Formula One now races in Baku, Azerbaijan. Why? Because a few years ago, disgraced F1 impressario Flabbio Briatore went there on vacation, liked what he saw, and whispered in Bernie Ecclestone’s ear that it would be a great place for a motor race. In fact, it is a lousy place for one.
The circuit includes portions of the the city where the streets are so narrow, they just barely meet Formula One’s technical standards for minimum width. The one and only reason the sport is there is because the corrupt government of Azerbaijan, which has a human rights record even worse than Bahrain, shoveled cubic meters of manats into Formula One coffers. In effect, it made the sport an offer it couldn’t refuse as a way of promoting its image on the world stage. (South Korea, India, and Turkey have done the same thing.)
Baku Is A Stupid Place For A Race
Baku sits on the edge of the Caspian Sea and is a hub for the production and transportation of oil. Its economy is based almost exclusively on oil. Its most prominent buildings are shaped to look like flames from burning oil fires. Formula One says it is striving to improve its “green” credentials. The current engine formula emphasizes efficiency over raw power. If that is the case, Baku stands for everything that is contrary to the sport’s carefully crafted public image.
But when the toxic troll, Bernie Ecclestone, was running the show, none of that mattered. The only thing Bernie ever cared about was how much money someone was willing to pay to get a Formula One race and how much of it would flow into his pocket. If the money was right, piddling little details like a repressive local government that locks up its most unruly citizens on race weekend caused Bernie not one moment’s pause.
The severely constricted race course through downtown means there is no way to get disabled race cars off the track in a reasonable amount of time. The narrowness of the track and the high walls that surround it virtually guarantee that crashes will occur. At this year’s race, the carnage started on lap one at the second corner.
Charlie Whiting As Dumb As A Box Of Rocks
Charlie Whiting, race director and technical delegate for the FIA, once again demonstrated his total incompetence. Time and time again, the track was littered with debris from broken carbon fiber, but Whiting refused to red flag the race so the track could be properly cleaned up. Instead, he instructed the drivers to drive through the pit lane for lap after lap after lap behind the pace car. His performance showed he is clearly incapable of managing a race.
Modern Formula One cars are totally dependent on their tires and brakes being at the correct operating temperature. If the tires are too cold, they have no grip and slide into the barriers. If the brakes are too cold, they do not stop the cars effectively and they slide into the barriers or each other.
The cars are unable to get their tires and brakes up to operating temperature behind the safety car, so again and again, as soon as the race was restarted, another collision would occur that littered the track with a fresh supply of carbon fiber shards. The debris filled up lots of brake cooling ducts, putting several cars out of the race through no fault of their own on a very hot day when brake cooling was critical.
Eventually, even the clueless Whiting had to stop the race while course marshals attacked the track with good old fashioned push brooms. Under modern F1 rules, teams are allowed to work on the cars during a red flag period. In effect, it is like giving them a free time out with no penalty in track position.
Vettel Slams Into Hamilton
Just before the second restart, Sebastien Vettel punted race leader Lewis Hamilton with his Ferrari. Vettel claimed Hamilton had done a “brake check” on him, even though telemetry from the car showed Hamilton has done nothing unusual. Infuriated, the German pulled alongside Hamilton to communicate with him in international sign language, then turned his car violently to the right, causing the two cars to collide.
Later, Vettel was given a ten second stop and go penalty for dangerous driving and assessed three penalty points against his FIA Superlicense. Hamilton complained the penalty was too lenient but no further action was taken by the stewards. “Driving alongside and deliberately driving into another driver and getting away pretty much scot-free as he still came fourth, I think that’s a disgrace. I think he disgraced himself today,” Hamilton said after the race.
Working On Cars Under Red Flag Is Absurd
Vettel damaged his front wing in that display of Teutonic tempestuousness but the team was able to replace it in the subsequent red flag period. Not so long ago, teams were prohibited from working on the cars during a red flag period. Allowing teams essentially a free interlude in the middle of a race to tweak their cars is simply ridiculous and further evidence of how stupid the sport’s rules have become.
Hamilton was forced to make an extra pit stop while leading the race because his pit crew failed to properly reinstall the safety cell around the top of the cockpit when the cars went back on track at the end of the red flag period.
Drama At The Checkered Flag
In the end, Red Bull’s Daniel Riccardo navigated the various collisions, brake failures, safety car periods, and a red flag period to work his way into the lead. Lance Stroll, the talented Canadian rookie, put his Williams in second place at the end of the race but lost the position by a millimeter or two right at the finish line to a hard charging Valteri Bottas in his Mercedes. Bottas slammed into Ferrari’s Kimi Raikonnen in the second corner and was the last car on track and one lap down early in the race.
Baku 2017 was a stupid race on a stupid track. Hopefully, Liberty Media will decline to renew its place on the calendar once the original deal struck by Ecclestone expires. Azerbaijan does not deserve the favorable attention a place on the Formula One calendar brings to it.