Azerbaijan GP: Short history, but the perfect stage for chaos
After a painful, never-ending month, Formula 1 is finally back. And what is the best way to return if not with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix? A race that has always gifted the fans a great show and unexpected results.
Here's a little explanation of the recent history of this street circuit, alongside a brief recap of all the main episodes that made this race so iconic.
History and track configuration
The first time Formula 1 cars stormed through the city of Baku was in 2016. However, the name of the race was European Grand Prix. Oddly enough, the first event there was not as exciting as those that followed. By 2017, though, the track had its permanent spot on the Formula 1 calendar with the brand-new name of Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Baku immediately became famous since, even though it's a street circuit, it was one of the fastest, and longest tracks on the calendar. A mix of fast sectors like the first and the third, slow 90° corners, and a middle sector that runs through the old city made this venue iconic and incredibly difficult for both drivers and engineers. It's common to see drivers make mistakes while braking, especially during free practice sessions, and it's also tricky and challenging for the team to find the perfect setup for the car.
Throwback to the past races
As already mentioned before, the 2016 edition saw a pretty calm race. Nico Rosberg driving for Mercedes scored pole position, fastest lap, and won the race. The only highlights were Lewis Hamilton having technical issues and Sergio Perez coming home third with Force India.
One year later, Baku hosted the first-ever official Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and things already started heating up. The race was incredibly entertaining with crashes, retirements, and beautiful overtakes.
Vettel vs. Hamilton
Already on lap one, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen collided, and they both had damage. As the race progressed, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton (championship contenders at the time) came into contact in an unusual way. During a safety car period, the German drove into the side of Hamilton's car as he believed the Briton braked in front of him on purpose. Moreover, during the race, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, that were teammates at Force India, crashed into each other, ruining their Grand Prix. Finally, out of all that chaos, it was Daniel Ricciardo, who, after starting P10 and showing his bravery under braking, took home the victory for Red Bull.
Last minute drama
2018 didn't let the fans down either. On the first lap, Fernando Alonso had to drive almost the whole track on two wheels, while Esteban Ocon was put in the wall by Räikkönen. Just like the year before, Baku wasn't nice to drivers competing for the same team. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were fighting for positions when they crashed out of the race. After the safety car, Bottas took the lead, but Baku decided to strike again: the Finnish driver suffered a puncture, and Hamilton inherited first place and later won the Grand Prix.
Unfortunately, the 2019 edition didn't provide such an entertaining race. Mercedes dominated by coming home with a 1-2 finish, with Bottas ahead of Hamilton and Vettel third for Ferrari.
2021, a nightmare for champions
In 2020, Azerbaijan couldn't host the race due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it came back in style one year later. Verstappen was comfortably leading, but the unexpected happened. On lap 48, he suffered a puncture, hit the wall, and he had to retire. With 3 laps to go, the race direction decided to restart the Grand Prix with a standing start. Hamilton seemed to have overtaken Perez right at the start, scoring a 25-0 against Verstappen. However, a costly mistake under braking meant he ended up last. Perez claimed the victory, with Vettel and Gasly completing a surprising podium.
Red Bull's supremacy
Last year's race was perfect for Red Bull, which scored a 1-2 finish with Verstappen ahead of Perez. On the other hand, it was a complete nightmare for Ferrari, which saw both of his drivers DNF. Overall, it was a calm and clean race.
Let's close the article with some curious stats about the Azerbaijan GP: there has never been a driver who won twice here, Red Bull is the team with the most victories (3), Ferrari scored 3 pole positions and won 0 races, while Red Bull scored zero pole positions and won three times.