Reports

European F1 Grand Prix

2016 EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX – PREVIEW

Circuit Stats
2015 winner N/A
2015 pole position N/A
2015 fastest lap N/A
Name Baku City Circuit
First race 2016
Circuit length 6.006km/3.732 miles (2nd longest of the season)
Distance to Turn One 202m/0.126 miles (longest of season: Barcelona 730m/0.454 miles)
Longest straight 2.1km/1.305 miles, on the approach to Turn One (the longest of the season)
Top speed 340km/h/211mph, on the approach to Turn One (fastest of season: Monza, 360km/h/224mph)
Pitlane length 295m/0.183 miles, estimated time loss 22s (longest of season: Silverstone, 457m/0.283 miles)
Full throttle 56 per cent (highest of season: Monza, 75 per cent)
DRS zones Two, on the approaches to Turns One and Three
Key corner Turn 15, a deceptively fast left-hander, through which entry speeds will be high and the walls will be close. Turn Eight is another notable corner, where the apex is a medieval wall and the track is only two car widths wide
Fastest corner 170km/h (106mph), Turn 16
Slowest corner 86km/h (53mph), Turn Eight
Major changes for 2016 Everything!
Fuel consumption 2.1kg per lap, making it one of the highest of the season
ERS demands High, because the circuit requires lots of full deployment
Brake wear Medium. There are six significant braking events around the lap, but this is not expected to be a tough circuit on brakes
Gear changes 62 per lap /3,162 per race

Circuit facts
History lesson This is Formula 1’s first visit to Baku, but it isn’t the city’s first experience of international motorsport. For three years, between 2012 and ’14, Baku hosted an international GT race on a separate street track. That sportscar race no longer takes place, but F1 has a long-term deal to race in the city.
What makes the track unique It’s the first anti-clockwise circuit of the 2016 campaign, but the track’s unique feature is its 2.1km (1.305-mile) pit straight, along which the cars will reach a top speed of 340km/h (211mph) – the fastest speed on a street track in the history of the sport.
Grip levels Poor. The asphalt is new, which will make it oily and slippery. Grip levels will improve as rubber is laid down on the racing line, but teams are expecting slippery conditions – similar to those at the Sochi Autodrom in 2014.
Run-off Minimal. This is a street circuit, so space is at a premium. Concrete walls line the track, which means mistakes will be punished – and never more than at Turn Eight, where the track is barely wider than two F1 cars. But FIA race director Charlie Whiting is satisfied with the safety standards at the track.
Watch out for… Turn One. The cars will have been flat-out for the preceding 2.1kms (1.305 miles), along which is the first DRS zone, so expect lots of drama under braking and overtaking attempts into this slow, 90-degree left-hander.

The drivers on: the circuit

#14 Fernando Alonso

“I’m already really looking forward to getting out on track for the first time in Baku on Friday. In my role as Baku Ambassador, I’m lucky enough to have already seen the plans in detail for the new circuit and watch the venue come together over the past few months. The track layout is a really impressive hybrid of the buzz of a street circuit, with its tight narrow streets and close racing, and a more traditional track, where there are high speeds and solid overtaking opportunities.

“This circuit is a great mix of both worlds, and as the fastest of any previous street track, I’m excited for the challenge and to see what’s possible in these kinds of conditions, where everything is a little bit unknown. I’ve already driven the track on the simulator and there’s certainly a lot that makes it unique – medieval walls close to the edge of the newly-laid asphalt, anti-clockwise corners, minimal run-off – so it seems to have all of the ingredients to give us a bit of drama and the prospect of exciting racing.”

#22 Jenson Button

“After a disappointing end to what was fairly positive weekend in Canada until I had to retire the car, I’m already relishing the prospect of the next race – and at a new track, too. From what I’ve seen of it, the Baku City Circuit looks pretty cool – especially as the city centre has so much history attached to it, yet we’ll be roaring over the cobbles there at over 300km/h (186mph) in the middle of the city walls.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ve transformed the area to accommodate a grand prix race. I’ve heard good things from Fernando about the layout too, with some really exciting narrow sections mixed in with wider areas that should be promising for overtaking. It’ll be tough on the car with its long, fast straight, strong loads on the ERS and high fuel consumption, so we need to buckle down and work hard to get our package set up as quickly as possible for the demands of this circuit.”

