Baku - A race without a defending champion on the grid; a city lacking in motor racing pedigree and a layout that fails to inspire.
This season, Formula 1 heads to the Azerbaijan capital of Baku for the European Grand Prix, hoping for an improved race – but not honestly expecting much.
The Baku street circuit is a mix of old and new. Ancient walls line parts of the route, and while the track closes to just 7.6m at its narrowest point, unforgiving of even the smallest mistake, huge run-off in other areas means errors are absolved.
Hitting speeds of 370km/h down the boulevards, running flat out for 65% of the lap, but slowing to 80km/h for the corners, Baku is hard on engines and even harder on the brakes.
It is a race, at least on paper, that suits the Mercedes W08 and Lewis Hamilton.
Arriving in Azerbaijan after a phenomenal weekend in Montreal, in which he closed the gap between himself and Sebastian Vettel to 12 points in the race for the world title, Hamilton will be looking to banish last year’s Baku demons.
A crash in Q3 and an engine issue throughout the 51-lap race meant the Brit was not able to recover.
He finished fifth, while Nico Rosberg romped to victory with another 25 points in a campaign that would ultimately see the German win the world title.
This season, Hamilton is up against another German in Vettel and it is proving to be just as closely contested, but without the mind games and bickering.
While momentum after Canada is with Hamilton, Vettel can draw some solace from his runner-up result during his previous race in Baku, a result that was achieved in an under-performing Ferrari – and this year’s SF70H is a much-improved beast.
Joining Rosberg and Vettel on the podium last year was Sergio Pérez, who is again chasing “big points”. However, rather than race finishing position, the attention on Force India relates to team orders after Pérez’s refusal to move over for Esteban Ocon in Canada cost them a possible podium spot.
Still sitting on fence
Force India have said they will review their policy, but when a possible top-three showing is within reach, will anyone listen?
Red Bull, still without a win for this season, are expecting another trying weekend at Baku.
But with their last difficult race having taken place in Canada, the prospect of Daniel Ricciardo taking to the podium today means that “difficult” is a relative term.
However, one team genuinely expecting disaster at the European Grand Prix is McLaren. But that’s become the norm.
Lacking in power, reliability and faith in Honda, another point-less showing may yet tip any McLaren executives still sitting on the fence to the Honda-must-go side. – TEAMtalk Media