Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2018 - Preview
The city of Baku saw quite a dramatic race last year, with Daniel Ricciardo winning the race after having started 10th on the grid, whereas Bottas held his 2nd place. There were 7 retirements in all, and the infamous safety car lap crash of Hamilton and Vettel which has raised the expectations of the fans for this year's race even more.
One of the only three pure street circuits in the F1 calendar this season, the Azerbaijan circuit promises an extremely exciting race this Sunday, the 29th of April. With a 2.19 kilometre segment where cars drive flat out, it has the longest flat-out section compared to any other circuit this season.
This circuit also has the narrowest segment which is just seven metres wide. So the cars drive really fast, and very close to the walls and through the narrowest track segment of the season. Now which part of that sounds dull? (Trivia: Azerbaijan is known as the land of fire)
The 6.003-kilometre long track has 20 turns. The track has two DRS zones, both reasonably long straights, which should allow for quite a few high speed overtake attempts. The narrow circuit towards the old city provides fewer overtaking opportunities than the rest of the circuit, but they should be rather dramatic.
The dry weather tyres available for the weekend are Soft, Supersoft and Ultrasoft, which are two steps softer than the tyres which were available last year.
Weather forecasts for the weekend suggest 1 to 2 percent chances of rain during the race, while the practices and qualifying have a prediction of up to 3 percent chances, which shouldn't be a major concern for the teams.
The temperature during the weekend is expected to be between 19 and 22 degrees Celsius, which is not all that different than the temperatures seen in Shanghai during the Chinese Grand Prix weekend. Cloud cover forecast for this weekend at Baku might result in lower track temperatures than the ones recorded at the Shanghai circuit, although that remains to be seen.
For this weekend, the drivers will have to work on their braking as the street circuit has multiple high-speed straights followed by tight corners with no run-off areas. Although the Baku circuit provides more overtaking opportunities than the street circuit in Monaco, the drivers will be tested on their braking skills and instincts more than anything else. Tyre selection and pit strategy will also be of utmost importance.
Pirelli recently released the tyre selections made by the individual drivers for the weekend, which show that Ferrari, Sauber and Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) have gone for the most number of Ultrasoft tyres, suggesting a more aggressive strategy through the weekend.
The drivers will have to consider the safety car lap and the red flag while devising their strategy as there were a significant number of incidents involving cars hitting other cars or the walls of the circuit. Last year's winning strategy (Red Bull) included three tyre changes, one of which was under the safety car lap and another under the red flag.
Tyre selections released by Pirelli
The long straights and the 2 kilometre long flat-out segment of the track should favour the Ferraris and the Mercedes due to their straight-line speed. Last year's race, and the retirements show just how unpredictable this track can be. The tighter turns and the narrow track will require as much grip as the tyres have to offer.
With more tyre options available, team strategies will also play a big role this weekend. Looking forward to another weekend of turning petrol into speed and noise.