Formula 1 returns this weekend, as the team’s arrive for the Azerbaijan GP. Moving the Azerbaijani Grand Prix up the calendar is having a significant impact on the conditions which can be expected for the weekend. Nights are chilly in Baku at the end of April, and a strong, gusty wind is sweeping the six Kilometre long track.
We catch up with some of the teams;
Scuderia Ferrari drivers are gearing up for the first “street” race of the season, and tomorrow’s first practice session which takes place at 1 pm local time (11 am CET) will see the two SF71Hs running some new components.
Kimi Raikkonen gives his comment on the circuit: “To be good here in Baku you don’t need anything more than at any other track. Obviously it’s a different layout, a kind of street circuit, but quite an open one, apart from the very tight area around turn 9 and 10. For a street circuit, it requires quite a low downforce level, probably the first one of this kind we run this season. We need to be stronger everywhere, but I think that our car has been good so far. Speed wise we have been pretty ok, It would be a surprise if we cannot fight at the front. The feeling with the car has been pretty straightforward so far this season. I think we improved since the first test; tires played a big part in it, with better and stronger front ones. For sure there are always things to improve, but that’s a never ending story in Formula One. We need to tidy up certain elements and do things in a stronger way. But if we keep working the way we are, I’m sure things will go in the right direction. Let’s see how this weekend goes. It’s a long way to the end of the season, and I want to do well”.
Sebastian Vettel adds: “It is exciting to be here in Baku and we are going to try and start from the front row. This track is quite nice, with the exception of the straights, which are maybe a little too long… But they are part of the ‘soul’ of the track, so overall I like it, I think it is quite challenging”.
Looking at the broader picture, Seb said: “We know that we built a good car and that we have a big potential to make it faster. That’s what we are working on. I believe you always learn something from every race and I think last year Baku was very different from all the other races. I hope to be the man to beat, but it’s a long season. At the moment things looks good, but it doesn’t mean anything. The last three races of the year will mean much more than the first ones…”.
Alfa Romeo Sauber F1:
The Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team is heading out to the fourth round of the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship in Azerbaijan. It will be the first race of the season to take place on a proper city circuit – one that challenges the participating teams in terms of tyre management and finding the right set-up that will allow them to extract the maximum performance of their cars on long straights and narrow turns. Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc return to Baku with good memories from their respective races in 2017. While Marcus Ericsson finished in P11 in the 2017 Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc had great success in the 2017 FIA Formula 2 races there, in which he finished in P1 and P2.
Marcus Ericsson (car number 9):
“The race in Baku will be our first street race of the season. It is quite a cool track, with a good mix of high-speed sectors and challenging corners. What is special about the track is that it features some twisty parts, mainly around the castle. The track is very narrow there, and you must be very precise as a driver. Another challenge will be to set up the car to suit the demands of the circuit. Tyre management will be a key factor, as the degradation of the tyres is quite high during the race. I look forward to going to Baku, and continuing our strong performance from the first three races of the year.”
Charles Leclerc (car number 16):
“I look forward to going back to Baku. I had a strong race there last year, when I was competing in Formula 2, and feel quite comfortable on the Baku City Circuit. I particularly like city tracks. They are challenging for drivers, as you cannot afford to make any errors. The atmosphere there is great, and the view of the old town and castle is spectacular. It will be interesting to learn about the tyre management during the practice sessions. This will prepare us for the challenges of this circuit, and allow us to work on finding the right set-up and perform well in the race. I’m excited to be back in the car.”
Haas F1 Team:
The youngest team in Formula One heads to one of the newest tracks in Formula One intent on continuing its disruptive presence. Three races into the 21-race schedule, Haas F1 Team is seventh in the constructors’ standings with 11 points while holding a ninepoint advantage over eighth-place Sauber with just a single point separating it from sixth-place Toro Rosso.
Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen have taken the pace they displayed in winter testing at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya and maintained it through Formula One’s stops in Australia, Bahrain and China. Both drivers have appeared regularly in the top-10 in qualifying, and this has translated to running among the top-10 in grands prix with their Haas VF-18s mixing it up with the likes of Scuderia Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull as they seemingly lead the midfield charge.
You’ve had a strong start to the season and you come into Baku with back-to-back point-paying finishes. What do you attribute your performance to this year? “The main thing is that we have a good car, a better car this year. I also think it makes a big difference that I’m with the same team for a second year, having that continuity. You have a totally different preparation and some experience to rely on.”
The Haas VF-18 has proven quick, thanks in part to its Ferrari engine and also to its overall balance. What are your expectations of the car at Baku City Circuit, which melds two different tracks into one layout?
“Our car balance should be fine in Baku. It’s true that we do have a very good car this year – it’s very well balanced. But it’s going to be very difficult to predict how we’re going to be in Baku, as we don’t know what other people are going to bring in terms of special packages for that circuit. We’re going to try and get the most out of the car, but it’s going to be interesting to see what other people do.”
You ran as high as third in last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and a podium finish seemed possible. While it didn’t materialize, is a podium finish something that is within Haas F1 Team’s grasp this season?
“Well, I think we were very lucky to find ourselves in third position in last year’s race – it wasn’t at all our natural position. We finished seventh, and even that wasn’t our natural position. We were pretty uncompetitive at last year’s grand prix in Baku, but we capitalized on other people’s mistakes. I’m sure we’re going to be more competitive and, hopefully, we’ll be as lucky as we were last year, as well.”
You’ve had the pace this season, but not the results. Does knowing the capability of the car and team allow you to persevere and look ahead to the next race because it provides the next opportunity to get the results you want? “Yes. I think the car is really good, and the team has done a good job. We haven’t had much luck yet. We’ve had three races where we were looking at points, and three times where we haven’t scored. Knowing that we’ve got a good baseline and a good car is very exciting. I know it’s going to come our way at some point. Hopefully, that’s going to be in Baku.”
The Haas VF-18 has proven quick, thanks in part to its Ferrari engine and also to its overall balance. What are your expectations of the car at Baku City Circuit, which melds two different tracks into one layout? “Baku is definitely a different circuit from the rest. There’s that massive long straight line – where top speed plays a key role – and then you’ve got the very twisty part around the castle, where the balance needs to be good. It’s going to be a good challenge. It’s not a race where we were very competitive last year. It’ll be interesting to see how much progress we’ve made. It’s a really exciting grand prix – a lot can happen. There are always good opportunities, so we’ll try to get them there.”
Three races into 2018 and we’ve seen two Scuderia Ferrari wins and one Red Bull win with defending champion Mercedes still looking for a win. It seems there’s parity among the big-three teams, as well as throughout the midfield. What is your take on the competitiveness of this year’s Formula One field?
“I think this year it’s been pretty good. There’s a nice battle at the front, then there’s quite a significant gap, then there’s the midfield battle, where one race it’s the Renault that’s the fastest, the next one it’s a Toro Rosso, another race it’s the Haas or maybe the McLaren. That makes it super exciting. We need to get everything super right – down to the last tenths of a second – to be qualifying in front of the others and race from there. It’s pretty exciting. Obviously, the front is a different situation, where Mercedes hasn’t won yet, but they’re still up there fighting really hard.”
The first Grand Prix of Azerbaijan was hosted at the Baku City Circuit in 2016. The city track, located in the country′s capital, is 6 km long and was designed by the well-known architect Hermann Tilke. Baku is one of three city races on this year′s calendar, the others being Monaco and Singapore. Long straights allow top speeds, but also require good traction, braking, and tyre management. Part of the track surrounds Baku′s old town, providing beautiful scenery and a unique atmosphere.