Renault Sport Racing Formula One Team – Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2017 Preview
June 26, 2017 by Renault Foreword from Renault Sport Racing Managing Director, Cyril Abiteboul
Baku will mark the inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix after the circuit made its debut in the European Grand Prix last year. It's an event we're looking forward to as it's another opportunity for us to improve and develop, which are the keywords for our season.
Montréal was a solid weekend for us and at this point in our roadmap, we can be satisfied with the results. After the frustration of Monaco, it was important for us to brush that aside, focus on getting the job done in Canada and make a swift return to the points. Nico had a strong Grand Prix showing good pace across both Saturday and Sunday. We must pay credit to him as he remained cool throughout an eventful race with the high wind which caused all sorts of issues. We took a risk-free punt at pitting Nico early under the Virtual Safety Car and an eighth-place finish was probably as good as it was going to get.
Jolyon was able to secure back-to-back eleventh place finishes which is positive as we are seeing improving race pace. The challenge and priority for Jolyon now is to qualify higher in order to be in a better position on the grid. That will boost his chances of being in contention of winning some points and contribute to the team's charge of moving up the Constructors' Championship. We closed the gap to both Williams and Toro Rosso in the standings with our aim, of being sixth before the mid-season break, remaining unchanged.
It was good to see Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull on the podium in Canada for the third time in a row this season. This is a good illustration of what is possible and on the Power Unit side we are making constant improvements to the R.E.17, which was a new engine package for 2017 that allows a substantial step forward from its predecessor, the R.E.16. Obviously, this was darkened by Max Verstappen's retirement, as he was looking very strong in second position. That retirement was the first one for Red Bull Racing caused by the Power Unit since Melbourne 2016, but it is not an excuse as perfect reliability in the race is our priority, for all our customers.
Baku is an especially exciting and testing circuit on the Formula 1 calendar and it is important that we add to our success from Canada with another points haul. Baku presents a fairly similar task to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with some long straights finishing in hard-braking zones. Everything we learned in Montréal should be very useful for building towards a clearer picture for Azerbaijan. Last year was a step into the unknown but there is a positive feeling this time around as we have the know-how on what to expect.
The work going in at both Enstone and Viry is pushing us further forward towards our target and it is vital now that we keep on working through these busy European rounds which come thick and fast. And hopefully in the next couple of races, by Hungary, at the end of July, these efforts will be rewarded with more substantial upgrades, to support us in fighting for higher positions. We need positive results to drive us to where we want to be, in fifth position in the Constructors' Championship. We are making small improvements each race which is increasingly encouraging.
Elsewhere, our Third and Reserve Driver Sergey Sirotkin was kept busy at the weekend competing in the Le Mans 24 Hours, where we also saw the Alpine brand finish fifth overall and fourth in the LMP2 category as well as our Formula E duo of Nico Prost and Sébastien Buemi out in action. Sergey will be back behind the wheel, for a one-off this weekend, as he makes a return to ART to contest the Baku round of the FIA Formula 2 Championship; we wish him well on track.
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Technical Director Nick Chester is keen to build on the positivity of Renault's recent points finish in Montréal as the R.S.17 upgrade packages continue to move the team further forward.
What do we know about Baku?
It was a pretty tricky place last year on the circuit's Formula 1 debut. It has a bit of a Monaco styled section but with some long straights down the back. It is a bit bumpy and a very difficult place for both set-up and driving. We will need good braking stability as it is hard braking with hard and tight corner entries. It has a tricky mix and we probably need three different cars; one for each section!
Does the R.S.17 have any new upgrades?
We have got a few updates, including bodywork. We have some things to try on suspension to improve the handling and also an update to the cooling system to improve the performance a little bit. What we learned from Canada will be useful for Baku especially in terms of hard-braking.
Is there much happening behind the scenes?
We already have a few designers working on the 2018 car. We are still working hard to develop the 2017 car and we have a few things still planned. As we start developing the 2018 model in the tunnel, we might try and bring some items forward to this year's car. As you go through the season, you gradually have less designers on it as some of the attention switches to next season. We are also working hard behind the scenes to improve our capabilities at Enstone with upgrade programs in various departments.
The new Operations Room is hitting full swing, how is it functioning?
The Operations Room has been really useful since it went live for Spain. It has helped a lot to understand car performance and set-up after practice sessions. Monaco was a good example of that after our problematic Thursday. We made a big improvement courtesy of the room where we held meetings and managed to make some changes, find the problems and we subsequently found some improvement.
