Azerbaijan GP form guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the race in Baku
THE KEY STATS AND FACTS YOU NEED BEFORE THIS WEEKEND'S RACE
The 2018 F1 season keeps getting better! Somehow the fantastic race we saw in Bahrain was trumped at the last outing in China by an absolutely cracking grand prix. We now move on to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan for the fourth race of the season.
This will be the third race at the Baku street circuit though only the second Azerbaijan GP as the 2016 race was officially known as the European GP.
The 2017 race was a thriller (as you can see from our RaceMap below!). And last year’s winner? The smiling assassin Daniel Ricciardo. Can the Aussie deliver back to back wins or can Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes regain the upper hand?
Buckle up, its race week again and below is all you need to know ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
WHAT HAPPENED HERE LAST YEAR?
The 2017 Baku RaceMap tells the story of an amazing drivers’ podium. After crashing in qualifying and starting the race in 10th position Ricciardo pitted on lap six dropping to 17th place. After the race was red flagged the Australian fought back to take the win. In so doing he set the record for the lowest starting grid slot of a winner in the hybrid era.
Valtteri Bottas had an equally exciting race having collided with Raikkonen on lap one and pitting with a puncture putting him a full lap down on the leaders. He went on to finish second after passing Lance Stroll on the last lap.
Bottas secured second after passing Lance Stroll on the line (Pic: Sutton)
Stroll himself had an impressive race after first out-qualifying his experienced team mate Felipe Massa and going on to finish third. With Stroll and Ricciardo both “enjoying” a shoey on the podium it was a fitting end to an amazing race.
The race also upped the ante in the battle for the title. Seb Vettel intentionally drove into Lewis Hamilton behind the safety car after the German thought the Brit had “brake-tested” him. Expect another close challenge between the title favorites in 2018!
The graphic below shows the podium places achieved in Azerbaijan from the current F1 drivers.
Of the six podium places achieved in total from the two races held so far there is only one name missing from the list below – Nico Rosberg won the race in 2016 before going on to win the Championship that year.
The top two current title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel hold the records in Baku for qualifying and race laps respectively.
In 2016 Nico Rosberg did a 1:42:520 in qualifying with his fastest lap coming in Q2 – he went on to take pole in Q3.
The speed of the current spec cars is clear with Hamilton’s 2017 pole lap nearly two seconds faster than the year before. With dry conditions expect a further increase in lap times this year.
Perez is a qualifying master in Baku
The standout result from two years of qualifying in Azerbaijan is Sergio Perez who qualified second in 2016 and sixth in 2017. This gives Checo a favourable seven place qualifying track bias.
Baku specialist Sergio Perez (Pic: Sutton)
Lance Stroll has also qualified well here with eighth position in both races giving him a 7.2 place quali bias versus his career average.
Bear in mind that with only two races having been held at Baku the sample size is small. The stats should therefore be treated with some caution.
HOW IMPORTANT IS QUALIFYING?
There is perhaps not too much to draw from the chart below given limited data although it does highlight Ricciardo’s stunning win last year versus historical averages from all circuits.
There is opportunity for result upsets at this track as third place podiums for Stroll and Perez highlight. Will we see similar dynamics play out this year following on from the dramatic events of the previous race in China? Team strategy will no doubt play an important role once again.
As with qualifying, Stroll and Perez take the top spots with regard to track bias. Given Williams’ struggles so far this season they will be hoping the young Canadian can conjure up more opportunities this year at this unique street circuit.
What is Baku like for overtaking?
There may have only been two races so far at the Baku street circuit but they’ve been eventful ones. The overtakes chart certainly bears this out with significantly higher levels of overtaking than the average for all tracks.
There were over 50% more overtakes in Baku than the season average in 2016 (which was itself a good year for overtakes) and more than double the season average in 2017.
Coming off the back of two outstanding races in Bahrain and China and with the battle heating up for both the Championship itself and for midfield bragging rights we can expect some more on-track fireworks this year in Azerbaijan.
What about pitstops?
Last year’s race in Azerbaijan was far from conventional. Seven cars completed three pitstops, eight cars completed four stops and two cars completed five stops. It therefore offers little in the way of a template for this year’s baseline pitstop strategy.
With three safety car deployments and a period of over 20 minutes under red flags there was no shortage of challenges for the strategists last year. Given last year’s race in Baku in addition to the dramatic safety-car-affected race in China last time out the team strategists will definitely be sharpening their pencils ahead of this week’s race.
Can Red Bull’s strategy sleuths back up their fine performance in China and help steer Ricciardo to a second victory in Azerbaijan?
70% of drivers finished last years race making it equal third for the highest number of retirements of the season. There may actually have been more retirements had the red flags not given pit crews a chance to work on damaged cars and get them back out on track.
The red flag was out last year (Pic: Sutton)
As Daniel Ricciardo recently highlighted one of the hardest things about this circuit is braking. There are several hard braking and extremely unforgiving corners which offer plenty of opportunities for driver error.
TRACK SPEED AND CORNERS
Azerbaijan was the second slowest circuit on the calendar last year with an average speed for the winning driver of 148.2 km/h. This stat is a little misleading though given the highly disrupted race. In fact in 2016 qualifying Valtteri Bottas reached the highest ever recorded speed in an official Formula One session, at 378 km/h.
There are 20 corners on the circuit putting it equal third highest for total corners.
With both high top speeds and and many corners there are opportunities at both ends of spectrum for the teams to evaluate different aero balances.
What to look out for this weekend
With arguably the best chassis on the grid and with Renault providing more power the mix of tight corners and long straight may provide a good opportunity for the Red Bulls.
Will Daniel Ricciardo make it a double in Baku this weekend? (Pic: Sutton)
With a storming race in China and having won last years race in Baku Dan Ricciardo will be full of confidence.
Can Max Verstappen have a clean race and make better use of his and his car’s speed?
Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean have traditionally been nearly impossible to split…until now. After the first three races of the season KMag has taken a handy 5:1 lead over RoGro in their head-to-head battle. Can the Frenchman turn the tables in Baku and close up on his teammate?
With only nine points separating Vettel and Hamilton at the top of the Championship it’s a vital race for both. Can Lewis win his first race of the season and tighten up the title fight further?
Who do you think will win the 2018 Azerbaijan GP?