Clip The Apex
F1's whistle stop tour of countries with small F1 fan bases and dodgy human rights comes to Azerbaijan in the last week of April for a race round the 'historic' city streets of Baku. You can tell it's 'historic' because there is a castle and everything. It's fair to say that when this Grand Prix was first put on the calendar it was universally hated. Firstly it was yet another street circuit, secondly it called itself the European Grand Prix when Azerbijan is not in Europe, and thirdly it was set up to clash with the 24 hour race at Le Mans. Frankly it was the worst PR campaign since someone said "hey Mr Millerband let's get a picture of you eating that bacon sandwich" - however a few years in and something has changed. It turns out that the circuit lay out generates interesting races and now, for the first time, the majority of the F1 fan base are looking forward to coming back here.
So why does the layout create good racing? Well basically it's two circuits in one with a tight twisty technical section and a silly long blast down it straight. Modern F1 cars struggle to set up for both meaning teams have to try and strike a balance which leads to some getting it spot on and some very wrong. The straight is so long that it brings old fashioned drafting and slipstream back into play. This means you can do this thing called overtaking which is an old fashioned concept in F1 but a good one. The other reason it creates good racing is there is very little run off area and, as modern F1 drivers seen incapable of colouring between the lines, this leads to accident, which in turn leads to bunched up racing and mixed up positions.
This will only be the 4th running of the race but already the track has many memorable moments. The Force India's playing demolition derby with each other. The early FINNish (Kimi and Bottas collide). Vettel's moment of road rage. Bottas getting Lance Stroll on the line for 2nd. The Red Bulls taking each other out. Lewis having loose straps. Bottas last lap puncture. Vettel's lunge for the lead. When you list it like that you realise how much has happened here in only a few races. Let's hope for another classic. God knows F1 needs it right now after the snorefest of China and ever falling viewing figures.
A quick look at the form book and you'd have to be brave to bet against Mercedes. Closer inspection shows that Bottas has always been good round here and might be worth a punt. Bottas has impressed me this season so far. It's very hard to impress when your team mate is Lewis Hamilton but there seems more fire in him. Taking a look over at the red side of the grid you would think the grunt of the Ferrari's engine would give them a distinct advantage with the long straight in Baku but let's not underestimate Ferrari's capacity for self destruction. I'm sure they will try drafting in quali and I'm sure they will mess it up. I'm fascinated to see how the Red Bull goes this weekend as the Honda engine now does seem capable of being respectable in power situation. With the potential for a mixed up race you would think Red Bull would be all over this one, however street circuits do not tend to be Verstappen's speciality as he tends to hit things (or cars). I also fully expect to see some exploding Renault engines this weekend - although if we get into proper mixed up race territory then keep your eye on Danny Ric. Your dark horse from the midfield? This is Giovanazzi'' favourite track and he has gone very well here in other formula.
For your amusement here is your Azerbaijan bingo card. Tick them off as and when they happen and see if you can get a full house:
- The word 'historic' will be utter at least 5 times when discussing the city in commentary
- It's just like Macau will be uttered every twenty mins.
- at least one team will try drafting in qualifying
- at least one team will mess up drafting in qualifying
- one of the commentators will tell us how beautiful the city is and how we should all come visit
- Verstappen will hit something or someone
- Perez will hit something or someone (bonus if it's his team mate)
- at least two punctures
- at least 3 safety cars
- at least 4 mentions of Vettel's road rage incident
- Toto Wolff telling us how they love circuits like this because it creates mixed up racing whilst simultaneously looking like he can't stand the place.
In my time in F1 I've never witnessed a driver have so many spins in similar circumstances in such a short space of time. Now 99.9% of us understand that, whether we like him or not, Sebastian Vettel is a top class driver so why on earth does this keep happening to him?
Many things have been suggested with the latest being an 'aero hole' that effects the Ferrari more then others when there are other cars alongside. This would explain why Vettel has gone round in a spin in some very odd ways. For instance the one in Brazil he appeared to go round a different way to what you would expect.
I would have gone along with that one if it hadn't been happening so frequently and only to Sebastian. Could it be that Vettel is either making errors in anger or, worse, 'cracking' under pressure? He managed to wreck his tyres do badly in Bahrain yesterday that it ripped his wing off - I can't even remember the last time I saw that happen from a simple spin with no collision.
It's all very much speculation as we all know neither Vettel nor Ferrari will reveal to us what the real answer is so we'll never know. Therefore I thought I'd put it out there to CTA to see what all our views are. Please see the options given and feel free to make an argument for what you vote- also you can change your vote if someone wins you over.