2016 Formula 1 European Grand Prix - Preview

Less than a week after the thrills of Montreal, Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and the rest head into unknown territory this weekend when Azerbaijan hosts its maiden Formula One race, the European Grand Prix, on the streets of Baku.

This was the main topic of paddock chat on Thursday when the drivers and teams arrived in the former Soviet state just four days after the completion of the Canadian Grand Prix, won by defending world champion Hamilton.

The 31-year-old Briton, who compared sections of the circuit to driving on a motorway, can overhaul Mercedes team-mate German Nico Rosberg for the first time this year and top the drivers’ championship if he completes a hat-trick of wins in Sunday’s race.

But Hamilton and his racing rivals were more concerned on Thursday with the dangers apparent in the design of the new circuit, notably the high-speed entry to the pit-lane where the race, if Ricciardo is right, may be won or lost.

Australian Ricciardo said the chicane and short straight that lead to the pit lane could be the scene of an opportunity to gain or lose up to a second in lap time.

“I think it is going to be quite cool because the pit entry is a part where you can gain a bit of time,” said the Red Bull driver. “This one in particular -- if a driver gets it right, and doesn't make a mistake, there is easily half a second, if not one second, on the pit entry, between a good one and a bad one."

He added that if a driver misjudged the challenge, it could be costly. “You either crash or you lose a lot of time! It could be cool if you are battling someone in the race and trying an undercut, or an overcut, maybe what you do on the pit entry can dictate who wins.”  

Swede Marcus Ericsson warned of major accidents. “The entry looks a bit interesting,” said the Sauber driver. “You're going to come there very, very fast without any margin. You don't want to see cars crashing going into the pit lane and I think it's going to be a bit of a discussion after Friday.

“You are going to have to brake and turn, and then it's sharp right-left, then you brake again for the speed limit.

“If it's like that it's like that. I don't mind, but it could lead to big accidents going into the pits and I'm not sure that's what we want."

Four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari was less concerned. He said: “The pit entry looks a challenge, but then again that is why we are here…”

Ricciardo, of course, had much more to worry about following Red Bull chief Helmut Marko’s forecast that their car was likely to lose 1.2 seconds on the straights against their main rivals.

"I hope he's wrong, it sounds like a lot," said Ricciardo. "Let's see. I hope we don't lose that much, but if we lose around that, let's say we lose a second we can make up a bit of time through the corners.

"On Mercedes, probably not that much, they've got good car as well, and Ferrari, probably minimal, but on someone like Williams, we expect them to gain a bit on us down the straight, and then in the corners I hope our advantage takes over.”

The race will be held on a new circuit built against a picturesque backdrop of the old city walls. Nearly four miles long, the track is the second longest on the calendar.

Hamilton said he had tried the track in the Mercedes simulator and had been frustrated at its stereotypical nature. “It’s just another new track,” said the defending three-time world champion. “There’s one very tight spot on it. It got a very long straight… I don’t have a lot to say about it. I don’t know what I can say…

“Monaco is the street circuit and they don't make them like that. I don't know why they don't, but why don't they just make street circuits like they used to?

“I don't understand. It's super wide in some places -- as wide as a motorway almost, but, hopefully, it will be fun.”

Unlike most of the drivers, Hamilton did not walk the circuit. He added: “I don't know if it's bumpy, I don't know if it's smooth, I don't know if it's difficult for braking, the kerbs are harsh, I don't know anything.

"It's just a layout on the track so I know which way it goes at least. Tomorrow after the first few laps, I'm pretty sure I'll know if it's difficult or not."

He added: “I've not walked a track since 2010 and it makes zero difference. Walking around the track or riding around the track you might see a kerb, but it looks a lot different when you're driving around it. It might work for others, but for me it doesn't.” 

Follow the Action