Event Stats
Start time 17:00hrs local/14:00hrs BST
Race distance 70 laps (full world championship points will be awarded after 75 per cent distance/52 laps)
Safety Car likelihood The proximity of the walls will punish driver errors and make it difficult to remove damaged cars. As at other street tracks like Monaco, any on-track incident is likely to result in the deployment of the Safety Car or the Virtual Safety Car
When to press record It’s a new track, so don’t miss a lap of the action! But lap three of the race, once DRS has been enabled, should be exciting. The track is very wide in places, so overtaking should be more prevalent than at other street tracks on the calendar
Don’t put the kettle on Strategy is hard to predict until the cars begin to gather tyre data during practice. But Pirelli is taking relatively conservative tyre compounds to the race, given that it’s a street track, and that could push drivers towards a one-stop strategy
Weather conditions now 24 degrees and sunny
Race forecast 27 degrees
Tyre choices Supersoft/Soft/Medium, a combination that was last seen at the Russian Grand Prix

Event Facts
First Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2016
Slogan The speed is higher in the Land of Fire.
Azerbaijan’s F1 heritage This is the country’s first F1 race. However, there’s already an underlying enthusiasm for the sport, due in part to the success of the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, just 900kms (559 miles) to the north west of Baku. The race organisers are expecting many Russians to attend the race.
Smallest winning margin N/A
Sporting legacy Baku’s rise into a global tourism and business hub has been relatively quick. The medieval city staged the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, from which it went on to host the inaugural European Games in 2015, and it’s already been confirmed as a host city at Euro 2020. Formula 1 is the city’s biggest catch so far.
Did you know? Five other circuits have hosted the European Grand Prix: Nürburgring, Jerez, Brands Hatch, Valencia and Donington Park.
Don’t forget McLaren has won the European Grand Prix four times: in 1984, ’93, ’97 and ’07.
Fan zone: Gemma, aged 22, from Edinburgh, asks: “How much preparation can the engineers and drivers do prior to arriving at a new track like Baku?”
McLaren’s answer: “We have already completed many laps in the simulator, which has allowed us to hone the set-up of the car and to show the drivers the layout of the circuit. As a result, there should be no surprises when the on-track action gets underway on Friday.”

The drivers on: the event

#14 Fernando Alonso

“Having seen the development work in Baku as it’s neared completion over the past few months, it’s clear that the organisers have put a lot of planning and resources into the infrastructure around the circuit, and it promises to be a very significant event in the region. There are a lot of fans who’ve been excited about this grand prix for a long time now, so I’m looking forward to racing in front of them and putting on a good show in front of a new audience of fans that we’ve never reached before.

“The Canada race weekend started relatively well, but in the race we were outpaced by stronger teams. It was difficult to maintain heat in the tyres in cooler temperatures, which meant they didn’t perform as well, so we struggled to keep up with the guys in front. Some of Baku’s characteristics are similar, and despite being a street circuit will still be very demanding on power units and chassis. But, we’ll attack the weekend in our usual way, and keep pushing for more improvements in each session.” 

#22 JENSON BUTTON

“In terms of things like strategy, tyres, temperatures, of course we have a lot of simulator data – a few of the guys in the team have visited and already have a pretty good handle on the conditions – but until we get there, it’s all a bit of unfamiliar. Having a new circuit on the calendar definitely does spice things up a bit and puts everyone back on a more level playing field, at least initially, so I’m looking forward to the challenge of a new track.

“It’s imperative we bounce back quickly from the disappointment of Canada and the fact we go to a completely new grand prix means the focus will rapidly shift from one to the other – there’s definitely a heightened sense of anticipation and excitement for the next race. We’re working hard to keep improving race to race and despite the blip in Canada, hopefully we can continue seeing gains – however small – in the next few crazy weeks of back-to-back grands prix.”

HEAR FROM THE MANAGEMENT

Eric Boullier

“The Baku City Circuit promises to be another exciting spectacle on the Formula 1 calendar, and opens us up to a plethora of new fans and an even wider audience on the global sporting stage. From the initial visits that have been conducted there, and Fernando’s reports from his trips to Baku as Ambassador, we’ve received very positive feedback on the circuit and the infrastructure surrounding the venue, so we’re hopeful of a thrilling grand prix weekend in prospect.

