Azerbaijan GP 2021 - Haas F1 preview

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By Olivier Ferret

1 June 2021 - 17:22
Azerbaijan GP 2021 - Haas F1 preview

Uralkali Haas F1 Team’s 2021 Formula 1 season will continue with a trip to the edge of Europe for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit, Round 6 of the campaign.

The city of Baku blends history and modernity where West meets East alongside the inland Caspian Sea, which sits 28 meters below sea level. That makes Baku the lowest-lying capital city in the world, while it is also colloquially labelled ‘the city of winds’ for the frequently gusty conditions. Thousand-year-old preserved ruins sit alongside imposing Victorian and Soviet era architecture and futuristic glass-fronted skyscrapers, and it is fitting that Formula 1, a forward-thinking championship with a rich history, has found such a home in Azerbaijan’s capital.

Already, in just five years, the country has become a firm favorite of the Formula 1 paddock, which itself is set up directly in front of the imposing Government House on Freedom Square. ‘Land of Fire’ is the motto of Azerbaijan and Uralkali Haas F1 Team is ready to light up the city streets once more after the pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s planned event.

The Baku City Circuit provides a stern test for teams and drivers alike owing to the variety of sections that make up the 6 km layout. The first sector comprises long straights, heavy braking points and 90-degree corners while the middle section takes drivers through the Old City, past its fortress walls, and includes the narrowest portion of a Formula 1 track all year, with Turn 8 just 7.6 meters wide.

A fast and flowing sector, including multiple blind corners, leads drivers back towards the Caspian Sea and along a full-throttle section that lasts almost two kilometers. That requires a delicate trade-off between aerodynamic dependency and straight-line prowess, working out how much of each to sacrifice in order to maximize potential.

Uralkali Haas F1 Team drivers Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher previously tackled Baku City Circuit during their rookie FIA Formula 2 campaigns in 2019. Mazepin banked points by classifying eighth while Schumacher surged from the rear of the field to score fifth position. They will return to Baku City Circuit as Formula 1 drivers to put the Haas VF-21 through its paces between the walls.

Günther Steiner

The week of the Monaco Grand Prix saw the team communicate extensions of existing partner relationships and the addition of new partners. Are you encouraged that both the team and Formula 1 remain attractive commercial platforms for brands looking for exposure and engagement?

“Absolutely – it is well known that Formula 1 is a very good, global platform for partners. That is what we’re counting on. With Haas, we’ve shown that we can be a good partner and that we’re here for the future, and it’s a good time to be working with us as I believe we’ve got a very good future in front of us. I still think for any commercial partner joining Formula 1, or a team – hopefully Haas, it can be good for them.”

The youth movement was very much represented on the podium in Monaco with Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris combining for the third youngest ever podium in Formula 1 history. As a team boss with two 22-year-old rookies in Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, what do you see different in the younger drivers graduating up into Formula 1 these days and what stands them out from their older counterparts?

“These days the drivers come in younger anyway, not just now but probably from the last few years or so the drivers have been entering Formula 1 younger than the old days. It’s a trend. Obviously, they get older quicker – or they get older younger, I would say. They start karting very young and that’s here to stay. Your reflexes are better when you’re young, your motivation is higher, and I think it’s good for the sport to have young people coming along. That’s nothing against older guys, so they shouldn’t be upset with me about it, but we all have a shelf life. I think that shelf life stays the same, it just starts younger and ends younger now.”

There was talk post-Monaco of the FIA looking into a rule potentially taking away a driver’s fastest lap time if they subsequently crash and disrupt a qualifying session. What’s your take on such a rule being implemented?

