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F1 is back in Azerbaijan this weekend, as the series makes its yearly trip the exciting Baku City Circuit. Here is everything you need to know about the at times twisty, at times insanely fast street circuit.
Aside from some occasional adjustments, the circuit layout has remained largely unchanged from its original design in 2016. For 2023, drivers will be greeted by the same layout they raced on in 2022. What does the highly challenging street circuit will throw the drivers’ way this time around?
Azerbaijan GP Layout: A Bit of Everything
What would go on to become the current Baku City Circuit was unveiled in 2012. Originally named the Baku City Challenge, the street track hosted a non-championship round of the now-defunct FIA GT Series.
The layout was significantly different – and shorter – compared to the current one. Baku was infamous for its tight and narrow sections, which often invited multicar crashes and lengthy Safety Car interventions.
The Baku City Challenge circuit saw three different layouts in three years. It hosted the track’s final GT3 race in 2014. Shortly after that, Azerbaijan announced it would host an F1 Grand Prix in 2016.
In the Azerbaijan’s GP first edition, the street circuit, which was only 3.9 km-long in the Baku City Challenge’s final layout, was extended to 6.003 km.
The Baku City Circuit retained some of the tight corners from its predecessor – most notably the infamously narrow castle section (turns 8-12), which is only 7.6 meters wide.
But the new track also featured some significant changes. Without a doubt, the main straight is what immediately catches the fans’ attention.
At 2.02 km, Baku has the longest straight in the F1 schedule – and one of the longest in the history of the series. The straight is also a bit of a challenge for the engineers.
Setting up an F1 car for Baku is incredibly tricky: while the second sector is your classic, twisty and tight street circuit section, the long straight in sector 3 makes it one of the fastest sections in F1. Teams usually must go one way or the other. Some drivers prefer to sacrifice sector 3, going with a high downforce setup. Other drivers prefer to do the opposite, running a low downforce setup to maximize overtaking opportunities down the long straight.
Baku City Circuit DRS Zones: Two Zones, Plenty of Overtaking Opportunities
Compared to other tracks, Baku doesn’t offer drivers too many chances to use the DRS. With no DRS spots in the tight infield section, Baku’s only DRS zones are located on the track’s two straights.
The first DRS detection zone is located on the braking to turn 2. Drivers have the first chance to use the overtaking assist system heading down the straight leading into turn 3. With this, it’s possible to set up an overtake into a heavy braking zone.
But while the first DRS zone does create some overtaking opportunities , it’s in the second zone that the magic usually happens. The second DRS detection zone is located on the exit of turn 20 – a quick flick to the left just before the main straight.
For 2023, the FIA decided to push the second DRS detection point a bit forward, which in turn will shorten the DRS zone as well. There is a logical explanation: the overtaking assist creates too much of an advantage for the chasing driver, making the leading car a sitting duck. While the ground effect regulations don’t generate as much slipstream, they do allow the trailing car to follow the car ahead much closer through turns 18 and 19. In other words, even without a strong tow from the car ahead, the trailing car still holds a massive advantage.
Since Baku doesn’t offer a lot of overtaking opportunities throughout the lap, staying within the 1-second DRS range will prove even more pivotal.
The Baku City Circuit is an FIA Grade 1 track with capacity for 18,500 fans. It offers fans a chance to see some of Baku’s famous landmarks, such as the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, the Maiden Tower and the Government House.
Baku City Circuit Racing History
Baku made its F1 debut as the home of the European Grand Prix. The following year, the race was rebranded into the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and has retained its host country’s name ever since.
Baku’s first F1 Grand Prix was a rather interesting one, as the two Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton ran into an electrical glitch early on. There was some extra spice, as the controversial 2016 regulations forbade teams from helping their drivers on the radio, forcing Rosberg and Hamilton to sort out the issues on their own. In the end, Mercedes survived the scar and scored a 1-2, with the eventual champion Rosberg leading the way.
In 2017, the first ever Azerbaijan Grand Prix produced one of the craziest races of the season. With red flags, Safety Car interventions and plenty of drama, Daniel Ricciardo scored an unexpected win, stealing the spotlight from Hamilton and Vettel. The two championship rivals had a run in, which resulted in a drive through penalty for Vettel as the then-Ferrari driver infamously rammed his car into Hamilton under the SC. Hamilton, who looked set to win the race, then had to stop as his headrest came loose, opening the door for Ricciardo’s win. And in the run to the checkered, Valtteri Bottas overtook first-time podium finisher Lance Stroll for second.
The 2021 race was relatively uneventful until the final three laps, when long-time race leader Max Verstappen retired with a flat tyre and triggered a red flag. On the restart, Hamilton made a mistake and messed up the brake bias setting on his Mercedes, locking up and throwing away a potential win. Sergio Perez survided the late chaos to score his first win with Red Bull.
What Lies Ahead for 2023
Red Bull controlled the race in 2022, taking advantage of the RB18’s speed advantage through the final sector. Given how dominant the Austrian team and its RB19 have been this year, it’s difficult to imagine a different result. Baku’s long straights will probably be a happy hunting ground for Red Bull yet again.
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