamilton winning. This win was important to them because it showed that perhaps they may have gotten over the ultra soft tyre problems dogging them since the beginning of the year. In Baku the ultra soft tyre will again be the tyre of choice so for Hamilton’s sake I hope that they really have gotten a handle on this issue.
Who will win this weekend? I think it’s really going to come down to which driver performs the best. Ferrari and Mercedes are just to evenly matched and Vettel and Hamilton will have to be perfect if they want to win. What’s important is that they prepare perfectly and that means no mistakes in practice, getting the setup up right with their engineers and producing the pace when it matters.