After the familiar territory of Montreal, F1 heads to the unchartered waters of Baku for the European Grand Prix, the eighth round of the 2016 Formula 1 season.
Baku is the latest addition to the Formula 1 calendar, taking the total to a record 21 races. The grand prix will take place in the centre of the metropolis, with skyscrapers and castles providing an ideal, yet differentiated backdrop.
Reception from drivers
The first impression from the drivers has been mixed-to-positive. While some drivers came out to praise the high-speed nature of the track, combined with some tight and twisty sections, others weren’t as impressed.
"It is the most challenging one. There is very little room for mistakes," said Force India’s Sergio Perez.
"If you do a mistake you are going to lose a couple of seconds, if not crash into the wall. It is like Monaco, but faster. It looks from the outside, from the laps I did, running the circuit, it looks very challenging,’’ he added.
"I don't really know what to say about it," Hamilton told Motorsport.com "It's just another new track. There's one very tight spot on it. It's got a very long straight. I don't really have a lot to say about it.”
"Monaco is the street circuit. And they don't make them like that. I don't why they don't, but why don't they just make street circuits like they used to? I don't understand,’’ he added.
At just over 6.0 km in length, Baku City Circuit is the second longest circuit on the F1 calendar. Drivers will spend 56% of the lap on full throttle, which means teams will be marginal on fuel.
Cars will reach speeds of up to 340 km/hr, making Baku the fastest F1 street circuit. There are two main straights, each with a DRS zone. Both zones share a single detection point which is located at turn 20.
While Baku is as wide as a purpose-built race track at some places, turns 8-11 are particularly tight and twisty, leaving little room for error. Any crash in this section is likely to lead to a safety car or a red flag intervention.
F1’s tyre supplier Pirelli has brought supersoft, soft and the medium compounds to Baku. Despite the race taking place on a street circuit, Pirelli has decided not to bring the ultrasoft rubber, the Italian firm having adopted a conservative strategy on an untested track.
Supersoft tyres have proved to be the preferred option for the teams, with Mercedes and Red Bull having selected eight sets of red-striped rubber for this weekend. Ferrari and Williams has chosen seven of them. None of the teams have selected more than two sets of medium compounds.
The pecking order
Over the last few races, both Red Bull and Ferrari have closed the gap to pacesetters Mercedes, having brought major upgrades to both chassis and engine.
And with Mercedes not bringing a major upgrades themselves until the British Grand Prix, expect those two outfits to sit on the tail of the silver cars.
Track temperatures - much hotter than in Montreal - and generating heat into the tyres will again play a critical role.
Qualifying will again prove crucial with the layout of the Baku circuit not appearing to be friendly.
by Rachit Thukral