Formula One’s newest circuit has thrown up some old-style problems with both Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button, two of the sport’s most respected figures, expressing safety concerns in the runup to the street race in Baku on Sunday.
The inaugural Grand Prix in Azerbaijan – it has been billed as the European Grand Prix even though the country borders Russia, Georgia, Iran and Armenia – represents a retrograde step according to McLaren’s Button, who says the sport has moved backwards in terms of safety. The pit lane entry and a lack of run-off areas represent the main worries. There are also some tight corners around ancient walls, while cars can reach speeds of well over 200mph on the longest straight.
Button, who is a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, said: “Maybe the circuit was supposed to be the other way around. It is just how it is. It is a shame because a lot of the circuit is good and you look at the condition of everything, it does look very good. I do like the layout, it is exciting in some places. But some things look like they need to be addressed. The bit I don’t like is a few corners.
“We work so hard on safety, improving circuits all the time and we come here and we have corners like T3, T7 and T14 that don’t have any run-off at all. Turn 7 has three Tecpro barriers and then a concrete barrier at the edge of the circuit. There is not much you can do because there is a building in the way. It is a shame really.”
Rosberg was equally unimpressed. “There is a massive accident to be had,” the world championship leader said. “The track looks great, the place is great. A little bit of a concern with those run-offs. There are two or three which are really not looking good. That’s not great.
“I really trust the FIA [the sport’s governing body] to get the job done. They have all the calculations and simulations. They know exactly the speeds. There are given rules they have to make tracks, so I would hope that they stuck to them. I’m doubting it a little bit, looking at those corners.”
The tight streets of the old city leave little margin for error for drivers coming here for the first time, but Sebastian Vettel was more philosophical. “The pit entry looks a challenge – but then again, I think that’s why we’re here,” the four-times world champion said. “And I certainly have the plan to stay on track and not use the run-off.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo sounded happy enough when he said: “It could be cool if you are battling someone in the race and you are trying an undercut or an overcut. Maybe what you do on the pit entry can dictate who wins that position. I like it actually.”
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