Whilst last weekend’s race was not the instant-classic that we have come to expect from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix over the past few years, I really got to thinking about all the things that make the Baku Circuit great, and it drew some parallels to another track on the Grand Prix Calendar, but from another era.
Monaco has long been the jewel in the crown of the Formula 1 season. Having first hosted a Grand Prix in 1929, it was no surprise when the FIA and Formula 1 came knocking in 1950, for the race to be an official round of the first ever Formula 1 World Championship. The venue was always important. Monte Carlo attracted everyone from celebrities to dignitaries, with Prince Louis himself being a huge supporter of the sport.
The track however was not quite the same as today. The opening two sectors remain the same today, however on leaving the tunnel, the cars would only experience a chicane, the famous Tabac corner, and then a hairpin, before crossing the line to start the next lap. The cars of these early years were smaller and narrower than the cars that would develop through the 70’s to today, allowing fast overtaking manoeuvres and wheel to wheel racing through the streets of the Principality.
The track was not without disaster, with famous accidents blighting the history books. In both 1955 and 1965, cars had been shot into the harbour itself. In both incidents, both drivers swam away from the wreckage, but tragically in 1955, Alberto Ascari’s escape would be only four days before he lost himself in a testing accident at Monza. The later 1965 crash even featured in the 1966 epic masterpiece Grand Prix.
As cars and safety has evolved, the once enthralling Monaco has stopped being a competition between drivers and has become a challenge where the driver is effectively racing himself. Many accuse the modern race of having become a parade, but only one lapse in concentration over the 72 laps will lead to an early exit from the race, meaning every wit of a driver is tested in the narrow streets.
The Baku City Circuit however finds itself in a similar situation to the 1950’s Monaco. Whilst boasting the longest straight in Formula 1, the circuit has plenty of room for drivers to overtake at several corners of the track, though most prefer Turn 1, and slipstreaming and employing DRS into the breaking zone of the corner. Again, you are only ever one stop from disaster, as many an incident has proven. Most famously, the coming together of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, at the time teammates at Red Bull Racing, is an exciting example of this!
The section of the circuit that runs through the old town, most notably alongside the castle walls, has that unique bit of character that stands out from other circuits, however comes with one hell of a bite – as Robert Kubica and Charles Leclerc can testify in 2019.
The circuit is a fantastic addition to the Formula 1 Calendar, and long may it stay there. Developments in Formula 1 are more controlled now, so it’s unlikely the cars will be outgrowing this circuit any time soon. Fast cars, tough battles, controversial moves, and plenty of accidents make this a superb circuit to visit!