F1 GP: Five fast facts about Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Streets with a difference
When it joined the Formula 1 calendar in 2016, Baku ripped up the rule book when it came to street circuits. In contrast to the twisting layout and low average speeds associated with existing temporary tracks such as Monaco, the capital of Azerbaijan built its track around an impressive 2.2-kilometre-long main straight. That's around twice as long as the pit straight at Monza. OK, so it's not strictly entirely straight, but as its kinks are driven flat-out, top speeds as high as 378kph have been recorded in the past.
The old and the new
Baku as a city mixes the old with the new and the circuit shows off this blend well. Numerous modern high-rise hotels and skyscrapers are dotted around the circuit's perimeter. But as magnificent as some of these structures are, none of them sit quite as close to the action as the fortress walls of Baku's old city – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This section of track is only 7.6 metres wide at its narrowest point, forcing drivers to thread their cars past the walls in single file. The slightest misjudgement can result in disaster as several drivers have found out – most notably Charles Leclerc during qualifying in 2019.
Expect the unexpected
With a layout that is sometimes so narrow with little margin for error, yet wide and straight enough in other places to encourage lots of wheel-to-wheel racing, it's perhaps not surprising that the chances of a safety car or red flag during races in Baku is high. And the way that the circuit is laid out means that one safety car can lead quite quickly to another. With such a long main straight where the slipstream effect is considerable, restarts are difficult for the leader to judge, and with the field bunched up there can be plenty of action at the 90-degree left-hander that forms Turn 1.
This year, there's going to be even action than usual when Formula 1 visits Baku. The circuit has been chosen as the first venue for a sprint event in 2023, and it's also the first time that this format will ever be used at a street track. It remains to be seen how the Saturday sprint contest will play out: will we see all the usual Baku drama condensed into 17 laps of racing, or will drivers prefer a more cautious approach with one eye on Sunday?
The unpredictability of racing around Baku is highlighted by the fact that the six grands prix held there have each been won by a different driver. That's despite the fact that only two teams have actually won there so far, with Mercedes (Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas) and Red Bull (Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen) achieving three victories each. Having already stood on the top step this season, Perez and Verstappen might fancy their chances of ending this particular statistic this time around. But this is Baku, so absolutely anything can happen.