Formula 1 races into the unknown this weekend for the European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, with the capital city Baku playing host to the country’s inaugural race on what organisers say will be the fastest street circuit of the season.
When F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone first announced this new addition to the calendar, the one question all race fans asked was, “Where?”
An oil-rich and tourist-poor former Soviet state, Azerbaijan is a country in the Transcaucasian geopolitical region bounded by the Caspian Sea, and located at the crossroads of Southwest Asia and Southeastern Europe.
Now that explanation makes about as much sense as this season’s pit stop strategies by Ferrari. Put simply, the country with the Middle-Eastern sounding name is situated in both Asia and Europe, if you take the more recent interpretation of the transcontinental boundaries. [Ed: To many, however, it’s an Asian country.]
Azerbaijan has previously billed itself as ‘the new Dubai’, using its newfound wealth to transform the once drab capital into a modern and glittering upscale metropolis, and positioning itself as a potential playground for the rich and famous. So it appears to be the perfect host for the lavish and affluent circus that the world’s richest sport brings with it.
The Baku City Circuit layout, designed by renowned F1 track architect Hermann Tilke, will take the cars on a high-speed anti-clockwise loop around 20 corners as they make their way through the city centre in the Land of Fire.
The track is unknown for all teams and drivers; some have tried it in the simulator while others have only experienced it via the YouTube video released by organisers last month. They will all need to learn the circuit quickly, making the first practice session more crucial here than at any other race.
The mix of long straights and sharp, angled turns as well as the tight left-right-left sequence corners will have the drivers pushing their cars and themselves to the limit.
With an estimated top speed of 340 kilometres per hour, this complex layout promises challenge for the drivers and excitement for the spectators.
Only time will tell if this street circuit will become a driver and fan favourite. But one thing is for sure; now we all know where Azerbaijan is. Sort of.
Images via Formula 1 and XPB Images