The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Azerbaijan : Rosberg Back on Top


Report by Paul Robinson

GP EUROPA F1/2016 - BAKU (AZERBAIJAN) © FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)Formula One heads into new territory as Azerbaijan host a Grand Prix for the first time. Given that Azerbaijan is situated at the crossroads of Southwest Asia and South Eastern Europe It is interesting to know why they have used the title ‘European Grand Prix’, rather than the ‘Azerbaijan Grand Prix’. I was always under the impression that the ‘European’ title was used if your country hosted two races in the calendar, the most recent being the Valencia track. Maybe the best explanation would be that the country is trying to promote itself as a ‘modern European country’ to the world.

The circuit is situated in the capital city of ‘Baku’ and promises to be the fastest street circuit the sport has ever seen. It is a combination of the longest straight in Formula One and tight, narrow and twisty corners. The city boasts great architecture and eye-catching landmarks, which the designers have ensured are visible around the race circuit. The most notable is the narrow section by the old city walls and twelfth century maiden tower. The teams are going to have their work cut out this weekend with difficult set-up problems given the combination of extremely fast and slow parts on the track. It’s very much a cross between Monza and Monaco.

When I last wrote a race report for the ‘Russian Grand Prix’, Rosberg had won the first four races and had an impressive points advantage over his teammate. However, his championship lead has since been cut from 43 points to 9 over the last three races with Lewis hot on his heels. Hamilton is having to be patient and stay calm during this season’s championship, especially with his on-track difficulties and bad luck earlier in the season.

The start of the race weekend was going to be fascinating as the drivers had only driven the track on the simulators or Playstations!!! Practice sessions saw drivers exploring the limits of the track and on many occasions having to use the escape routes to prevent hitting the wall. Many drivers found ‘Turn 15’ very tricky which saw Ricciardo and Perez having crashes into the barrier there.

In Qualifying Hamilton will start tenth after crashing out following a series of mistakes over the hour long session. He afterwards described it as his ‘worst ever’ qualifying session in Formula One. Rosberg had a perfect session to start on pole – considering he was under pressure to perform after Montreal and Monaco. Perez finished an impressive second only to know he would have a five place grid penalty for a gear box change following his crash in Free Practice three. Vettel and Raikkonen will start third and fourth respectively on the grid for Sunday’s race.

There were two GP2 support races before the main race. Both races were full of crashes, multiple incidents and safety cars. Because of this, everyone was anticipating an exciting, action-packed Formula One race with the safety car expected on track on a regular showing.

The race itself was completely the opposite. It was a very uneventful and dull grand prix, with very few talking points. The start was clean with only minor contact at the rear of the pack between Gutierrez and Hulkenberg. It was an untroubled afternoon for pole sitter Rosberg, who led every lap from start to finish. There was no safety car and only four retirements for Alonso, Kvyat, Sainz and Wehrlein with car mechanical issues.

Vettel was able to get past Ricciardo early on for second place who was having tyre issues. Raikkonen had good pace, but was hindered by a five-second penalty due to crossing the white line at the pit entry. As you can imagine he was furious over the pit radio. He eventually finished fourth behind my ‘driver of the day’ Perez in the Force India. Perez was able to pass Raikkonen on the last lap for his second podium of the season. Hamilton, who spent most of his race looking at his steering wheel attempting to fix a car malfunction, could only manage fifth. This will be a major talking point leading into the next race as Mercedes and Hamilton feel the radio ban could be dangerous. In my opinion it is bizarre that a team is unable to help its driver as I thought this is a team sport!!!

Verstappen, after his maiden Red Bull win in Spain, finished a disappointing eighth with his team mate Ricciardo seventh. The Williams driver, Bottas, was a lonely sixth and Massa (who struggled all weekend) was tenth. Hulkenberg, now in the shadow of his Force India team mate, finished ninth. It seems a long time ago when he won Le Mans last year and was tipped for a race seat in one of the top teams.

It was a perfect result for Rosberg (apart from hitting himself in the face with his earpiece in the cool down room before the podium) who now regains his confidence and a stronger lead in the championship. Azerbaijan has done an impressive job hosting the event, however, they organisers will need to ensure that future racing is an exciting spectacle or they could join circuits such as Turkey, Korea and Valencia who offered so much, but ultimately failed to deliver.