“I wouldn’t be a big fan of that one if it was to be implemented. It obviously came up because Charles Leclerc hit the wall pretty hard on his last run in qualifying, but obviously it was not intentional. If it had been, the FIA would have seen that, it’s very easy to see that on the data if somebody’s done something intentionally. I don’t think there’s a need to start this discussion. What if instead of a red flag there was only a yellow flag and some people slow down and not some others – do we still cancel the lap of the guy who brought the yellow out? It’s worked for a long time as is, and it’s happened once, especially in Monaco where it’s very easy to crash by the way, I don’t think it’s a problem we need to fix at the moment. It’s part of the risk you take though if you go out late in qualifying. If people had gone out earlier maybe it wouldn’t have happened. I think if somebody does something on purpose there should be consequences, but this wasn’t the case in Monaco.”

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix marks the fifth Formula 1 race to be held at Baku City Circuit. As one of the newer venues on the F1 calendar, how do you feel Baku has integrated itself into the ‘hearts and minds’ of teams and fans in its short history?

“I think Baku is a very nice place to go to for a race. It’s a street circuit but it’s got those long straights and the scenery lends itself to the backdrop of the race. We enjoy going there, it’s different, but then we always ask for different things – but then want everything to be the same. I’m a big fan of going to Baku and hopefully it stays on the calendar for a long time to come.”

The two street tracks of Monte Carlo and Baku couldn’t be more different but what do you hope to see Nikita and Mick extract from their trip to Azerbaijan – a track where they do have previous race experience from Formula 2 in 2019?

“They’ve both raced once there. Obviously, it’s a very tricky track, but our expectations are not very high. For them it’s the same old story, they need to gain experience and learn all the tricks of the circuit to be ready for the future. Our performance will be not much different from Monte Carlo, but we look forward to it as we always try to get the best out of what we have.”

Nikita Mazepin

Reflecting on the Monaco Grand Prix, it was probably your most complete race weekend of the season so-far. What are your takeaways from Monaco in terms of your own performance and the team around you?

“Monaco was a very complete weekend, in terms of laps and an overall understanding between myself and the team. It was very needed to have a weekend like this – at the stage of the season we’re at, it’s good to start properly building. I was very happy with the work we did together. I’m looking forward to carrying the momentum forward.”

You talked post-race about the intensity of racing in Monaco and the level of concentration required lap after lap. People tend to focus on the physicality of being a race car driver, but do you focus on any mental preparation ahead of races and how does that translate behind the wheel?

“I think out of my experience in racing, obviously the physical part is something you focus on from the moment you really leave go-karts for cars, but to be able to sustain good concentration levels for two hours – it’s something you definitely require the most. I have a special training routine that I use in order to be able to sustain that and hopefully improve throughout racing.”

We head to another street circuit now, but one that couldn’t be more different from Monaco, with Baku City Circuit one of the longest layouts on the 2021 calendar topping out at 6.003-kilometers (3.730-miles). Talk us through the nature of the circuit and the engineering comprise of maximizing the speed on the straights with aerodynamic grip to navigate the Old Town sector of the track.

“Baku City Circuit is a very interesting circuit, it’s unlike most street circuits where normally you don’t get up to high speed. The track is quite a smooth surface, reasonably new tarmac from my experience there in 2019. You have massively long straights, super high speeds, and big braking points. The track is cool because it contains the Old Town as well, which is super tight – a bit of a Monaco type section, but in general it’s a huge difference from Monaco, but another challenge in a Formula 1 car that I need to take on. I’m quite curious to experience the speeds we’ll reach on the main straight. It’ll be interesting to see what will happen in Baku.”

While this will be your maiden Azerbaijan Grand Prix start you have race experience of the Baku City Circuit from the 2019 Formula 2 season – including a top ten finish in the Feature race. Does the track suit your driving style and how you like the car to be balanced, and what else did you learn from your previous visit that you can carry into your return to Baku in Formula 1?

“I had quite a good experience in Baku in F2 back in 2019, although it was just at the beginning of my career there. Baku definitely requires confidence in the car, and I was only building then. I think I’ll be much more ready for the challenge, and knowing the circuit is a privilege going into it.”

