As we head to the all new destination of Azerbaijan for the 2016 European Grand Prix this weekend, a number of drivers drivers, whilst praising the uniqueness of the Baku City Circuit, have also questioned the lack of run-off areas and escape roads on a track that is considered to be the fastest ever street circuit seen in Formula One.
The pit lane entry is also a cause for contention amongst the drivers, with its current location situated so that cars will have to leave the track from a high speed straight, and then turn onto a tight chicane, before running down a further 100m straight, until they finally reach the white line that marks out the pit lane speed limit.
McLaren Honda F1 driver Jenson Button has spoken out in regards to the safety concerns amongst the paddock, stating that F1 appears to have gone “backwards”, in its design of the new circuit, which he also commented in general is a very good track. Speaking to motorsport.com he explained his views.
“It is like we have gone backwards in certain areas, I don’t know why, maybe the circuit was supposed to be the other way around…
“It is a shame because a lot of the circuit is good. You look at the condition of everything and it looks good.
“I do like the layout, I think it is exciting in some places but there are just some things that look like they need to be addressed.
“I am sure Charlie [Whiting] will say to me why didn’t you speak to me first, but I haven’t had the chance to do it and I can’t see them changing anything anyway.”
As a member of the GPDA, Button is always striving to improve safety for drivers and teams at all the circuits visited on the F1 calendar, and on arriving in Azerbaijan the Brit was baffled as to why safety has seemingly not been taken into consideration in some areas of the Baku track.
“What I don’t like is a few corners. We worked so hard on safety, improving circuits all the time, and then we come here and Turn 3, Turn 7 and Turn 14 don’t have any run-off at all.
“Turn 7 has got three Tecpro barriers and then a concrete barrier at the edge of the circuit. But there is not much you can really do as there is a building in the way. It is a shame really.
“Hopefully they have done their tests. Monaco has not got a lot of run-off, but this is a high speed street circuit. It is not like Monaco.”
Mercedes AMG PETRONAS driver Nico Rosberg also had doubts over the lack of safety features at the Azerbaijan circuit, which he relayed to motorsport.com.
“A little bit of a concern, yes, for sure, with those run-offs – two or three that are really not looking good.
“So, that’s not great and we need to see how it goes – there’s that corner, what is it, 14 or something, before going down the hill, where you’ve got a wall straight on. [And there’s] Turn 3 and then the pit entry as well.
“So that’s, yeah… not fantastic.”
The German was also in agreement that the pit lane entry could be trouble if drivers tried to make up time here, an area that they often do, which could then result in the possibility of a serious accident.
“There’s also a massive accident to be had. If you try and get a second, then you can have a big one.”
It is unlikely the FIA will actually be able to do anything to improve the areas of concern pointed out by Button and Rosberg, due to the tight confines of the street track, we will just have to hope that no one has a failure or accident, and that the driver’s fears are not realised.