Lovely city; not sure about the circuit. Mind you, as compromises go, this one isn’t bad:street races are complicated to organise and expensive to sustain but at least when they’re over you still have the ancient castle and the elegant boulevards. It’s the dormant, Eu500m supercircuits – Turkey, India, Korea (with probably a few more to come) – that sit uncomfortably with our conscience; it’s their empty grandstands and decaying garage/paddock areas that spell the waste that in future years we must avoid.
Here are some thoughts from Baku, 2016. The Mercedes win reminded us of what F1 could be like if Toto and Paddy had opted a couple of years ago for an easy-to-manage Clear Number One situation – i.e., Nico plus – for example – Felipe Massa: we’d have had plenty of walkovers like this. It also gave us an Ayrton Senna-like mistake from Lewis Hamilton at the vortex of Q3. Baku isn’t Monaco – and nor is it Macau or even Singapore. Once you’re past the heavy braking and threading-the-needle, the circuit provides zero scope for creativity (beyond those old F1 cliches of “managing the tyres”, “harvesting the energy” and “saving the fuel”). There’s nowhere at Baku for a Lewis to use a slightly longer gear, to create a slightly flatter car. The corners are too slow and tight; you’re line-locked into conformation.
No excuses, though: a driver must cope with all conditions – just as Nico should have coped better with the wet at Monte-Carlo. Ferrari were a good second (if there is such a thing); and Sergio Perez was an excellent third in the Force India VJM09. Only Jenson Button (who also had a good day) is as good as Sergio out of slow corners – and traction, whilst looking after the rear tyres, were critical elements at Baku. The long Baku straight meanwhile brought a sudden halt to the recent rise and rise of Red Bull-Renault. Finally conceding rear wing, the RB12s consumed super-softs and softs for very quick breakfasts and lunches; it was only when they bolted on some (used) mediums for dinner that they were able to find any sort of performance. Quite why Williams didn’t do the same for the tyre-hungry Felipe Massa (who had a set of new mediums sitting in the garage) is a question we dare not ask (other than rhetorically).
It may also be that Baku will prove to be a pivotal race in the life of the 2016 radio restrictions. Whilst I have no problem with a ban on real-time “driver coaching” (I’m a Bruntingthorpe guy, through and through) I just don’t see the logic – from the drivers’ or fans’ perspective – in preventing the engineers from handling the complexities of the modern F1 steering wheel/laptop. Their pits-to-car banter is interesting stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing; and it has no bearing at all on whether a given competitor is a “racing driver”.