Castles and cobbles
A composed drive from Nico Hülkenberg in Montréal saw him make a return to the points. And the German wants to add to that on the fastest street circuit on the F1 calendar.
Was it pleasing to be back in the points in Canada?
I think Montréal was a good weekend overall. Qualifying was solid and in the race, we got the best out of the car so four points was good for us. I had a lonely race as a whole with some good battles with Lance Stroll and Kevin Magnussen which was fun. The team did a decent job and that has been rewarded. We are making good progress. We have a lot of potential with the car which we need to discover. It is very encouraging and I am looking forward to getting out to Baku.
What makes Baku so cool?
It is still a new venue to Formula 1 which is exciting, we are still getting used to it. Going through the old town is cool with the narrow walls, but it takes time to learn the track. I am usually good at adapting quickly and learning new tracks and new lines. It is exotic and a bit different here. There are some cool looking, vintage houses around. The old castle brick wall has a blind entry which is unique, Monaco is spacious in comparison!
Is it a tricky circuit to navigate?
There are some walls waiting for you so it is important to be quite brave. The viewing is good for fans and the speed is cool to watch. It is the fastest street circuit on the calendar. Overtaking will be possible with the long, DRS straights. There are a lot of tight, 90-degree turns matched with flat-out kinks, so I am looking forward to racing it. The castle complex of turns 8 to 10 will be especially close with the wider cars.
It was the first Grand Prix in Baku last year, what do you remember from it?
It was obviously unfamiliar surroundings last year as we were all new to the track. But I had a positive weekend, qualifying in twelfth place before making up a couple of places in the race to come home in ninth with two points. I remember the first practice session last year and really enjoying the track as it was different and had a bit of everything. The weekend was pleasing so hopefully we can build on that this year, especially with our recent form.
Back-to-back eleventh place finishes for Jolyon Palmer means he is getting ever closer to his first points score of the season as he targets a stronger Saturday to propel him into the top ten on race day.
What do you make of the Baku street circuit?
I think it is a cool track, there are some high-speed sections - especially for a street circuit - and overtaking is a possibility. The middle sector is busy and difficult with its undulation and the sector is extremely tight. Any mistakes on a street circuit tend to mean you are into the wall, so you have to be alert. It is wider than Monaco, apart from through the castle section. You've got to get as close to the walls as you can to open up the line and carry the speed through.
Are you excited to get out there?
I've loved street circuits ever since I drove Marrakesh in F2 and then Monaco in GP2. I've always got on well with them. I'm looking forward to getting back out on another city circuit and approaching it very differently to Monaco and building up a little bit more. It's great when you're so dialled in and you get close to the walls; that's the best buzz for us. That is two eleventh place finishes in a row. I think in Baku we can at least be in the top ten, maybe top eight. We are doing well at the moment, we will keep going and I am feeling strong, I need to work on qualifying pace and being higher on the grid.
Does the weather in Baku make things tricky?
It is going to be very hot and it is very windy in the city, so that could affect us as well. The wind affects the airflow over the car. We've had cars crash in the past because of a sudden, big gust of wind and these F1 cars are very sensitive. Race day in Canada was like that, it was very windy especially across the back straight! Baku is by the coast as well so you could get a bit of coastal wind coming in, according to my GCSE geography…
What do you remember from Baku's debut outing last season?
It is always tricky getting to grips with a new circuit, it is very high speed and it brought a lot of challenges. We now know where the bumps are and which gears to use. I qualified on the final row last year and managed to work my way up to fifteenth in the race. I think I put in the eighth fastest lap of the race which is very positive, I am looking forward to getting out there and building on that knowledge.
Renault Sport Academy
Enstone training camp for RSA trio
Three members of the Renault Sport Racing Academy enjoyed a two-day training programme in Enstone (5-6 June) which involved a series of physical tests and activities.
Formula Renault Eurocup duo Jarno Opmeer and Max Fewtrell as well as Spanish Formula 4 youngster Marta Garcia were all put through their paces during the training camp.
The trio began with a driver conditioning workout before an intense squash session to boost coordination.
A track session followed which included various long and short distance sprints with the day capped off with high intensity interval training and a light, evening cool-down run.
