Getting to grips with a new track always constitutes an exciting adventure for all of the sport’s teams, but the challenge posed by the Baku City Circuit does not intimidate Cyril Abiteboul. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Renault Sport Racing’s Managing Director explains: “One of our core strengths is our ability to rapidly adapt and quickly and efficiently interpret data, both of which are key elements when visiting new tracks.”
The Enstone-based outfit already has a wealth of experience of the kind of characteristics presented by this street circuit, with the Baku layout sharing some similarities with F1’s two most recent races in Monaco and Montreal.
Running through the heart of the city – the world’s lowest-lying national capital – this circuit places more emphasis on engine power than was the case in Canada, as revealed by the team’s Technical Director, Nick Chester: “It looks to be a very power-sensitive track with a lot of sharp corners followed by decent straights, particularly the long one leading back to the start/finish line. Traction will also be very important out of the slower-speed corners.”
Between Turn 16 – the final corner – and the braking zone for Turn 1, the drivers must keep their foot firmly planted on the throttle for almost 22 seconds, with top speeds expected to reach a staggering 351kph! Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer will both benefit from Renault’s B-specification engine, allowing them to approach the weekend in confidence, given that it promises to be the sternest test of Formula 1’s hybrid powertrains since the beginning of the season.
On the chassis side, the considerably warmer weather should eradicate one of the major difficulties encountered in Canada: “The forecast is good for Baku with hot temperatures,” adds Chester. “That means we shouldn’t have much trouble getting the tyres into their optimum operating range.”
As part of his preparations before taking to the track in Baku, Palmer adopted a somewhat unconventional approach to learning which way it goes: “Being a brand new circuit, we don’t yet have it on the simulator, so I’ve done a few laps on the F1 game to take a little look in advance!”
The British rookie’s team-mate Magnussen is similarly eager to put his R.S.16 through its paces around the streets of the Azerbaijan capital: “It’s a big main straight! It’s going to be interesting. It’s a long lap for a street course, with quite a few interesting aspects. There’s a really tight section which is going to be an eye-opener the first time round and we don’t yet know about things like the track surface, kerbs or bumps. There are a lot of walls there too, so I’ll be looking to stay away from those!” A sensible tactic!