Formula One is back on the streets of Baku this weekend for round six of the 2021 world championship, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The race was absent on the calendar last year due to Covid-19 disruptions, but it's back now and set to be a scorcher with Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen out to defend his position at the top of the championship points ladder for the first time. The Dutch youngster overtook Mercedes-Benz AMG's Lewis Hamilton at the previous round in Monaco following a brilliant drive.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is held at Baku City Circuit, a Hermann Tilke-designed street circuit that stretches 3.73 miles and features the key characteristics of a long 1.3-mile straight and a long pit lining the edge of the Caspian Sea. It also has one of the highest braking energy levels of any F1 track, with eight braking zones registering over 2 g.
Baku has been described by drivers in the past as having the complexity of Monaco with the speed of Monza. While this isn’t entirely accurate, it gives a good insight into the nature of the fastest and longest street circuit on the calendar.
Baku City Circuit, home of the Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Downforce levels are the second-lowest of the year, after the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, but Baku has no high-speed corners to put energy through the tires. The challenge for teams is to shave off as much downforce as possible, while ensuring the tires are worked hard enough to remain at optimal temperatures.
Pirelli has nominated its softer C3, C4 and C5 tires for the race. The winning strategy last time was a one-stop soft-medium, which was used by the top four finishers. Looking at the weather forecast, we should be in for fine, albeit partially cloudy, conditions throughout the weekend.
After the first practice session on Friday, Verstappen posted the fastest time followed closely by Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
Going into Saturday's qualifying session and Sunday's race, Verstappen leads the 2021 Drivers' Championship with 105 points. Hamilton is second with 101 points and McLaren's Lando Norris is third with 56 points. In the Constructors' Championship, Red Bull leads with 149 points, followed by Mercedes with 148 points and McLaren with 80. The 2019 winner at Baku was Valtteri Bottas driving for Mercedes.