'The fitness schedule was quite hard as usual! However, I improved quite a lot from previous tests, especially running because I have spent a good amount of time and focus on that aspect across the last two months. After that we played squash to improve our coordination and we did some more, high intense running on the athletics track. It was really good fun and very beneficial.'
'I had a good two days of training and physical testing which I enjoyed a lot. I learnt a handful about how the race weekends and being away has affected my performance, but I am keen to keep developing and learning along the way.'
'I attended Enstone for a couple of days of training where I did some physical assessments. I have improved after my first time here and I feel happy about that! We also did some circuit training and played squash which was my first time and I found it really fun and beneficial. And on the last day I did a sim session to prepare for my first race. Overall the two days were profitable and as always I learned new stuff.'
Positive test for Aitken in Hungary
Jack Aitken is aiming to hit the ground running when the GP3 series returns on 7-9 July at the Red Bull Ring.
And in the meantime, the 21-year-old is putting in the hours to make sure he does just that with a successful two-day test in Budapest (6-7 June) further highlighting his ambition and skill to run at the top end.
Jack, driving for ART, began the schedule well finishing the morning session of the opening day in P2 with a 1:32.654 after a 28-lap run. In the afternoon, Jack completed 46 laps and marginally improved his time to a 1:32.547.
On Day Two, Jack clearly rolled out of bed on the right side as he put in 40 laps with a best time of 1:32.003 securing a P2 finish in the morning session. After lunch, Jack put in a 1:33.897 in a race focused simulation.
'It was a solid test, we were consistently in the top three across the two days. We weren't spectacularly quick at any point, just there or thereabouts which is good. We learned a lot about the car with few dramas. It was tight at the top with my ART team-mates. We are in a good place for the first half of the season and we are pretty confident. I was happy with my pace, especially in the race runs where I think I was quickest.'
Lundgaard bags win number three
Christian Lundgaard continued his strong run of form in the SMP F4 NEZ Championship as he secured a third victory of the season to leap to the top of the standings.
Lundgaard was racing in the third round of the F4 series in Ahvenisto, Finland (2-4 June).
The Danish teen made a bright start to the weekend as he was second quickest in the opening practice session before blasting his way to the top in Free Practice 2.
Lundgaard looked set to seal pole position in Qualifying 1, but his time was wiped from the board after setting the lap under a red flag.
Starting from the back of the grid in Race 1, Lundgaard managed to weave his way through the field to pick up a P7 finish.
Race Two was a carbon copy as the Dane settled for another P7 and a couple of valuable championship points.
Sunday, however, belonged to Lundgaard. Putting behind the disappointing Saturday, he stormed to pole position ahead of Juuso Puhakka in Qualifying 2 and led from lights-to-flag in Race 3 to take a third win of the season.
And with championship rival Xavier Lloveras finishing third, Lundgaard overtook him to the summit of the overall leaderboard by two-points with the next round in Parnu, Estonia (1-2 July).
'Overall, the weekend was really good. I learnt many new things after starting from the back in Race 1 and Race 2. The disqualification after the opening qualifying session was a disappointment, but I put that behind and looked forward and managed to show why I deserve to be at the front.'
Rowland and Latifi back in action in Baku
Renault Sport Formula One Team Development Driver Oliver Rowland and Test Driver Nicholas Latifi return to action in Baku as the Formula 2 series resumes from its one month break.
Rowland will be aiming to build on his maiden win in Monaco in May by keeping the pressure on Championship leader Charles Leclerc. Rowland, second in the standings, is the in-form man this season with points in every race bar the Sprint in Monte Carlo.
Latifi, meanwhile, will hope for better luck on the Baku streets after a frustrating weekend in Monaco which saw him retire from the Feature race and fall short of the points in the Sprint. The Canadian enjoyed a return to his home for the Montréal Grand Prix as a guest of Renault and will be setting his sights on Jordan King who sits above him by one-point in the Championship.
Baku is an interesting circuit, we went there last year and I had a decent weekend. I came sixth in the Feature race after starting from sixth on the grid and followed that up with a fourth in the Sprint. The track has tight bits with some quick straights and flat-out areas which is good fun. In terms of the Championship battle, I think it will come down to whether or not I am quick enough in qualifying. I need to improve in that area. We know where we are good and we are hoping to build on that.
