Rarely in modern grand prix racing has a new track been given so many plaudits as last weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix held on the street circuit of Baku.
For many of us watching on television, this glimpse into a state that has been somewhat hidden in the mists of the broader extremes of the former Soviet Union, was a revelation with a remarkable mix of elaborate old-style architecture and modern sculptural architecture. But it was not these things that caught the grand prix drivers’ attention, it was the circuit itself.
No other motor racing circuit past or present could blend an old town section which looked even narrower and tortuous than Monaco with a fast section where the leading cars were hitting over 200 mph on every lap. Indeed popular circuit designer Herman Tilke was at his most inventive in creating such a circuit of diversity.
As for the race itself we all know the result, Nico Rosberg took his fifth grand prix win of the year – just a few days before his 31st birthday – and nineteenth overall win. This is the largest number of grand prix wins by any driver who has not already been a World Champion.
If you are into statistics it was also an interesting result for second place man Sebastien Vettel whose career championship points total of 1992 now leads Lewis Hamilton’s career total of 1984. It was also Vettel’s fifth podium finish this year without recording a win.
With his third place Sergio Perez has now recorded seven career podium finishes, equalling the number of podiums recorded by Pedro Rodrigues : however we must not forget that Rodriguez counted two grand prix wins in his seven podiums ( 1961, South Africa in a Cooper-Maserati and the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix in a Yardley-BRM). After just four seasons in Formula 1 it cannot be long before Perez becomes a Mexican grand prix winner particularly as he had qualified second fastest only to be demoted on the grid because of a gearbox change.
The race also reminded us of a new rule this season regarding information that can be sent to the driver from the pits. When Lewis Hamilton was having trouble with his engine he radioed and asked what the setting should be but was told that the pits team could not tell him.
However, when Hamilton retorted that he was going to try and manipulate the settings himself he was advised not to do it. Hamilton never takes no for an answer and despite the fact he was in the middle of a grand prix managed to hit the right combination and was able to lap Baku quicker than anyone else.
Prior to this race a number of the drivers were not sure how such a difficult circuit would pan out but by the end of the race most conceded that it was not only a good circuit but produced a contrast in speed and handling they seemed to enjoy.
It certainly provided the race engineers, of all of the teams heading back home, with a new set of parameters in balancing speed on the fast bits and handling on the slow bits. So, the new circuit has in many ways provided a fascinating race despite the fact that for Nico Rosberg it proved to be something like a drive in the park and win by a handsome amount of seconds
For those of us who have been around the block for a number of years one wonders how some of the great drivers of the past like Fangio and Stirling Moss would have got on with heavy grand prix cars and drum brakes on such a circuit ?