F1 set for a hectic first race in Baku

2016 European Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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It was clear when we got the first details about Baku’s track that it was going to be very quick and very narrow in places.

The combination of that fast and punishing layout, plus one of the pace-setting Mercedes qualifying ‘out of position’, means F1’s first race in Azerbaijan promises to be a lively affair.

The Baku City Circuit has only held one race so far, this morning’s GP2 feature event, which was hectic and incident-filled even by the standards of Formula One’s feeder championship.

Start, GP2, Baku City Circuit, 2016
GP2 kept the marshals busy in Baku
Indeed the Safety Car was called on no fewer than four times in the race, which had to be cut from its planned distance of 29 laps because the time limit was reached. This was due in part to one very long Safety Car period during which time the marshals only had a single car to recover.

The Virtual Safety Car was not called on at all, but this was less to do with the nature of the incidents than the fact GP2 has become wary of using its Virtual Safety Car system because of the effect it had on the race in Monaco*.

The narrow confines of Baku and the very limited amount of space in its run-off areas means any incidents or errors are more likely to result in some kind of Safety Car period. Getting tyres back up to temperature after such interruptions will be a particular challenge for drivers – including the dominant Mercedes.

“It’s not been our strength recently,” pole sitter Nico Rosberg admitted after qualifying, “but we’ve worked on it”.

“Today everybody needed two laps [to prepare the tyres], not just us.”

The tyre strategy situation is straightforward: the super-softs should easily last long enough for drivers to make a single stop. The only question mark hangs over Lewis Hamilton, who will have to start the race with flat-spotted fronts following his adventures in Q2. It’s possible he may be able to exchange them for another set if the FIA allows it, but past precedent indicates this is unlikely.

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Drivers must use a set of either the softs or mediums during the race. In the event of an early Safety Car period we may see drivers trying to get their single pit stop out of the way early. However they may be reluctant to risk using the medium compound tyres, again due to the possible warm-up problems on the very smooth surface.

In the event of a late Safety Car period, watch out for drivers near the tail of the field switching back to super-softs in order to go on the attack.

Another aspect of the Baku circuit which will shape the race is the very long run from turn 16 to the start/finish line. At 21 seconds, this is now the longest flat-out section on any grand prix circuit, and the slipstreaming effect is substantial even before drivers reach the DRS zone. Valtteri Bottas clocked a staggering 366.1kph (227mph) in qualifying thanks to a tow from Max Verstappen.

This will open up overtaking opportunities: Sergey Sirotkin entered turn 16 in third place on the last lap of Saturday’s GP2 race and beat Raffaele Marciello to second by 0.11s. It will also make Safety Car restarts tricky for the race leader.

Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Nico RosbergMercedes1’43.6851’42.520 (-1.165)1’42.758 (+0.238)
2Sergio PerezForce India1’44.4621’43.939 (-0.523)1’43.515 (-0.424)
3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’44.5701’44.141 (-0.429)1’43.966 (-0.175)
4Sebastian VettelFerrari1’45.0621’44.461 (-0.601)1’43.966 (-0.495)
5Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’44.9361’44.533 (-0.403)1’44.269 (-0.264)
6Felipe MassaWilliams1’45.4941’44.696 (-0.798)1’44.483 (-0.213)
7Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’44.6941’44.687 (-0.007)1’44.717 (+0.030)
8Valtteri BottasWilliams1’44.7061’44.477 (-0.229)1’45.246 (+0.769)
9Max VerstappenRed Bull1’44.9391’44.387 (-0.552)1’45.570 (+1.183)
10Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’44.2591’43.526 (-0.733)2’01.954 (+18.428)
11Romain GrosjeanHaas1’45.5071’44.755 (-0.752)
12Nico HulkenbergForce India1’44.8601’44.824 (-0.036)
13Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso1’44.8271’45.000 (+0.173)
14Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’45.5251’45.270 (-0.255)
15Esteban GutierrezHaas1’45.3001’45.349 (+0.049)
16Felipe NasrSauber1’45.5491’46.048 (+0.499)
17Rio HaryantoManor1’45.665
18Pascal WehrleinManor1’45.750
19Jenson ButtonMcLaren1’45.804
20Marcus EricssonSauber1’46.231
21Kevin MagnussenRenault1’46.348
22Jolyon PalmerRenault1’46.394

