Lit­tle spark in land of fire


Nico Ros­berg eased to his fifth win of the sea­son vir­tu­ally un­op­posed at Azer­bai­jan’s in­au­gu­ral GP

As promised by the billing – ‘the speed is higher in the land of re’ – F1’s rst visit to Azer­bai­jan yielded ve­loc­i­ties pre­vi­ously un­seen on any street cir­cuit. Against all ex­pec­ta­tions, though, the Euro­pean GP un­folded with no in­ter­ven­tion from the Safety Car as Nico Ros­berg stroked his Merc to his fth win of the sea­son.

Track de­signer Her­mann Tilke’s work re­ceived mixed re­views from the opin­ionati, but once prob­lems with kerb xings were re­solved ear­lier in the week­end, this dis­tinc­tive new venue be­gan to show its po­ten­tial. A long main straight and a suc­ces­sion of 90°cor­ners over the early part of the lap placed a pre­mium on power and trac­tion, so it was no sur­prise to see the two fac­tory Mercedes en­tries set­ting the pace through­out.

Fer­rari man­aged to nd some pace overnight on Satur­day hav­ing been weak dur­ing the rst two prac­tice ses­sions – timely, given the ar­rival of com­pany pres­i­dent Ser­gio Mar­chionne – but were never a threat to Mercedes dur­ing the race it­self. The most fe­ro­cious bat­tles of all were for the re­main­ing podium slots as Lewis Hamil­ton and Force In­dia’s Ser­gio Pérez, both start­ing from po­si­tions that didn’t reect their speed, bat­tled through.

Ahead of the week­end Hamil­ton said he had done no more than eight laps of the Baku cir­cuit on the Mercedes sim­u­la­tor, reck­on­ing that tech­nol­ogy couldn’t ad­e­quately sim­u­late the real thing. Go­ing fastest in all three prac­tice ses­sions seemed to vin­di­cate his ap­proach, but then in qual­i­fy­ing he com­mit­ted a se­ries of blun­ders, cul­mi­nat­ing in a shunt at Turn 11 in Q3 that broke his steer­ing, brought out the red ag, and con­signed him to tenth on the grid.

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