STUART CODLING

“Baku is like a clash of Monza and Ma­cau”

Motor Sport News - - Racing News -

One of the joys of com­ing to a new cir­cuit is ex­plor­ing its many nu­ances up close, and there were plenty of tak­ers on Thurs­day in Baku.

Not Lewis Hamil­ton, of course – he doesn’t see the point of this, or of learn­ing the track on a sim­u­la­tor (“I could spend £100 on a Plays­ta­tion and learn the same amount,” he said, which led me to pon­der how much he thinks a pint of milk costs).

Not For­mula 1’s ring­mas­ter, ei­ther. As I set off with the crack pho­to­graphic squad from LAT whose pictures you en­joy in MN, a golf cart swerved around us in the pit en­try.

“You should get your­selves one of these,” cack­led the pas­sen­ger, none other than Bernie Ec­cle­stone. The Bernard was in a chip­per mood after his re­cent visit to the me­dia cen­tre to make mis­chief, safe in the knowl­edge that his de­scrip­tion of Montreal as “a bit of a sh*thole” was al­ready set­ting the in­ter­net alight. His driver, chief pad­dock lieu­tenant and celeb wran­gler Pasquale Lat­tuneddu, ap­plied pedal to metal once more and the cart shot off up the main straight in the di­rec­tion of the Four Sea­sons, Baku’s best ho­tel.

Kimi Raikko­nen and his trainer Mark Ar­nall passed by on bi­cy­cles, Kimi perched un­com­fort­ably on his in a stiff-el­bowed pos­ture that wasn’t so much Bradley Wig­gins as Sadly Big­gins. Then at last we en­coun­tered pedes­trian traf­fic. Ser­gio Perez gave a cheery wave as he strode along the rac­ing line with a pha­lanx of Force In­dia en­gi­neers in tow. Nico Ros­berg was run­ning a less man­power-heavy set-up, scru­ti­n­is­ing the apex kerbs with only his en­gi­neer Tony Ross for com­pany.

This is F1’s sec­ond long­est track and cir­cu­lat­ing on foot ex­pends a con­sid­er­able amount of shoe­leather. As we made our way around the lap, swel­ter­ing in the early af­ter­noon heat, it brought home just how broad and long the straights are, how nar­row and fid­dly the wrig­gle past the out­skirts of the old town is. It’s like a col­li­sion of two en­tirely dif­fer­ent types of cir­cuit, part-monza and part-ma­cau, and a thor­oughly ex­cit­ing chal­lenge.

It didn’t meet with universal ap­proval from the driv­ers, which led to amus­ing jux­ta­po­si­tions.

Pushed for com­ment on Azer­bai­jan’s hu­man rights record – this be­ing one of those regimes which “gets things done” – the driv­ers would hap­pily fudge: if the FIA says it’s OK to race here, then it’s OK.

And yet when the sub­ject turned to the cir­cuit it­self, there were gripes about bumps, run-off ar­eas be­ing too short, and so on. Well, if the FIA says it’s OK to race here, surely it’s OK…

Or as The Bernard put it, mak­ing a re­turn visit to the me­dia sanc­tum: “If they don’t like it they can go home.”

Dar­ren Nel­son took a break from his Lam­borgh­ini Hu­ra­can GT3 and the GT Cup Cham­pi­onship at Rock­ing­ham last week­end to in­stead race his Rad­i­cal SR3. With ex-ginetta and some­time Brit­car racer Tom Howard shar­ing on his Rad­i­cal de­but, the duo fin­ished ninth in the 40-minute en­duro at the Corby track. Nel­son plans to be back on the GT Cup grid for the re­main­ing rounds.

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