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Nico Rosberg45.578 (2)32.380 (1)24.420 (1)
Sergio Perez45.866 (5)32.609 (2)24.854 (3)
Daniel Ricciardo46.063 (8)32.883 (6)24.869 (4)
Sebastian Vettel45.983 (6)32.800 (4)25.031 (11)
Kimi Raikkonen45.835 (4)33.218 (14)25.128 (17)
Felipe Massa46.045 (7)33.105 (9)25.069 (15)
Daniil Kvyat46.276 (10)32.946 (7)25.044 (12)
Valtteri Bottas46.416 (12)32.870 (5)24.968 (8)
Max Verstappen45.815 (3)33.201 (12)24.881 (5)
Lewis Hamilton45.285 (1)33.203 (13)24.494 (2)
Romain Grosjean46.436 (13)33.057 (8)25.102 (16)
Nico Hulkenberg46.110 (9)32.636 (3)24.996 (9)
Carlos Sainz Jnr46.413 (11)33.242 (15)25.054 (14)
Fernando Alonso46.645 (16)33.152 (11)25.297 (20)
Esteban Gutierrez46.576 (14)33.125 (10)24.909 (7)
Felipe Nasr46.966 (20)33.421 (16)25.024 (10)
Rio Haryanto46.854 (17)33.909 (22)24.902 (6)
Pascal Wehrlein46.870 (19)33.658 (19)25.164 (18)
Jenson Button46.635 (15)33.567 (17)25.506 (22)
Marcus Ericsson47.375 (22)33.784 (21)25.050 (13)
Kevin Magnussen47.145 (21)33.714 (20)25.435 (21)
Jolyon Palmer46.857 (18)33.568 (18)25.291 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes334.8 (208.0)
2Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes333.6 (207.3)-1.2
3Rio HaryantoManorMercedes333.2 (207.0)-1.6
4Valtteri BottasWilliamsMercedes333.2 (207.0)-1.6
5Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes331.8 (206.2)-3.0
6Max VerstappenRed BullTAG Heuer331.1 (205.7)-3.7
7Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari330.3 (205.2)-4.5
8Esteban GutierrezHaasFerrari327.7 (203.6)-7.1
9Daniel RicciardoRed BullTAG Heuer326.6 (202.9)-8.2
10Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari326.0 (202.6)-8.8
11Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari326.0 (202.6)-8.8
12Felipe NasrSauberFerrari325.9 (202.5)-8.9
13Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes325.1 (202.0)-9.7
14Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari325.0 (201.9)-9.8
15Daniil KvyatToro RossoFerrari324.9 (201.9)-9.9
16Pascal WehrleinManorMercedes324.5 (201.6)-10.3
17Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes323.6 (201.1)-11.2
18Carlos Sainz JnrToro RossoFerrari323.2 (200.8)-11.6
19Jolyon PalmerRenaultRenault323.0 (200.7)-11.8
20Jenson ButtonMcLarenHonda322.8 (200.6)-12.0
21Kevin MagnussenRenaultRenault319.5 (198.5)-15.3
22Fernando AlonsoMcLarenHonda319.3 (198.4)-15.5

Over to you

Is Rosberg heading for an easy win in Baku as Hamilton suggested? Can the world champion win from tenth on the grid?

Or might Red Bull, Williams, Ferrari – or even Fore India – produce an upset? Share your views on the European Grand Prix in the comments.

*Unlike in F1, where drivers are given a target sector time to stick to during VSC periods, GP2 drivers are a fixed maximum speed limit for the whole track. This can disadvantage drivers if they spend more of the VSC period on the fastest sections of the track. In Monaco this cost race leader Norman Nato a likely victory to Artem Markelov, who gained time during the VSC period.

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    Keith Collantine
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    25 comments on “F1 set for a hectic first race in Baku”

    1. There will be multiple pile ups in the autocross section and thus sc periods. it will be a frantic lottery. Hamilton should start from pit lane. Change to a fifth mgu-h and new tires.

      1. Yeah, crossed my mind that Hamilton could take some of his penalties this race, given the mess he made of qualifying and the high probability of chaos.

        1. I agree. This is the perfect opportunity to get the engine change it if the way and start on the harder compound. He’s got 3-5 tenths on the leader if he can get his act together on this track it would give him a great chance still off snatching it with safety cars and keep him out of first lap chaos that is bound to ensue

    2. Fading light could become a problem if the race features multiple SC periods, and/or red flag/s as it starts only a little over 3 hours before the sunset (8:14 pm local time), so it’s a little risky to start it as late as 5 pm.

    3. Baku makes Monaco look like a joke. Imagine running Monza levels downforce around a circuit that is as tight and twisty as Monaco in certain parts. It’s immense.

      If this circuit was in Europe (like actually in Europe) and had some history, it would comfortably surpass Silverstone and rival even Spa in terms of popularity with the fans.

      1. @kingshark
        Agreed. The only thing that can spoil this race is the DRS.

      2. Let’s hope it has a chance to get some history. It is certainly a promising track. I wouldn’t mind in 16 years time it feeling about it like I felt last year at Sepang realizing it was the 16th Malaysian Grand Prix already.

        1. After looking at this track, F1 is ready for tour de france type split chicannes to spice up things up even more.

      3. I was down on the track too but it’s actually fascinating. You have the crazy speeds then a gymkhana section that makes Monaco look simple. And the scenery is amazing. Better than Monaco. Every time the cars go through the old section, i hold my breath. I’m already kind of scared of 20 cars on cold tires full of fuel trying to shimmy through there.

