2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Preview: Baku Battles

The latest arena for Formula 1’s heavyweight gladiators, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton to do battle is in Baku, for the inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Seven races in, and it is three wins apiece, with Vettel leading by 12 points in the title race, after off weekends for Hamilton in Russia and Monaco.

This title will not be won by capitalising on your on-days, but maximising what you can get when you hit trouble.

Vettel’s performance in Canada is a perfect example of this.

After Max Verstappen ran over his front-wing at the start, Vettel was forced to pit for a new one on the first racing lap after the safety car went in.

This was because Ferrari, and Vettel, didn’t know the wing was broken, until it was too late. He dropped back to last, but stormed through the field to take fourth, just six tenths shy of a remarkable podium.

Those sort of results will be the key to determining whether the Mercedes or Ferrari is the best steed, and Hamilton or Vettel the best gladiator.

What to look out for

Last year, under European GP pretence, although whether Azerbaijan is in Europe is questionable, the now retired Nico Rosberg dominated a rather dull event.

That is because the layout suited the Mercedes W07 package, while the others were left a long way back.

This year of course, things are different. On multiple occasions this season, qualifying has come down to hundredths and even thousandths between the Prancing Horse and Silver Arrows, so why should it be any different here?

After a mini civil war at Force India was averted after Sergio Perez refused to let team-mate Esteban Ocon through to attack third placed Daniel Ricciardo, the team should be fighting close once again this weekend near the top.

Perez was on the pace all weekend here last year, qualifying second on the grid, but starting seventh after a third practice crash induced a gearbox change.

The blast from Turn 16 to Turn 1 is the longest on the calendar and should suit all Mercedes and Ferrari powered cars, so things could get a little tasty.

Meanwhile, Sauber head into the weekend without a Team Principal after Monisha Kaltenborn left the company after allegedly falling out with the team owners.

The Track

The Baku City Circuit is technically a street circuit, and goes down as the fastest ever street circuit F1 has raced on.

The opening sector of the lap is largely 90 degree point and squirt corners, with a long straight.

Sector two heads off into the old part of the city, including Turn 8, by the castle, which is the narrowest section of track on the calendar, before multiple high-speed apexes brings you eventually back down to the third sector and the long blast, parallel to the Caspian Sea.

Looking back at the narrowest section of track on the F1 calendar, the Turn 8 Castle. (Image Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Looking back at the narrowest section of track on the F1 calendar, the Turn 8 Castle. (Image Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Where will overtakes happen?

The main place has to be on the main straight, which is a 1.4 mile drag along Neftchilar Avenue from Turn 16. Halfway down is the DRS activation point, so into Turn 1 is the prime spot.

The other DRS zone is on the exit of Turn 2, along the run to Turn 3. On the brakes into here is also an option, and the run-off ahead makes a mistakes easy to recover from, once you’ve turned it around.

Up the inside at Turn 7, the tight right is also a possibility before the narrow run through the old city.

Will it rain?

It is unlikely to rain at the time of writing, with a mini-heatwave expected to hit the Caspian Sea, with temperatures expected to be in the high 20 degree range.

What tyres are Pirelli bringing?

Pirelli have opted for the second softest range, with the super-soft, soft and medium tyres all being brought.

As always, they have also brought the Intermediate and Wet tyres.

When is it on?

The timings are one hour ahead of the familiar European timings.

First Practice gets underway at 10:00am UK time on Friday morning, while Qualifying and the race both get underway at 14:00pm UK time on Saturday and Sunday.

As ever, Sky Sports F1 will be showing live coverage of the entire weekend, while Channel 4 will also be live for freeview viewers.

Sky will also be showing coverage of the Formula 2 support races.

First Practice – Friday – 10:00am – 11:30am

Second Practice – Friday 14:00pm – 15:30pm

Third Practice – Saturday – 11:00am – 12:00pm

Qualifying – Saturday – 14:00pm – 15:00pm

Race – the 51 laps of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix get underway at 14:00pm on Sunday afternoon.

All times UK.