“After a frustrating result in Montreal, it’s fortunate that we have very few days to turn our attention to not just the next race, but a completely new event, to get to know its characteristics, gather lots of data and interpret reams of information. The issue with Jenson’s power unit in Canada is still being investigated, but rest assured that together with Honda we will identify the issue and work hard to ensure it’s not repeated, as we have done in every grand prix so far this year.

“Montreal was particularly tough on our package despite our best efforts and our car’s strengths, but we knew it would be difficult and it was therefore justifiably disheartening to finish just outside the points. However, Baku is a new set of characteristics to prepare for, and we look forward to testing our chassis and power unit against the rigours of the world’s fastest street circuit, take in the sights and sounds of a new grand prix venue and atmosphere, and present some enjoyable racing for our fans.”

Yusuke Hasegawa

"Though the circuit layout and atmosphere will no doubt be very different to the Gilles Villneueve Circuit, we believe that Baku will be similar in its stop and go characteristics and long straights, so we think it will be another tough challenge for the team. Therefore, within the small window of time given to us between these two races, it will be very important for us to analyse and understand the data from Canada to bring out the current potential of the power unit in Baku.

“This particular back to back race will be strenuous for the team to adjust and prepare everything for this race weekend, but being part of the inaugural F1 in Baku is surely something to look forward to, so I am very excited about that."

2016 EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX – PRACTICE REPORT

“Today’s positions don’t really show our full potential”

A busy first day of practice for the team at this new and challenging street circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan. This was a very intense pair of sessions as the engineers needed to gather a broad range of data, running the cars in a number of different configurations in order to best establish the development and performance path for the remainder of the weekend. 

Apart from a fuel system issue for Fernando in second practice, which briefly delayed his first run on the Option tyre, both cars ran smoothly throughout.

#14 Fernando Alonso, MP4-31-04
FP1 1m47.989s (+1.554s), 21 laps, 4th
FP2 1m46.498s (+2.275s), 27 laps, 11th

“Today was positive. 

“We arrived to find a very fast track, as we expected, but also one with some challenging corners. Maybe we need to go through the data at some of the corners as there’s still areas where we can improve – tightening up our knowledge of the inside kerbs and the racing lines, for instance. That’s something I did in Singapore a few years ago, and it really helped.   

"Looking at the data we had from the simulator, I reckon our level of competitiveness is possibly slightly better than we’d anticipated – we’re performing quite well, so that’s the positive news of today. 

"Today’s positions don’t really show our full potential.”

#22 Jenson Button, MP4-31-03
FP1 1m49.019s (+2.584s), 21 laps, 7th
FP2 1m46.234s (+2.011s), 32 laps, 9th

“We started this morning a little bit better than we’d perhaps expected, but, once everyone had got to grips with the track, it moved us to our usual positions. 

“Getting the right downforce level will be key for qualifying – we still need to work out what that will be, as our understanding isn’t quite there yet. We also need to better understand the tyres, too – the Soft seems to be a good tyre, but we need to improve our performance on the Supersoft. 

“There are some good corners around here; Turn 14 is right on the edge – it’s mad, really – but the section past the castle is too slow. The car felt reasonably okay, but, on a slippery track, when you get a tiny bit of oversteer, you suddenly get a lot of oversteer, which makes things tough.  

“We’re not quite there yet with the balance, but I hope we can get things into shape for Saturday and Sunday.”

Eric Boullier

“Today was always going to be challenging: given the contrasting characteristics of this track – the lengthy, high-speed main straight, and the tight, unforgiving section through the old city – it was essential to establish optimal downforce and balance settings for the remainder of the weekend. 

“That meant running both cars in a number of different wing, floor, tyre, fuel and balance configurations in order to gather as much data as possible for our engineers to study this evening. We’ve certainly got plenty of information – we just need to look over it carefully tonight. 

“First impressions of this track are certainly impressive – it’s already clear that this is no ordinary weekend, and the race on Sunday is likely to be tense, exciting and unpredictable, which can only be a positive for the fans. 

“Let’s hope that we’re well equipped to take full advantage of that expected unpredictability on Sunday.”

