I really didn’t want to like the Baku street circuit. Mostly because of the date clash, that denied F1 drivers the chance to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But the more we see from the circuit the more I’m intrigued, the circuit gets more and more interesting.
#1, The track drives by a freakin Castle. I don’t care who you are, that’s cool and worth a tune in all by itself. #2, At 3.732 miles, the 20-turn circuit is the second longest on the calendar and has been described by its designer Hermann Tilke as the fastest city track in the world. High speed and city circuits don’t usually go hand in hand. City circuits are usually like Long Beach and Monaco. Tight, twisty, technical. However, Baku features a 1.4 mile straight which is roughly twice as long as the main straight at Montreal. To prepare for the speed teams are likely to use the same type of aero they would at Monza which is routinely one of, if not, the fastest track in F1.
But alongside its long straights and fast, sweeping corners, there is also a narrow and twisty section through the Old City. Giving teams the dilemma of how much down force to put in the car. That ever constant game of straight line speed vs cornering speed. Being a new track the difference in strategy should be an interesting one.
Baku’s layout presents a huge challenge all by itself. However there may be a larger challenge, one the teams should not have to face. There could be tire and track issues. Pirelli fears that Baku’s uniquely long straights could cause a standing wave issue in the tires. In extreme cases this can lead to tire failures. Not exactly at the top of driver’s lists on any track, let alone the “Fastest City Track In The World.” Standing Wave issues were what plagued Michelin at the 2005 US Grand Prix at Indy. This is not a small issue folks, this is pretty damn serious.
If potential tire issues weren’t enough there could be issues with the tarmac itself. Some have expressed concern over a section of the track with temporary tarmac. One section of the track during public use is cobblestone. Obviously not an ideal surface for modern F1 cars the organizers were forced to lay temporary tarmac over the cobblestone. Anytime you use the word temporary to describe something that is usually permanent it is a cause for concern.
So Baku giveth and Baku taketh away. On the one hand it is a hugely interesting track. High speeds, differing strategies unique location. On the other the unique layout could be its downfall. I for one am hoping the event goes off well. I hope it’s a great race. I hope Monday morning were talking about Baku for the fantastic show it just put on. I hope were not talking about it for all the wrong reasons. I hope it succeeds and is on the schedule for years to come. Just not during Le Mans weekend.