        1. Yeah, when I was watching the drivers push in qualify I was on the edge of my seat because they got so close to the wall. Some even too close…

    4. With the very long straight and DRS we might see a MotoGP kind of race, where drivers pass and get re-passed the following lap. Track position may not be as important as usual, so maybe the drivers will take it a bit easier in the wheel-to-wheel battles, which may reduce the probability of a safety car. I expect Hamilton to overtake a few cars each lap at the beginning of the race, which could make the race more interesting.

      1. @f1infigures
        They may take it easy in battles, but they will push hard to get in, or stay out of, DRS range.

    5. Bottas Williams cloaked in a 376 km/h top speed according to Williams data. (the official speed trap is not right before the breaking point)


      1. Lorenzo, if you’re looking for the top speed, you’d probably be better off referring to the recorded speed as the driver passes the start-finish line – as that is located around 200m from the first turn, the drivers will probably be close to their top speed, if not at top speed, given that they will be hitting the brakes shortly afterwards.

        According to that data, Bottas clocked 366kph (or 227mph) as he crossed the line, which is the same figure that I’ve seen Adam Cooper referring to as well. Do you have a source for that figure of 376kph? If that is correct, it would be the highest speed ever recorded in an F1 session (eclipsing the 372kph figure that Montoya recorded at Monza back in 2005).

        1. This tweet is the only source I’ve seen, could be a typo: https://twitter.com/TomClarksonF1/status/744225197729923076

        2. Top speed for 2015 was 366.5 km/h by Maldonado in Mexico & here we are at 366.1km/h (according to the article). Cannot wait for Mexico ! These V6’s should certainly cross the 370 mark ! Excited !!!

    6. If the GP2 race is anything to go by, it will be overtaking, crashing and mistakes galore. Unfortunately, GP2 races rarely signify good F1 races.

    7. Serious question, guys.

      I’ve heard the commentator during the GP2 race yesterday identifying the white line at the apex of Turn 20 as the first safety car line. Is that correct?

      I believe that’s the DRS detection point. There was a white line later on before which the leading GP2 driver at the time actually restarted. (It was the last restart.) But that had ‘DRS’ boards written over bollards at the sides so that could not have been it either. Is it so that neither was the safety car line and that is actually much further down the road?

      Could be crucial for the race; it should not be like elsewhere, it should be much more like a NASCAR- or IndyCar-style restart here due to that long straight.

      (In actual fact, isn’t the first safety car line the white line across the track where the pit entry white line begins and the second safety car line the white line across the track where the pit exit white line ends?)


      1. petebaldwin (@)
        18th June 2016, 23:19

        Usually the leader can floor it around a corner so it’s easy to get a lead but the straight is so long that the driver in 2nd can get right up behind. It’s going to be chaos tomorrow!

        1. @petebaldwin But if the leader delays his restart right until the last meters before the first safety car line, there is much less straight to defend until Turn 1 arrives. That’s why I inquired about where that line exactly is…

    8. My body is ready.

      1. Haha. :)

    9. I haven’t been so excited, nervous and tense before a race for ……well I can’t remember. This track is exactly what us fans have been banging on about wanting. Bravery rewarded, mistakes punished. Well done fia. Today would be exceptional if there was no DRS.

    10. This is how i see the race planning out:

      – Vettel has a lightning start and jumps into the lead.

      Likely Order after Lap 1:
      – Vet, Ric, Ros, Per and Ham (6th)

      Between Laps 12 to 18:
      – Kvyat becomes over optimistic and crashes out. Safety Car! Safety Car!
      – Perez pits under the safety car and puts on the super softs (and pushes!!)

      – Perez flies through the field upto 6th or 7th
      – Force India use pit strategy well and get him upto 3rd

      Post Pit Window:
      – Now on much fresher tyres and in third, Perez overtakes Ricciardo for 2nd, while lewis hamilton finishes fourth.

      Predicted Results:
      Vettel, Perez, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Rosberg

    11. I think that we’ ll have a very early Safety Car which will give HAM the opportunity to gain some places. Most likely he will end up on 1st position and then he’ ll get another Driver Of The Weekend here, another non deserved one. Just like Monaco which is fresh yet. I am not a ROS fan, I think he shouldn’t be in a top team because he does not deserve it and there are much better drivers out there who should have been in his place on Mercedes like PER or HUL. I don’t have anything against HAM, actually he is -alongside with PER- the only ones on the grid to remind me of Senna on some of their moves, but what’s going on here with HAM is annoying and outrageous. But I guess it’s due to being a British site. Thank god I was not aware of the existence of this site back in 2009, when the biggest Formula 1 joke of all time took place, Button’s championship. But I have to admit miracles happen. Just like Leicester this year.

    Comments are closed.