Yusuke Hasegawa

“Our focus today was to set up the car and power unit to the first ever F1 track in Baku. Based on today's performance, we still need to tweak the power unit data to adapt to the frequent braking, long straights and the over-6km full lap. All in all, we believe that the setting is good so far. 

“Obviously, Friday’s finishing positions do not often reflect the reality of the race, but we are at a good starting point.”

2016 EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING REPORT

“There’s still everything to fight for tomorrow”

A disappointing afternoon for both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, who qualified 14th and 19th respectively for tomorrow’s European Grand Prix – the first Formula 1 race around the demanding and unforgiving Baku City Circuit. 

During an extremely busy session, punctuated by incident and yellow flags, neither driver was able to run comfortably. In Q1, Jenson flat-spotted locking up into Turn 15, then wasn’t able to find a clear lap once the tyres had recovered. While Fernando graduated through into Q2, he also failed to set a representative time as he juggled traffic, managed tyres and dodged yellow flags. 

Every session so far this weekend has thrown up surprises, with tomorrow’s race likely to follow suit, so there’s still much to play for.

#14 Fernando Alonso, MP4-31-04
FP3 11th,
Q1 15th, 1m45.525s (on Options)
Q2 14th, 1m45.270s (on Options)

“That was quite a tricky qualifying session: Q1 was very stressful, in fact, as it wasn’t easy to do a clean lap as there were a lot of incidents, yellow flags and traffic. It was tough. 

“While we didn’t quite have the pace to get into Q3 today, because other teams are able to turn up their engines, we didn’t maximise our potential either, as I believe we could’ve qualified a little bit better than 14th. 

“On my final Q2 lap, there was a yellow flag at Turn Three for around 15 seconds, which meant I couldn’t open the DRS, so I lost a couple of tenths. I also think we probably didn’t get everything right ourselves – we were a bit unlucky, because we encountered traffic and were out of sequence with the cars around us.  

“So, 14th position isn’t ideal, but we saw how many incidents there were, and how many people went off during qualifying, so there’s still everything to fight for tomorrow. A Safety Car or an incident could quickly put us in a position to score points – so that has to be our aim. 

“Whatever opportunity comes our way, we’ll be there, focused and ready, to take it.”

#22 Jenson Button, MP4-31-03
FP3 8th, 1m45.954s (+1.602s), 17 laps
Q1 19th, 1m45.802s (on Options)

“In Q1, I locked up into Turn 15 – we’d fitted new brakes ahead of quali, which we always do, but they were a bit more ‘grabby’. It’s a real shame because I’d been seventh or eighth all weekend – and while I’m not sure we’re that quick, we’re definitely not 19th either.   

“It isn’t easy around here because of the traffic, but after I’d flat-spotted, I did a donut to spin the car back around, and that isn’t usually the best thing for these tyres, so we should have come in and fitted a fresh set of tyres for the rest of Q1. We thought we’d have more of a margin – but that wasn’t quite the case. 

“We just need to have some fun tomorrow.”

Eric Boullier

“It’s bitterly disappointing to have qualified 14th and 19th for tomorrow’s inaugural European Grand Prix in Baku. 

“We always knew that this afternoon’s hour-long session was going to be critical – particularly in Q1, when the track would be at its busiest. Unfortunately, Jenson struggled for a clear lap, locked up into Turn 15, encountered traffic and evaded yellow flags, then couldn’t extract the maximum from a somewhat tired set of Supersofts on his final flying lap. 

“While Fernando made it into Q2, he too didn’t manage to record a truly representative time, difficult as it was to cleave a clean lap between the numerous yellow flags encountered during the session. 

“Fortunately, tomorrow’s race looks set to be unpredictable and exciting – one where anything could truly happen. We’ll go away and lick our wounds this evening, but, mark my words, we’ll be pushing hard tomorrow to take advantage of every opportunity. This isn’t over.”

Yusuke Hasegawa

“We expected today’s qualifying session to be difficult, especially because pace is highly influenced by the long straight of the track. 

"Though we still believe that the overall package is competitive enough to fight with the mid-field cars, both Jenson and Fernando suffered with traffic and yellow flags, and could not put a clean lap together to put them through into Q3. 