I have prepared for Baku by visiting the DAMS base with Oliver and going through some sessions on the simulator. It is a cool track, very busy at the start with the sharp corners with some long and fast sections too. I am hoping to bounce back from Monaco with some points here. Canada was fun, I always love getting the opportunity to go to my home Grand Prix as I truly believe it is one of the best ones and it was also nice to see my family and friends. I tried to gain as much information and knowledge as possible with the team.
Garcia prepares for opening race
Marta Garcia is gearing up for the season opening of the Spanish Formula 4 Championship which kicks off in Aragon on 24-25 June.
The Spanish teen is driving for MP Motorsport in this year's championship which covers four of Spain's best circuits as well as trips to Nogaro in France and Estoril in Portugal.
Motorland Aragon kicks things off before the series heads to Navarra in September followed by a double-header in Barcelona and Jerez. The youngsters then travel to Navarra once more and then to Nogaro in October before finishing in Estoril in November.
Marta will be wearing the Renault Sport Racing colours for the first time since joining the Academy in March.
The 16-year-old has been working hard to prepare for the opening round and revealed her excitement to get going.
The season has been a long time coming but I am really looking forward to jumping in the car and racing again. I have been working behind the scenes – most recently at the beginning of June in Enstone – to be ready for the physical challenges of driving an F4 car. We will be aiming to start the season well and get some points on the board.
Eurocupers take a trip to Enstone
Formula Renault Eurocup quartet Will Palmer, Sacha Fenestraz, Alex Peroni and Zane Goddard paid a visit to Renault Sport Racing's Enstone base on Tuesday (13 June) as part of an internship programme. The trip focused on gym work and a run in the simulator as the Eurocupers prepare for the next round of the series in Hungary (30 June-2 July).
Current Renault Formula 1 driver Jolyon Palmer dropped by to guide his brother Will, who currently leads the Eurocup series by nine points after picking up three wins. Renault Sport Academy member and former Formula Renault Alps champion Jack Aitken was also in attendance to help the youngsters on the simulator and pass on his single-seater knowledge.
Fenestraz, third in the Championship, won in Monaco and has four second place finishes to his name this season. Peroni, a Renault Australia teen, picked up a maiden win in Pau and sits fifth in the standings with rookie Goddard still without points. The winner of the Eurocup title gains a place in the Renault Sport Academy for next season.
It has been a really good day with Renault and very interesting. It was my first time in a Formula 1 simulator which was a great experience. I hope to be back here next year with the Academy after winning the title; that is the goal! The tour of the factory was incredible – all the machinery and people working for two cars, I learned a lot. I am looking forward to Hungary now, hopefully it will be good, we are building race by race. I am very thankful to Renault for this opportunity.
It has been a great day with a fascinating insight to all the work going on behind the scenes at a Formula 1 team. The simulator was amazing, my first sort of experience with an F1 car, it seemed so realistic – learning about aerodynamics and power. It was good to have Jack Aitken, one of the Renault Academy members, there to watch us and coach us a little bit. It was a very productive day. Sacha and I pushed each other along and I thoroughly enjoyed it so big thanks to Renault.
It was a full-on day but good fun. The simulator was an awesome experience and really cool, especially with these new cars, feeling that was mega; it was a good day. Jolyon popped his head around and had a few pointers which was good to have. The gym was interesting with body composition things such as cardio and strength. It was all very interesting. Looking forward to Hungary now, it should be a good weekend, there are plenty of points on offer and we need to hit the ground running.
It has been tough and very full on but I had a really good time here. The simulator was cool, I learned quite a lot and I have a lot of things to take away and build on. I am keen for Hungary, it is my first time there. I need to get to the level of these other guys and go from there. Pau was a breakthrough for me, weight off the shoulders moment so it is important to build on that and win some more races this season.
Buemi and Renault e.dams continue to lead Formula E
Renault e.dams maintained their lead at the top of the Formula E team standings after a mixed bag of results in Berlin's double header which saw Sébastian Buemi seal a sixth win of the season.
With two races on show, multiple points were on offer across the weekend (10-11 June) at Tempelhof Airport with the first ePrix going beyond the 100km mark taking place.
Saturday was frustrating for Renault as Buemi was disqualified from the opening race for failing to comply with the minimum tyre pressure. The Swiss started the race from P14 and worked his way up to P5, whilst team-mate Nico Prost secured a P5 points finish after starting from P9.
