After a brilliant, glorious end to what was shaping up to be a none too easy weekend in Shanghai we’re this week heading back to the location of another dramatic, incident-packed victory for the team – the Baku City Circuit.
Last year, F1’s newest street circuit provided plenty of fireworks, with the first Azerbaijan Grand Prix (2016’s race was a European GP) featuring three safety car periods, 42 overtaking moves, a little tetchiness from a couple of title contenders and a remarkable performance from Daniel that saw him rise from 17th early on to the top step of the podium. As you can imagine it’s a circuit the Honey Badger is looking forward to racing on once more.
Azerbaijan’s fast and forbidding track doesn’t quite have the same allure for Max, who exited last year with an engine failure following an 8th place finish in 2016. However, the Dutchman insists that there’s unfinished business to take care of in Baku.
You’re an unabashed fan of street circuits, so what makes the Baku track special?
Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass… actually, lots of places where you can pass! As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there really aren’t too many places to overtake.
And the hardest part of getting it right?
The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There are so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error. Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.
Where do you need that confidence most? Where’s the ballsiest moment?
You have Turn One, Turn Two and then the DRS straight. We’re honking down there, and then you see the wall coming, coming, coming. Your instinct is to brake, brake, brake! You need a lot of confidence to leave it late. That’s the biggest challenge with Baku, being able to really attack the braking, it’s such a high-speed circuit. Monaco is not that high-speed, it’s more about cornering, and Baku is more braking.
There are greater risks on a street circuit – namely the proximity of the barriers.
Yeah, with a street circuit you have to love it – but you also have to respect it and understand it. I understand that, to be fast, you have to be on the limit – but put yourself there and it can bite you.
What do you remember about last year’s race? It was pretty chaotic.
Last year Baku was crazy in so many ways for so many people. Just like last week in Shanghai, the team had an awesome strategy and made some great calls in the race. Did I think we would carve our way all the way up to first, no way, but everyone in front was dropping like flies, I was making some good overtakes and there was just all this momentum keeping me going. Crossing the line I was a bit confused, thinking how did we just win that race but also ecstatic. It was crazy, fun race and definitely one to remember.
You were fifth on the grid in Baku last year, but an engine problem stopped you in your tracks after 12 laps. That must have been very disappointing?
Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity.
Your qualifying performance was excellent though. It’s clearly a circuit you enjoy?
Baku is a cool place so I enjoy going there and driving the track. It’s a nice circuit even though it isn’t ideally suited to our car. The straight is so long which means we miss out on some valuable time there. Last year I think we managed to drive around our problems really well and therefore be competitive come the race day.
What's the best section of the track for you?
The castle section looks great on TV and is also a lot of fun to drive. It is really tight so you have to be precise turning in as there is no room for error, especially with the wider cars we have now.
This is only F1’s third visit to Baku. Have you managed to figure the city out yet?
I still haven’t managed to get out and see a lot of Baku. The hotel is right next to the paddock, so as well as being really convenient it also limits what you see of the city over a busy race weekend. I have heard the local food is really tasty so I’ll do my best this year to get out and find some delicacies.