Lewis Hamilton dismissed his fellow drivers as “moaners” on Friday as he made light work of the new “big balls” street circuit in Baku, the setting for Sunday’s European Grand Prix.
While some drivers complained about a lack of grip and moving kerbs, a narrow track and old buildings being in the way, the world champion was the fastest driver in both practice sessions, beating his Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg, by almost four-tenths of a second in the opener before returning to better him by nearly seven-tenths in the afternoon.
Hamilton, who said he had completed only a few laps on the simulator and admitted he did not even bother to walk the track on Thursday, said the circuit reminded him of both Valencia and Monaco. “We’re doing 220mph down the main straight and you definitely have your heart in mouth,” he said. “It’s a real challenge so far to be on the limit but I’m feeling pretty much at home.”
Then he added: “Configuration-wise it’s not massively challenging but it’s like a big balls track. You need balls through here, just like in Monaco. One thing for sure, these drivers they moan so much about so many damn things. It’s really bumpy down the main straight, and you can’t really see Turn 1 that well, because the car’s vibrating, so it’s really hard.
“But that’s part of racing. But these guys want it to be smooth, smoother than ever, no vibrations and no bumps. They want to take all the character and life out of these tracks. This has bumps but I guarantee there will be some people who say those things, but I’ll just sit there and smile.”
He smiled there and then. And there was a little shoulder shrug, as if he was asking the other drivers: “What’s all the fuss about?”
He added: “You trip up but then you get back on. That’s how a new track is, especially with a street circuit. Everyone is trying to get up to speed as fast as possible.”
The longest street circuit on the schedule (3.77 miles long, with 20 corners and speeds of up to 210 mph over 51 laps) is clearly not to everyone’s liking. Daniel Ricciardo, who lost control of his Red Bull and went into the wall during the first session, said: “I think the marshals will be pretty busy this weekend. Probably a few of them will take home some souvenirs – a bit of a front wing or whatnot.”
McLaren’s Jenson Button, who had already registered some concerns on Thursday, added: “I spoke to Charlie [Whiting, F1’s race director] and he’s assured me that the right checks will be done. But driving the circuit is never going to change the way you feel – I haven’t hit the wall, so I don’t know how it feels.”
The second practice round was in doubt following the cancellation of qualifying for the GP2 because of safety worries. Whiting told Sky Sports: “Some small bolts had come loose at the end of the kerbs on Turns 6 and 12, so we’ve taken the bolts out and welded the kerbs to each other.
“Everything’s new,” he added. “They’ve done the best they could and we just needed to do a bit of fixing.”
Rosberg explained that he had been on medium tyres while Hamilton had used faster, softer rubber. But there was more frustration for the German championship leader when he was told to stop his car on the track because of unexplained problems.
It was also a difficult day for Red Bull and Ferrari, who were two seconds off the pace. But both Force India and Williams performed well.
Meanwhile Ricciardo said he was happy at Red Bull, despite his recent setbacks. “Where I am in my career, personally, the only reason I would jump ship is to fight for a title.
“At the moment Mercedes is the only team that is fighting for a championship, so the next best place for me would not be anywhere else other than Red Bull. For next year I would say we have got as good a chance as Ferrari.
“If they started dominating, and they’re like: ‘Daniel, we want you to come and win a world title for us,’ then obviously it looks a lot more appealing but otherwise I am in the best position.”It has been a deeply frustrating season for Ricciardo, who was leading the race in China before he suffered a puncture. When the fast show returned to Barcelona, he was handed Red Bull’s second-best strategy call, a three-stopper, which allowed team-mate Max Verstappen to win the race on his first appearance for the team. A pit-stop blunder in Monaco, where his team could not locate the right new tyres, then robbed him of the chance of a straightforward victory in Monaco.
“I guess the frustrating thing is the opportunities that we, and other teams, have had to take points away from Mercedes,” he said.
“We handed a victory to Lewis in Monaco, and Seb, or Ferrari, made life easy for him in Montreal. You can’t let them have any free points.”
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