Photo credit: Codemasters (F1 2017 developers)
Let me start off by saying this - I am not a professional sim racer, nor did I even attempt to qualify for the F1 eSports Series. This is simply a fun exercise in trying out F1 cars from years past, and driving around a modern day circuit. Now that I've got that out of the way, let's begin...
The Baku City Circuit is one of the newest (and most exciting) tracks on the F1 calendar. First hosting an F1 race back in 2016, Baku has seen a lot of drama - from Hamilton and Vettel clashing under safety car last year, to the two Red Bull drivers taking each other out in this year's round. The circuit is the fastest of its kind anywhere in the world, and with its unique look and feel (especially the sequence from Turn 8 to Turn 10, which caught a lot of drivers out), I thought it would be a good idea to challenge the F1 cars of yesteryear by hot lapping them around Baku, and seeing what sort of lap time they come out with.
FIRST UP - THE MCLAREN MP4-13 (1998)
As far as championship-winning cars go, they don't come much better than this beauty. Prior to his championship win, Mika Hakkinen was always unlucky in the sport. Despite possessing natural talent, he had never quite found any sort of success in F1 up until 1998. After recovering from a near fatal crash during practice for the 1995 Australian Grand Prix, Hakkinen took his long awaited first race win at the 1997 European Grand Prix.
1998 was the year that changed everything for the Flying Finn and the McLaren team. With the new sporting regulations requiring the cars to be narrower and running on grooved tyres (for safety reasons), Adrian Newey designed an unbeatable machine known as the MP4-13. In its first outing at the 1998 Australian Grand Prix, Hakkinen took the race victory in a performance that left everyone else - apart from teammate David Coulthard - a lap down. Coupled with a powerful Mercedes V10 engine, the aerodynamical advantage the MP4-13 had over the rest of the field meant that on high-speed tracks such as the old Hockenheim and Silverstone, the MP4-13 was untouchable. Despite Ferrari gradually closing the gap throughout the 1998 season, it was too little too late to stop Mika Hakkinen winning the Drivers Championship, and McLaren winning their first Constructors Championship since 1991.
THE LAP ITSELF
Straight away I knew navigating this circuit in the MP4-13 in one piece would be quite a challenge. On the high speed straights, the car was absolutely fine - but during the corners and chicanes it was a nightmare to handle. Having researched the car and its qualities, its handling was its weakest point - especially on technical circuits which rely more on precision through the corners rather than full throttle.
Approaching the start/finish straight, the car was already doing 200 mph. As soon as I crossed the start line, I immediately braked into the 90 degree left hander of Turn 1 - and after a short respite, did the exact same for Turn 2. Going into the straight preceding Turn 3, I realised that what the MP4-13 lacked in cornering efficiency - it made up for in straight line speed. After tackling the clockwise Turn 4, it was onto a short straight before Turns 5 and 6, where the car seemed to really struggle through the linked corners. Still, so far so good.
This is where things started to get a little hairy. After only just getting through Turn 7, up next was the chicane that Jolyon Palmer still has nightmares about. I lucky to make it out of the Turn 8 and 9 chicane, which closes in on itself so rapidly you barely have time to think about whether or not you're gonna end up in the wall - so I was extremely cautious through there, and lost a lot of time as a result. That is followed by yet another quick left-to-right sequence, which highlighted the sub-par handling of the MP4-13. After that experience, the track becomes some what of a rollercoaster ride, resembling the world-famous Turn 8 at Istanbul Park Circuit in Turkey. It's full throttle ahead until a left hander at Turn 15, which narrows in on itself - getting me very close to the right-hand wall upon turning in. After another short straight, the circuit opens during Turn 16 - where I drive over what feels like tram tracks. I'm not in Blackpool, am I?
Sector 3 consists of a full throttle Senna/Schumacher S curve in Turns 17 & 18, before powering through Turn 19 onto the long start/finish straight to post a lap time of 1:51:827. Not the best, but an okay effort from a car which isn't really suited to a street circuit such as Baku.
Bloody hell, that was intense. Whilst completing the lap, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time navigating the twists and turns that Baku brings to the F1 calendar. Despite its reputation amongst F1 fans, I really enjoyed the circuit - even though the MP4-13 wasn't really at home on it. Which is a shame really, as a machine of this quality shouldn't be struggling to complete a lap on such a ridiculously fast street circuit. It was fun nevertheless.
YOUR OPINIONS PLEASE
Did you like my attempt at this challenge? Could you do it better? Am I terrible at this game? Let me know in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading - and I'll see ya later...