NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: The First Race at the Baku City Circuit

This weekend Formula 1 will race on the streets of Baku, Azerbaijan, a new track to the schedule. The addition provides another tight challenge to the calendar as the track features some of the same unforgiving aspects of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.  There had been a slight possibility that the series might visit Baku last year but that was some wishful thinking.  

Adding a track like this one shows F1’s continued attempt to forge its way into new markets, as this one makes for an interesting pairing with the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, which is roughly 720 miles to the east.  Of course, Baku also works against the traditional old tracks.  As the series goes to a place like this one or Bahrain or Abu Dhabi, older tracks and their organizers find increased competition to remain on the schedule.  It’s no wonder that France lost their race, that the British Grand Prix at Silverstone has faced doubts at times, and that the German Grand Prix has concerns.  

A little about Baku, or call it fun facts.  The city sits on the western coast of the Caspian Sea and the capital rests 92 feet below sea level, which is somewhat of an oddity.  Over two million of the ten million Azerbaijanis are reported to live in the City of Winds.  It is a place of contrasts, one recognized for its world heritage by UNESCO while also becoming a popular place for things like the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 and the UEFA Euro in 2020.  

Though a country that seems on the rise, Azerbaijan has also come under scrutiny for its human rights violations, notably toward journalists, who are supposed to have free speech.  Instead, any criticism of the state has tended to be quashed and opposing media outlets banned from the country, as well as protests against the government.  In addition, not since the ruling family, the Aliyevs took charge has the country had what could be called a fair and election. The reason for bringing up this aspect is that F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone made sure to keep up his tendency to say something stupid by stating that he didn’t know of any of these issues and wanted someone to define just what human rights are.  

As usual, once the cars take to the track these problems don’t seem to matter as much.  And when the lights go out, this race should provide a good deal of entertainment – though one wonders if the tight confines will allow for much in the way of overtaking.  

Odds & Sods

Ricciardo-GP-Baku-Crash
Daniel Ricciardo is safe at Red Bull – so no worries about that wreck in practice (credit: Getty Images)

– Arriving ahead of the race, Bernie Ecclestone found the Baku circuit to be lovely and was excited by the inaugural running.  In his jubilation, Ecclestone decided to needle a market where he so desperately wants to make a mark, that being North America.  He labeled said North America a s&*thole, however, possibly in regard to the fact that the Texas situation is a mess or that he can’t find a suitable place elsewhere in the U.S. to run.  The subtext of the comment is that he’s looking for someone in the states to put together a top-flight track in one of its metropolitan centers.  Too bad that really doesn’t seem in the offing.  

Red Bull announced that Daniel Ricciardo is signed with them through 2018.  This announcement means that he’s safe for the next two and a half years and that he won’t be part of the upcoming silly season.  Speculation has surrounded Ricciardo joining Ferrari but that’s now off the books, and really, with the way that Red Bull has been improving, it might be in his best interest to stay put anyway.  

– A number of drivers faced issues during the first two practice sessions.  Both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari struggled with their cars and Vettel drove off course at one point.  The aforementioned Ricciardo tagged the wall.  In fact, the list of drivers who ran off and either had to spin-flick their car around or use reverse pretty much encompasses the whole field.  Then there’s championship leader Nico Rosberg who spoiled his engine with twenty minutes to go in the second practice.  The problem didn’t seem to worry Rosberg and he noted that the engine had a lot of miles on it and he was due for a new one.  

Force India driver Sergio Perez has been mentioned as a possible replacement driver at Ferrari should Raikkonen not be kept.  While such a move may just be chatter at this point, it’s still a wild one.  Consider that Perez was let go by McLaren at the end of 2013 and that he has often shown promise only to back it with poor performances.  He has rebuilt himself while driving for his current team and it is important to remember that he was once part of Ferrari’s development program.  

Azerbaijan 2016
The Baku Street Circuit. Wild layout (credit: F1)

– Also floating about in rumors is Sauber driver Felipe Nasr.  There is speculation that Sauber may cut ties with him, but that seems like a strange move.  Nasr brings with him a strong financial backing.  To say that Nasr hasn’t performed is also to point at the team which hasn’t exactly put out a wonderful product.  This one will be an interesting one to follow.  

– One more quick note.  Pirelli will continue providing the tyres for the series through the 2019 season.  The tyre contract never seemed to be in doubt as the only other competitor for it, Michelin, never seemed to make a strong push to take over as supplier.  

The Race

The European Grand Prix stands as a race with no fixed location, having been run in England, France, Germany, and Spain previously.  The last iteration was held at the Valencia Street Circuit in Spain in 2012.  This one is new and features 20 turns, and a distance of 3.73 miles, making it the second longest track of the F1 calendar.  It is a mix of both the old city and the more modernized one, making it a track of two halves.  The practice times have indicated that the track will become the fastest street circuit in the world.  

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