Start, Baku City Circuit, 2019

Paddock Diary: Azerbaijan Grand Prix day four

2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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The final instalment of the Baku Paddock Diary includes the latest rumours on the 2020 F1 calendar, the 2021 rules – and the nail-biting conclusion to the saga of @DieterRencken’s lost luggage.


I wake up wondering whether my luggage has at last beaten Aeroflot’s best efforts to lose it. I get up and begin preparing for race day.

Over coffee I mull the prospects for today’s race: Mercedes or Ferrari; maybe Max Verstappen? The on-track madness on Saturday – in both the F2 race and F1 qualifying – suggests another unpredictable Azerbaijan Grand Prix as per the 2017 and 2018 editions. But Baku’s inaugural 2016 race, known as the European Grand Prix for political and commercial reasons, was positively soporific.


Head for circuit by taxi – the five-kilometre journey takes around 45 minutes due to early(ish) hour, then I catch up in the Media Centre over breakfast: pastries and fruit.

My travel plans are complicated by a change of schedule: rather than head for home in Belgium early on Monday as planned, I’m going go to South Africa via Dubai from Baku, having been invited to the annual FIA Conference, this year held in Sun City. After a little business and catch up with family and friends, I’ll head to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Thus, my luggage contains gear for four separate happenings: Baku, Conference, leisure, Spain, and hence my growing desperation to locate it.


Consider shopping for (another) change of clothing at the Mall across the track while I still have a gap in my programme: Will the bag arrive, and make the purchases superfluous; if not, I don’t have time for shopping after arrival in SA. I play it safe, and shop for essentials.

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Return to Wifi range in the Media Centre. Massive relief: Whatsapp message from Sochi race promoter Sergey Vorobeyev, who has roped in heavies at SMP Racing to put pressure on Aeroflot to locate my bag. It’s in Baku and will be delivered shortly. I decide not to tempt fate and taxi it to the airport.

There it is! Massive relief washes over: I check the contents – all in order, nothing broken / missing. Thanks for all your help Sergey and SMP Racing, muchly appreciated!

On the way back I spy Esteban Ocon caps on display at a merchandising tent. He would surely be forgiven if he was the only Mercedes employee not ecstatic at the sight of Valtteri Bottas leading the team’s cars on the front row of the grid. Hopefully a return for him somewhere on the grid in 2020 is still on the cards.


Back at the circuit I take a wander. Team bosses had customary coffee with Liberty bosses on Saturday, with main topics of conversation being progress towards 2021 and the race calendar, more specifically Zandvoort and Kyalami.

The 2021 rules remain a major point of discussion. The deadline for a deal is June 30th, but, of course, the sport is nowhere near ready, the teams, FOM and FIA still debating the finer points of the rules. As a result, some teams requested a six-month delay. This, however, requires unanimity – akin to herding cats. A compromise of 31 October was proposed by Red Bull’s Christian Horner, but that still requires all teams to agree.

Regarding the Dutch Grand Prix – despite ‘scoops’ in various outlets that a deal is done, my info is that’s not the case: all main points have been agreed, but pens have not been put to paper pending financial guarantees. Kyalami is on ice until after next week’s national elections, so I should know more by the Spanish Grand Prix, whose contract expires this year. I’m told the latter’s renewal prospects are not looking good…

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Start, F2 sprint race, Baku, 2019I watch an incident-packed F2 race over lunch: turkey breast sandwiches with lettuce and lemon mayo, followed by mousse. Still, I can’t resist a walk down to the far end of the paddock to cadge a Magnum at Williams.

I’m delighted for the team that its third driver and tester Nicholas Latifi wins the carnage-filled F2 race to extend his championship points lead – some good news for the beleaguered team on an otherwise horrible weekend.


Start readying for the race. Hear rumours about an Alfa Romeo disqualification over technical breach, so await news. Eventually it filters through: Kimi Raikkonen’s car is in breach of wing deflection regulations, meaning he joins Robert Kubica and Pierre Gasly in starting from the pit lane.


Hit the grid – may favourite part of the weekend. I am incredibly privileged to be a part – albeit a very small one – of this sport.


Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2019Interview trail, first in the so-called ‘mix zone’, where all drivers pass through post-race: Max Verstappen is extremely good value as he talks us through his race, and Raikkonen is more talkative than usual having salvaged a point from the pits. Then it’s team boss time: Toto Wolff and Christian Horner.

Wolff reckons, with some justification, that chaotic F2 races tend to instil caution in F1 drivers, and hence Sunday’s sleeper of race without even a full Safety Car intervention.

The Mercedes pair are next up: Hamilton is clearly unhappy at having been beaten by his team-mate, but accepts that he wins some and loses some. Bottas, though, has this air of man who knows he delivered of his best today, and is quietly savouring his title lead, however slender.


Ferrari group interview, although Sebastian Vettel is absent after flying out post-race, leaving Charles Leclerc and Mattia Binotto to face the media. I’m impressed with the way Leclerc handles questions about his qualifying misjudgement, which probably cost him pole, and arguably the victory.


Head for hotel, with suitcase. My flight out is at 3:30pm Monday, so I’ll have time to catch up on race stuff before heading for my original home country and an FIA Conference that is sure to prove most enlightening. Will keep you posted from there. Take care until Spain.

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2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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8 comments on “Paddock Diary: Azerbaijan Grand Prix day four”

  1. LOL at ‘Luggasm’ :)

  2. Look on the bright side – you now have some un-expected nice new outfits! ;)

  3. The renewal prospects of the Spanish GP or more precisely the Circuit de Catalunya not looking good. I have this whole time been relatively positive that this venue would remain in F1 beyond this season, but after reading that part of the paragraph, I’ve started to become a bit more skeptic about it not that I’d be too sad given that this venue has never really been a favorite of mine.

    ”Wolff reckons, with some justification, that chaotic F2 races tend to instil caution in F1 drivers, and hence Sunday’s sleeper of race without even a full Safety Car intervention.”
    – That was pretty much the case in year one as well. The F2 (then GP2) race(s) were somewhat chaotic back then as well with the main event of the weekend, the F1 race being relatively straightforward, so a sense of Deja Vu.

    1. Good pickup @jerejj I think you’re spot on about the F2 race in 2016.

      I wonder if the Spanish circuit doesn’t renew (or get renewed) whether pre season testing will be moved from that circuit as well either by the circuit refusing it or F1 choosing to punish them.

      1. @dbradock That could happen in that scenario as well although just because a circuit doesn’t host an F1 race doesn’t mean it couldn’t host pre-season testing. Circuito de Jerez is, of course, the most recent non-race venue to host pre-season testing back in 2015, and the permanent track in Valencia has also done so most recently in the early years of this decade.

        1. @jerejj, you could also note that Paul Ricard has been occasionally used in the past before it was added to the calendar (albeit mainly for wet tyre testing given it is possible to artificially wet the circuit).

          I imagine that the teams would prefer to use a venue in Southern Europe given that the weather conditions in February and March, which is when the pre-season tests have taken place in recent years, are more favourable than in Northern Europe.

          The Circuit de Catalunya has been, for many, a good compromise venue – close enough to the home bases of most teams for transport costs to be reasonable, reasonable weather conditions for that time of year (maybe a bit on the cool side, but still generally warm enough), offers a decent balance of corner types and is a good test of whether the car has a reasonably neutral handling balance (whereas Bahrain, which has sometimes been suggested and occasionally used as an alternative, is less useful as it is an unusually rear traction limited circuit) and is a venue where the teams have a lot of historical data they can reference back to.

          I believe that the tarmac texture is also more similar to that of most circuits than Jerez – I believe one reason why the teams moved away from that in the end was because the surface is unusually abrasive and therefore unrepresentative of most venues. Bahrain has a similar issue – I think it is the most abrasive track surfaces on the calendar – which is another reason why that venue is less favoured as a test venue these days.

          Therefore, even if the Circuit de Catalunya was removed from the calendar, I suspect that the teams would probably still continue to use it as a test venue, at least in the short term.

          1. jere you loved modern circiuts baku is boring like chin bahrein, barcelona is classic circiut

  4. Glad you got your bag back! There’s nothing more stressful than a missing bag when you are in another country. It just puts a whole damper on your trip, but you made the best of it and got the job done, well done.

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