History of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Formula 1
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Off the coast of the Caspian Sea lies the hidden gem of Baku City in Azerbaijan which was discovered by Formula 1 in 2016. The first race held here was the European Grand Prix and it proved worthy enough for Bernie Ecclestone to bring F1 back to Azerbaijan on a permanent basis the following year.
No longer hosting the European GP, it is now called after its country’s name. The temporary street circuit is one of the longest circuits and without a doubt one of the most difficult. The track challenges drivers with its narrow and unforgiving raceways that even the smallest of errors may mean your race ending crashing into a wall.
Despite the tight turns and narrow track areas, the circuit opens up into the final sector of the race where speed is king and overtaking using slipstreams is a common affair. Drivers will hit speeds over 350km/h when they cross the finish line.
Since its inception only five races have taken place and five different drivers have won. There are never any guarantees of who will win in Baku, but one thing is certain the action will never stop. The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is currently scheduled for the weekend of June 10th to 12. Here we will take a look at the history of the Grand Prix and who came out on top.
EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX
Formula 1 had eyed Baku City as a possible destination for Formula 1 in 2013 with CEO Bernie Ecclestone deciding to postpone the race until 2016. Azerbaijan’s audition was the European Grand Prix which wasn’t held since 2013 and prior to that was held in Valencia Spain. This race in Baku was also the last GP to be named the European Grand Prix, the following year the Azerbaijan GP was born.
BOTTAS NEARLY TAKES FLIGHT
In its first GP weekend, the Baku City Circuit shocked Formula 1 during qualifying when Valtteri Bottas, driving in a Williams, was able to push his car to 378km/h breaking the record set in Monza with a speed of 369km/h.
Germany’s Nico Rosberg was the first driver to claim pole position for Mercedes in Baku with Mexico’s Sergio Perez in second place driving for Force India and Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo in third for Red Bull.
On race day Nico Rosberg took off cleanly and had no issues maintaining the advantage pole position had given him. Most of the action took place behind Rosberg with drivers vying for a chance to step onto the podium. Perez was not so lucky losing two positions to the two Ferrari’s of Germany’s Sebastien Vettel and Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen. Ricciardo maintained his second spot, eventually losing the position during a pit stop to Vettel.
HAMILTONS CLAWS BACK UP
Britain’s Lewis Hamilton who started the race in tenth was on a charge through the field climbing all the way back up to fourth only to suffer from an engine issue that did not put him out of the race but could not threaten the drivers ahead of him.
ROSBERG’S GRAND SLAM
Ultimately Nico Rosberg hit a grand slam at the European GP, taking pole, leading every lap, scoring the fastest lap and most importantly winning the race. Ferrari and Sebastien Vettel finished in second place with Sergio Perez and Force India battling back for third place.
AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX
In 2017 the moniker of the European Grand Prix was no longer needed, and Azerbaijan could proudly claim a Grand Prix bearing its name. Unlike the first race in 2016 where there were no collisions or safety cars, the 2017 edition was very different.
Lewis Hamilton took pole position for Mercedes with his teammate Bottas in second and rival Ferrari in third with Kimi Raikkonen. Hamilton seemed to be poised to win the race and started the race that way, keeping his lead heading into turn 1.
SAFETY CAR SESSIONS
Chaos ensued behind the Brit with Russian Daniil Kvyat running wide nearly colliding with Spain’s Carlos Sainz Jr who spun out trying to avoid him. Bottas and Raikkonen bumped each forcing Bottas to pit with a damaged tire. There was plenty of debris on the track and the first safety car was deployed helping Bottas regain the lap he had lost due to his early pit stop.
The race resumed for a brief five laps before Raikkonen began to shed some parts, forcing a second safety car on the track. A wild incident was in the cards with Hamilton complaining about the safety car driving too slowly, allowing Vettel to settle in closely behind the race leader.
In a flash, Vettel hit the back of Hamilton and both drivers were forced to pit and lucky to continue the race. Vettel claimed Hamilton had brake tested him causing the small crash, but further investigations revealed via the telemetry offered by Mercedes showed Hamilton never hit the brakes. It was Vettel’s error and he was later given a ten-second stop-and-go penalty.
Both drivers were unable to recover from the incident even if a red flag was also waved during the race after more collisions left even more debris to clear. Ricciardo, who took the lead, led the race and won his first only Azerbaijan GP.
STROLL MAKES CANADA PROUD
Canada’s Lance Stroll driving for Williams though he was about finish in second place when Bottas slipped passed the Canadian on the final straight taking the chequered with under a second separating the two. Lance stroll became the first Canadian to step onto a podium since Jacques Villeneuve in 2001.
