“Baku is like a clash of Monza and Macau”
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.