" Looking at the results of the GP2 race this morning, this circuit is extremely unpredictable resulting in many on-track incidents, therefore we may still have a chance to collect some points if we manage the race tactically, so we will work on the strategy with the team throughout the 51 laps.”

2016 EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX – RACE REPORT

“A fun race, but improvements needed”

Despite the whole team’s best efforts, the inaugural race around the demanding Baku City Circuit was a disappointing one for McLaren-Honda. 

Jenson drove a customarily disciplined race to move from an unrepresentative 19th on the grid to finish 11th, making solid progress through the field – particularly during the final stint. While he raced nose-to-tail with Fernando for much of the race, the Spaniard lost ground with a gearbox issue, that caused him to retire on lap 42. 

Despite the lack of points, today’s was a commendable team effort: the strategists weaved both cars through the field on a useful two-stop strategy, while our mechanics completed all four pit-stops in under three seconds.

#14 Fernando Alonso, MP4-31-04
Started 13th
Finished DNF – gearbox
Fastest lap 1m49.101s on lap 27 (+2.616s, 18th)
Pit-stops Two: lap 5 (2.51s) and 24 (2.69s) [Option/Prime/Prime]

“This was always going to be a difficult race for us – and that’s made even more difficult when you don’t see the chequered flag. 

“We had a developing issue on the gearbox which was getting worse and worse, so we decided to retire the car in order to prevent damage to the power unit or anything else. It’s a shame, but we were running outside the points, so this retirement feels a little less painful. 

“The most important thing now is for the team to find a little more pace – for both qualifying and the race.”

#22 Jenson Button, MP4-31-03
Started 19th
Finished 11th
Fastest lap 1m47.622s on lap 50 (+1.137s, 10th)
Pit-stops Two: lap 6 (2.46s) and 25 (2.93s) [Option/Prime/Prime]

“Obviously, I didn’t make it easy for myself starting 19th. I enjoyed the race, and I got everything out of the car, but that was all we could really do as we didn’t have the pace this weekend.   

“I’m happy with my performance today. In terms of strategy, it was difficult to know the best way to go, but we’d struggled with graining on the Supersoft, so chose to pit relatively early. Then our pace was good on the Prime – I’m happy with that. It was also good to battle out there, especially when the other guy has the same equipment as you. 

“In terms of outright performance, we’re not quite quick enough, so to come from 19th to 11th wasn’t too bad, particularly with the straight-line speed we had here. 

“It was a fun race and I enjoyed it, but there are some improvements needed to raise our level of performance. I persevered as I always do when times are tough, and we’ll hopefully come out the other side.”

Eric Boullier

“After a second successive grand prix finishing just one position outside the points, there’s little to sweeten the pill after this disappointing pair of flyaway races. 

“However, let’s be pragmatic about the positives: from 19th on the grid, Jenson drove with his customary blend of calm control and gritty resolution to carve measuredly through the field to finish 11th. He managed to cut the gap to Felipe Massa by five seconds in the last dozen laps, but wasn’t close enough to challenge for that last, solitary point by flag-fall. 

“In addition, our strategists devised strong race-plans for both drivers, which, allied to four supremely efficient pit-stops from our boys, enabled both drivers to run strongly in the midfield for the entire race. While our travails went unrewarded with world championship points, we can be satisfied with the job we did out there. 

“Finally, Fernando had little good fortune today. He was increasingly hamstrung by a gearbox problem, prompting the team to retire the car. 

“It’s clear that we need just a little more inherent pace to become consistent top 10 runners, so we’ll be aiming to narrow that gap when we return to Europe, for the Austrian Grand Prix, at the start of next month.”

Yusuke Hasegawa

“We had good race pace today, and I think we did the best we could to pull the potential out of the car. However, it’s difficult to be happy when you just miss out on points for two races in a row, finishing P11 on each occasion. 

“The race itself was less chaotic than expected, with all of the cars starting from the front of the grid finishing the race unscathed. That meant we were unable to capitalise on any incidents, and our position remained again within the mid-field. 

“Though we were fearful of the long straights pre-race, we remained in the hunt thanks to the low downforce rear wing setting we adopted for this weekend. 

“Unfortunately, Fernando had a developing gearbox problem, and could not maintain his pace in the latter part of the race, so we had to retire the car to prevent any further issues.”