MORE SAFETY CARS IN 2018
Baku had shown F1 fans two sides of itself, the first being a clean race with most of the cars not finishing the race due to technical issues. The second side was a race where collisions, yellow flags, and safety cars played a crucial role in determining the race winner.
The GP in 2018 proved to be no different from the previous year where retirements were caused on the track and not due to F1 cars. Vettel claimed his first pole position in Baku followed by two Mercedes with Hamilton in second and Bottas in third. The start of the race was clean but that only lasted for one turn before multiple cars experienced multiple collisions forcing a safety car after one lap.
The race resumed on lap 6 and drivers could enjoy driving more than a handful of laps at a time. Vettel was kept under pressure by both Mercedes and ceded his lead pitting for some soft tires. Bottas took over the lead and on lap 40 when more accidents occurred forcing the safety car back into the race. To add insult to injury France’s Romain Gros Jean spun and crashed during the safety car period prolonging the clean-up process even further.
LET’S RESTART THE RACE
On lap 48 the pack bunched up and was primed for the green flag restarting the race. Vettel who trailed Bottas made an attempt to overtake the Fin and failed to do so costing Vettel two spots and damaging his tires. Bottas seemed to have the race under control and was denied victory by a punctured tire forcing him out of the race.
Hamilton, who ran a clean race, took the win that was handed with him winning his first in Azerbaijan. Hamilton later acknowledged the fact that Bottas deserved the top spot on the podium. Ferrari and Raikkonen finished in second place and Sergio Perez with Force India scored their last podium in Formula 1 in third.
THERE WILL BE FLAGS
By 2019 it became clear that the clean race experience in 2016 was simply a one-time event and that Baku City Circuit was a wild track. Even during practice sessions, drivers had not only to deal with the difficult track layout but also loose manholes or drain covers on the track.
CAN’T AVOID THE WALLS?
Britain’s George Russel fell victim to the drain cover damaging his car and incredibly while his car was being towed, the two-truck hit a bridge, leaking fluids all over the track. The first practice of the weekend was canceled but more incidents continued to happen later in the day during the other sessions.
Even during qualifying drivers were smashing into walls creating delays. Bottas who came so close to victory the year before held on to pole position by .059 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Vettel and his Ferrari qualified in third.
On race day Bottas had his hands full fending off his teammate in turns 1 and 2 and luckily for both of them no contact occurred between the two. For thirty laps the race had no stoppages and seemed to be on route to being a clean race, but history likes to repeat itself and on lap 31 the race had its first crash.
BOTTAS WINS IT
The crash that involved Kvyat and Ricciardo forced the first safety and only safety car session. Unlike prior races, the safety car did not play a major role in setting up the race winner. Bottas redeemed himself finally winning in Baku followed by Hamilton in second and Vettel in third. The race’s final top three was the same as the lineup at the start of the race.
NO RACE FOR YOU
In 2020 the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic restricting travel worldwide.
BACK AT BAKU
After a brief hiatus, Formula 1 returned to Baku to race in 2021 that featuring the battle for the world championship between Netherlands Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen entered the race with a small lead over his rival for the driver’s title and was looking to extend his lead in Azerbaijan.
Monaco’s Charles Leclerc and Ferrari shocked Red Bull and Mercedes taking pole position. Hamilton took second place applying pressure to Verstappen who qualified in third. Qualifying was not so clean cut as there were four red flags throughout the day causing large delays that left drivers frustrated with the circumstances.
Ferrari was hungry for a victory having never won in Azerbaijan and that hunger would not be satiated in 2021. Leclerc had a good start and maintained his lead until he pitted for the first time and was unable to regain the lead or a spot on the podium.
Luck did not favor Verstappen either as he had to leave the race early on lap 45 with a tire puncture that sent the dutchman into a wall led to the race being red-flagged. By this point, the race had seen multiple safety cars and delays living up to its unpredictable nature.
Perez, who was in the lead, maintained his position after the standing restart with Hamilton poised to score key points in second place. Hamilton made a move on Perez and failed to overtake the Mexican, failing to brake enough forcing Hamilton into a runoff area.
Hamilton rejoined the race in last place scoring no points, which meant the championship rankings did not change. Perez and Red Bull took the chequered flag followed by Aston Martin driven by Vettel, scoring his first podium for the team in second place. France’s Pierre Gasly driving for Alpha Tauri finished third place giving three total podiums in his young career.