Sunday proved a change of luck for Buemi as he qualified on the front row for Sunday's 46-lap race. He kept tabs with pole-sitter and the quickest man of the weekend Felix Rosenqvist who was given a 10-second time penalty for an unsafe release in the pits which gifted Buemi the victory. Prost had a busy race and came home in eighth.
Buemi leads the Drivers' Standings by 32 points from Lucas di Grassi with Prost in fourth. Renault head the Constructors' by 58 points with the next ePrix, another double-header, taking place in New York between 15-16 July.
'I drove a faultless race two despite some light contact at the first bend. I started the race on a used set of tyres in the hope of being even more competitive with the second car. During the first part of the race, I tried to follow Felix's rhythm in order not to be too far behind and to lead the rest of the pack. Despite the fact we did a good car swap and the use of a Fanboost, I didn't manage to overtake him. Saturday was disappointing, but it was important to put that behind and bounce back on Sunday.'
'It was a somewhat frustrating day on Sunday. We had good pace during both practice sessions but had a disappointing qualifying. I started the race positively and managed to overtake Mitch Evans, Oliver Turvey and Sam Bird. But then I lost places during the pit-stop because we were blocked due to the unsafe release from the Mahindra cars. After that, I couldn't overtake. So P8 is not a good result, as I think we could have achieved at least a fifth place. I can take positives from Saturday, though as I think we had a good race. The championship is very tight as we prepare for New York.'
At 6.003km Baku is the second longest lap after Spa's 7.004km. The circuit is 28m below sea level with a 28°C average air temperature expected. It is often very windy and the track twists and turns anticlockwise.
T1 – Features heavy braking from around 320kph into the sharp left which has the luxury of an extended run-off area. Despite this and other braking points, the circuit is not expected to be hard on brakes – as there is plenty of opportunity for them to cool. The track has frequent 90 degree corners with this being the first. End of straight speeds of around 330kph expected in qualifying this year, although with a good tow these can be over 340kph in the race. Brakes are quite cold before Turn 1 after the long straight, although they get hot through the tight middle sector.
T2 – The second 90-degree left-hander opens up into another long straight with good overtaking opportunities culminating with a third 90-degree left-hander.
T4 – 90-degree right which leads into a left-right chicane of 5 and 6, revealing the picturesque view of the Flame Towers in the distance.
T8-9 – Most of the circuit is wide for a street course, but turn 8 followed by 9 is the contrast as it is very narrow and technical as it winds through the castle on the left and the cobbled, medieval old-town streets.
T11 – Turn 11 features a crest with walls very close to penalise any error.
T13 – Full throttle through the left-hand kink with a slight camber at 13 before a carbon copy at 14 in top gear with hard on the brakes for 15, the tight, downhill left. The barrier is close on the exit and it is easy to touch it when coming on power.
T16 – Turn 16 is the final braking point before the rapid T17-20 section which snakes right and left at high speed and feeds into the long, start-finish straight – pit-lane on the left which contains a small chicane entrance.
Power Unit Notes:
Baku is the most power sensitive track of the year so far, even more so than Montréal. Any extra power will make a noticeable impact on lap time owing to the long periods of wide open throttle.
Around 59% (in qualifying) of the track will be at wide open throttle. The majority of the last sector will be flat out, from Turn 16 to the braking point for Turn 1. Drivers will be on the throttle for a total of 24secs through this sector with a maximum speed of 330kph with DRS.
Baku is on the limit for fuel usage. It is expected that drivers will have to incorporate around 4% fuel saving to stay within the 105kg limit. Canada was in the region of 8%.
The driver will be on the brakes for approximately 20% of the lap, giving the energy recovery systems ample opportunity to recharge the energy store.
The track is middle of the road for downforce levels, making cornering speeds approximately equivalent to Sochi (around 75 – 120kph).
Medium (white) – Sabayil Castle - Like the 'Atlantis' Sabayil Castle, these tyres probably won't be seen!
Soft (yellow) – SOCAR Tower - The SOCAR Tower stands tall in Baku and the tyres will play a pivotal role come race day.
Supersoft (red) – Flame Towers - The powerful Flame Towers, high and mighty in the Baku skyline, likely to take a lot of the attention at the weekend.
92 – Baku is located 92ft below sea level, making it the lowest lying national capital in the world.
15.1°C – Average annual temperature of Baku.
40 – Azerbaijan has 40% of the world's mud volcanoes.
162 – Azerbaijan has the world's second tallest flag pole, standing at 162 metres.