2018 Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Baku City Circuit – Preview


Two Red Bull cars drive past Baku's famous castle during the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

After a slow start to 2018 in Australia, Formula 1 rolls out of the second nail-biting race of the season and into the site of one of the most action-packed of the 2017 season. This weekend, Formula 1 heads to Baku.

What happened at the Chinese Grand Prix?

The Chinese Grand Prix was a race won by strategy, poise and experience.

The race got off to a reasonably slow start, seeing Valtteri Bottas overtake Kimi Raikkonen for second but not much else happen. The pit window came and went without much excitement too, save for Bottas jumping then-leader Sebastian Vettel. Then the two Red Bull Toro Rosso Hondas crashed.

Pierre Gasly, trying desperately to recreate the glory of his fourth-place finish just one race before, collided with the side of his team-mate Brendon Hartley. This caused ultimately race-ending damage to Hartley’s car, and left a trail of debris on the tricky turn fourteen hairpin. With bits of car around the turn, there was no option but to release the safety car.

Due to the timing of this incident, the safety car presented teams with an option – do they pit, lose track position but have fresher tyres, or stay out and take their chances at the restart? It was too late for Vettel and Bottas in, who had already gone past the pit lane entry when the car was released, but it was a split second decision for those behind. Max Verstappen in fourth came in. Lewis Hamilton in fifth stayed out. Daniel Ricciardo in sixth came in.

The debris was cleared, and the race restarted – crucially, with the fourth to sixth order of Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo.

Verstappen immediately went on the offensive, launching an ambitious overtake around the outside of four-time World Champion Hamilton on the fastest corner of the circuit. It didn’t pay off as the young Dutchman ran out wide, bounce off the circuit, and lose the place to his more experienced team-mate Ricciardo.

What ensued was a graphic display of how to ride the line between incredible, millimetre-perfect overtaking and stepping over the line into race-losing aggression. Ricciardo sliced and carved his way through the field on fresher tyres, easily disposing of Hamilton on his way to the top of the field and an emphatic win. Verstappen however, keen to atone for the mistake when attempting an overtake on Hamilton, found himself on the wrong side of the limit once again as he piled into the side of Sebastian Vettel at turn fourteen. This spun both cars, and eventually dropped Vettel to eighth and Verstappen to fifth, with a ten second penalty. Youthful exuberance had been beaten by experience and poise under pressure, and not for the first time.

What happened in the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a memorable race for a plethora of reasons. Deliberate contact between Vettel and Hamilton. Raikkonen screaming for a steering wheel. Lance Stroll on the podium. Who could forget?

The action came from the moment the race started. Daniil Kvyat, still employed by Toro Rosso, made a mistake at the first corner, running wide, and on his return scared then-team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. into a spin. Two corners later Bottas and Raikkonen collided, puncturing the former’s tyre, whilst Vettel used the opportunity to put himself in second and behind Hamilton.

Twelve laps in Verstappen retired, followed shortly by Kvyat, whose stranded car caused a safety car. With Kvyat’s car clear racing resumed but, shortly after, was paused again as more debris was cleared. It was this second safety car period where things really heated up…

Hamilton, dictating the pace behind the safety car, slowed as he exited turn fifteen. Vettel, not expecting the Brit to slow, drove into the back of him. Then he saw red.

Vettel drew level with Hamilton, gesticulated, then deliberately rammed the side of him, damaging his own rear wing in the process. Despite this act of Maldonado-esque aggression, Vettel was only handed a ten-second stop and go penalty. This would have put him firmly out of grasp of Hamilton, were it not for yet another twist of fate.

At the race restart both Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon made contact, leaving a trail of debris in their wake. Raikkonen, having been behind the two Sahara Force India F1 Team drivers, collected the debris and a puncture, and a red flag was thrown to clear debris.

This red flag period gave everyone time to work on their damaged cars, and led to Raikkonen’s famous steering wheel rant. With the debris cleared and the race ready to get back underway, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it would be a quiet finish – but you’d be wrong. The restart was as hectic with the race, as we saw Lewis Hamilton face an as-yet unrepeated issue – a loose headrest.

We were treated to the sight of Hamilton fighting to push his headrest back into place at 200mph, ultimately giving in and pulling into the pits – effectively giving up the win. Two laps later, Vettel served his penalty. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo took the lead.

The remainder of the race became a fight between Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton and Stroll, who had somehow found himself in second place.

Bottas was comfortably third, however wanted more. He spent the remainder of the race chasing down Stroll, using the long straights and Mercedes car to take chunks out the Canadian rookie. This fight came right down to the line, with the Finn taking second place by one tenth of a second. Will this year’s race be as exciting? We can hope!

What’s the schedule?

Friday 27th April

10:00 BST / 13:00 AZT – Practice One
14:00 BST / 17:00 AZT – Practice Two

Saturday 28th April

11:00 BST / 14:00 AZT – Practice Three
14:00 BST / 17:00 AZT – Qualifying

Sunday 29th April

13:10 BST / 16:10 AZT – Race

Where can I watch the Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

This is one of the ten Grand Prix that will actually be live on both Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1, meaning everyone with a TV will be able to watch it live. Streaming fans will be glad to hear that, whilst it’s not in time for this race, Formula 1’s streaming services F1 TV and F1 TV Access both launch next month, just in time for the Spanish Grand Prix.

How can I keep up with the action?

You’ll find updates from all sessions over the weekend here on The Checkered Flag, and on our Twitter @TheCheckerFlag

You can also follow Formula 1 on Instagram, on @F1.

Where is the circuit?

Baku City Circuit
93, Zarifa Aliyeva, Bakı, Azerbaijan