After an exciting season-opener in Bahrain where the FIA Formula 2 Championship ushered in new teams, new drivers and a brand new car, the series moves quickly to its second round of the 2018 season in Azerbaijan.

The Circuit

Baku City Circuit - 2018 Formula 2 Race of Azerbaijan

Baku City Circuit
Location Baku, Azerbaijan Circuit Length 6.003 km / 3.73 mi
Opened 2016 First F2 Race 2017
Direction Anticlockwise Capacity 18,500
Lap Record 1:52.129 – Charles Leclerc (PREMA, 2017) 2017 winners Charles Leclerc (PREMA)
Norman Nato (Arden)

A unique venue, the circuit is a blend of wide straights and right-angled corners, complemented by the narrow castle section and its historic architecture. Each race in Baku has produced thrilling action, and the Formula 2 field will undoubtedly provide more of the same this year.

Nicholas Latifi (DAMS): “Baku always has the makings to be one of the most exciting races of the year, thanks to the nature of the track. Obviously, the thing that stands out the most is that it’s a street track, so you have to take a bit of a different driving approach when you’re driving between all the walls; there’s no margin for error. The actual flow of the track is interesting, the first part’s pretty much the same with straights and ninety-degree corners, so it’s not the most diverse, but it’s still quite fun because you have the castle, which is as narrow as it gets so there’s plenty of excitement there. The crazy long straight makes for great overtaking.

“Things to look out for: in terms of degradation, there’s not too much tyre wear, but you have to pay attention to overheating, which can be just as bad as wearing them out, especially if the track temperature is quite warm. The racing is always exciting, in some ways it almost feels like you’re back in the karting days where you have to have a bit of strategy, because the cars are so close in a DRS train. For myself, we had good results last year, and I’m just hoping for more of the same!”

The Event

2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship Race of Azerbaijan – Schedule
Event Dates 27-29 April 2018 Pirelli Tyres  
Free Practice Fri 11:00-11:45 Qualifying Fri 15:00-15:45
Feature Race (29 laps) Sat 12:00-13:00 Sprint Race (21 laps) Sun 13:10-13:50

Session times quoted in Azerbaijan Time (GMT + 04:00)

Rewind to 2017

Last year’s event in Azerbaijan was all about the champion-in-waiting, Charles Leclerc. The PREMA driver came into the weekend rocked by the sudden passing of his father Hervé, who passed away at the age of 54 just three days before the event.

The Monegasque driver blasted his way to another pole position by over half a second and swept to victory in a chaotic Feature Race punctuated by two Safety Car periods.

The race was eventually red-flagged five laps short of its scheduled distance as a number of drivers fell victim to the unique characteristics of the circuit and more than a little bit of hot-headedness.

Leclerc made a good getaway to convert pole position into an early lead over Nicholas Latifi and Nyck de Vries, but the race was almost immediately neutralised when Johnny Cecotto – who started from the pit lane after stalling on the dummy grid – laughably crashed his car at Turn 2 as he joined the circuit behind the rest of the field.

The top-three ran a conventional Supersoft-Soft pit strategy, while Russian Time driver Luca Ghiotto – who started 20th after a disastrous qualifying session on Friday – ran in the lead on an alternate strategy. The Italian was looking a good prospect with his recovery drive, but his chances of a good result came to naught when Louis Deletraz found the wall at Turn 12 and brought out a second Safety Car. A slow wheel change put paid to Ghiotto’s chances and he rejoined the race in last place.

That gave Leclerc the lead once again, and when Sean Galeal creahed at Turn 8 and completed blocked the narrow section of the circuit it gave race officials no choice but to red flag the race. De Vries and Latifi completed the podium.

Sunday’s Sprint Race saw Leclerc once again underline his incredible potential as the PREMA driver claimed victory in another breathtaking race. Starting from eighth place on the partially reversed grid, Leclerc dropped to tenth when the lights went out.

Norman Nato was in the lead, while early retirements for Oliver Rowland and Nyck de Vries meant Leclerc was soon up to fourth. He strung together fastest lap after fastest lap, running a second faster than the closest car to him in pace. He dispatched Jordan King and Nicholas Latifi within two laps, with only Nato remaining between him and a perfect weekend.

Leclerc’s efforts, however, were quickly cooled down as he was hit with a 10-second time penalty. This prompted little resistance from Nato who let him past easily. With not enough laps or tyres remaining, Leclerc couldn’t pull a big enough gap over Nato to keep his victory and he took the chequered flag 1.3 seconds ahead of Nato, who was classified as the winner when the penalty was reapplied. Latifi completed the podium positions.

Charles Leclerc triumphed in a dramatic Feature Race en route to claiming the Formula 2 Drivers’ Championship title.

Contribution by Ahmad Shallouf

The Form Guide

The season-opener in Bahrain shone the spotlight on some new stars of the future, with McLaren protege Lando Norris earning his and the Carlin team’s first Formula 2 race win with a dominant drive from pole in the Feature Race. While Norris earmarked himself as an early championship favourite with his crushing display, the race once again highlighted Artem Markelov’s outstanding tyre management skills as the Russian Time driver scythed his way through the field.

Markelov then did the business in Sunday’s Sprint Race at Sakhir, again managing his tyre wear in searing conditions to claim a superb victory.

Norris leads Markelov by just 9 points in the Drivers’ Championship standings, with Norris’ teammate Sérgio Sette Câmara in third place after a consistent round in Bahrain.

The Teams’ Championship standings see Carlin on top with a healthy 37-point buffer to Russian Time. All but two teams scored points in the opening round of the season, and given Baku’s reputation at throwing up some unpredictable results it is likely fans will see a few surprise performances once again.

Baku Weather Forecast
Friday 15°C – 24°C Saturday 15°C – 24°C Sunday 11°C – 17°C

Images via FIA Formula 2 Championship

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Geoff Burke

Journalist at MotorsportM8
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