Mick Schumacher

What are your takeaways from the Monaco Grand Prix weekend in terms of your own overall performance and in particular your ability to bounce back from the disappointment of missing qualifying on Saturday to demonstrate a solid race pace on Sunday despite some early issues with your VF-21.

“Monaco was tough, difficult – we obviously had some incidents on track which always brings you back a bit in terms of confidence. To be fair, I always felt comfortable in the car, that’s why also I think you could see in FP3 the pace was there. It was very unfortunate that we missed qualifying as I felt like we had solid pace to be with the guys ahead and fight with them in qualifying. Obviously, we know that Monaco is quite qualifying dependent, so hopefully I’ll be able to participate in that next year and show my performance there. I really like the track and I like driving on the streets.”

Drivers talk about the intensity of racing in Monaco and the level of concentration required lap after lap. People tend to focus on the physicality of being a race car driver, but do you focus on any mental preparation ahead of races and how does that translate behind the wheel?

“Definitely Monaco is one of the most intense races that we have on the calendar. You don’t have time to rest, it’s corner after corner, and 78 laps of full speed, 100 percent every lap. If you lose focus it can end really badly. There’s nothing really that I do in terms of mental preparation ahead of the race, but definitely I try to calm myself down in the warm-ups, I bring my concentration towards me before jumping in the car. Once I’m in the car I feel I’m fully concentrating.

“Obviously, a big part of my concentration level being high and maintaining it, is working with the engineers and mechanics. We’re all working as a clock, every little bit works together, and I feel that also affects me when I’m driving – in a positive way obviously. We’re able to work together so closely, and they have to have a high focus too, they have to be ready for things like changing tires and reacting to situations. We had the issue in the race in Monaco, so we had to be able to react to it straight away, and I feel like we managed it pretty well. So, there are loads of things that contribute to mental preparation, but there’s nothing that we focus on every race doing the same thing – it’s always adjusting and analyzing. Each individual race needs a different preparation for the mental side.”

We head to another street circuit now, but one that couldn’t be more different from Monaco, with Baku City Circuit one of the longest layouts on the 2021 calendar topping out at 6.003-kilometers (3.730-miles). Talk us through the nature of the circuit and the engineering comprise of maximizing the speed on the straights with aerodynamic grip to navigate the Old Town sector of the track.

“It’s definitely completely different to Monaco. It’s a lot wider, with more concrete walls – where Monaco it’s more guard rails, Baku is a lot more walls. It’s a kind of a lowish to medium downforce race track, you have to keep the grip for the 90-degree corners in the tight section through the Old Town, then you have the long straights which creates a lot of overtaking opportunities hopefully. I’m definitely looking forward to it, it’s a great track, and I was there in 2019. It’s a fun track. The long run down to turn one, if you have a good start, you can benefit from it really well, but if you have a bad start it will pay you loads. It’s also important to have a good qualifying in order to be in the mix and to fight with the guys around us.”

While this will be your maiden Azerbaijan Grand Prix start you have race experience of the Baku City Circuit from the 2019 Formula 2 season – including a top five finish in the Sprint race. Does the track suit your driving style and how you like the car to be balanced, and what else did you learn from your previous visit that you can carry into your return to Baku in Formula 1?

“Well obviously it’s going to be my first start in a Formula 1 car in Baku, for sure it’s going to be different as it’ll be a lot faster. It was a track in my early Formula 2 career I felt I got along with pretty well. We were on the verge of making it to the podium, or P4 at least, in the Sprint race. Unfortunately, in the Feature race I had a mistake which led to a DNF, but nonetheless we caught it back in the Sprint race coming from the back of the field into the top five. It’s a race where anything can happen, we’ve seen that in previous years. It’s a track where opportunities open, and if you’re in the right place, you can benefit hugely from it – that’s what we’re aiming for. We should be open minded going into the race and take the opportunities that are given to us.”

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