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Azerbaijan GP: Preview - Haas

NEWS STORY
17/06/2017

Romain Grosjean calls it "two different circuits in one" and Kevin Magnussen says "it's a mixture of Monza and Monaco". It is Baku City Circuit, a 6.003-kilometer (3.730-mile), 20-turn street course that hosts the Azerbaijan Grand Prix June 25.

The two Haas F1 Team drivers and 18 of their counterparts blast down two enormously long straights in a dumbbell-shaped layout that runs counterclockwise. The Herman Tilke-designed track blends old and new amid fast straights and slow corners. It winds through a modern, Eastern side where swank hotels and high-end shops reside, to a historic area where the streets are narrow and steep before returning to the mainstraight. A sharp left turn greets drivers at the end of that straight, not too dissimilarly from the Tilke-designed Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, home to the United States Grand Prix. It's a unique and challenging layout that is augmented by Baku's notorious winds, which are always prevalent. In fact, City of Winds is the unofficial, but literary, name for Baku.

Winds of change have been blowing all year in Formula One, with this new generation of higher-downforce racecar breaking track records at every circuit visited thus far in the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship. Baku could buck that trend, however, as the track hosted its first grand prix last year when the lower-downforce cars of the previous era produced significant straight-line speed.

The higher-downforce cars of today aren't as quick in a straight line, but thanks to a wider front wing, larger barge boards, a lower and wider rear wing, a taller and wider diffuser and tires 25-percent wider than last year, these current-generation Formula One cars dart through corners at speeds never seen before this year.

With 20 turns built into Baku City Circuit, drivers will test the boundaries of the world's fastest city circuit in an effort to make up the lost speed on the two main straights - the 2.2-kilometer (1.367-mile) mainstraight along the promenade and a 1-kilometer (.621-mile) stretch that takes drivers away from Azadliq Square. Grosjean's "two different circuits in one" and Magnussen's musing of Baku being "a mixture of Monza and Monaco" are apt.

Because Baku City Circuit is so new, there is still plenty of learning to be had. Grosjean finished 13th in last year's race after a potential points-paying result was derailed by debris getting caught in his car's radiator intake. Finishing right behind Grosjean was Magnussen, whose 14th-place drive came with his former Renault team.

Speaking of Renault, Haas F1 Team comes into the Azerbaijan Grand Prix locked in a tight battle with the factory-backed squad. Renault is seventh in the constructors standings, only three points ahead of Haas F1 Team. But with point-paying results in five of the seven races run this season, Grosjean and Magnussen are eyeing another points-paying effort in Baku to not only bolster their respective 12th- and 13th-place positions in the driver standings, but to also take hold of seventh in the constructors standings and potentially fight with sixth-place Williams, which currently enjoys a seven-point margin over Haas F1 Team.

In 2016, Haas F1 Team scored points in just five races. With that tally already having been equaled in 2017 with still 13 races remaining, the American outfit believes Baku can be the scene of another points-scoring effort that can surpass its 2016 mark and keep the midfield battle as tight as the corners around Baku's historic Sabayil Castle.

We're now a third of the way through Haas F1 Team's second year. How would you assess the season and the team's development to date?
Guenther Steiner: "We've had our ups and downs, but we scored points in five of the seven races. And in one of those races, we were well on our way to score points, but then we had a mechanical failure. The midfield is very tough, and to score points five out of seven times is not bad. Sure, we need to score more points, not just one-point scores, but in general the team is maturing and I'm very confident that we'll keep maturing."

Where are the areas where Haas F1 Team can improve?
GS: "In the short term, it's very difficult to make improvements. You always try to get some aerodynamic updates on the car, but otherwise, it's more mid-term improvements, which we are making and the team is developing. It's also gaining experience - that is one of the improvements we will make one way or the other. I think we're on a good track."

You've scored points in five of the seven races this season, when last year you scored points in five total races. Even though your point tally isn't as high as last year, are you happy with being in the points on a more consistent basis?
GS: "Absolutely, because that gives our people to go home with something - you don't have to wait four or five races until you get the next points. Sure, we would like to score more points each event, not just one or two points, but that will come. If you are consistently in the lower-ranking points, we will get to the better positions where there are more points."

Baku became the fastest street circuit in Formula One when it debuted last year and speeds have only increased this year. What do you expect with this newer, faster and wider car on a circuit that's only a year old?
GS: "Like all the circuits, we have to see where our time will be. The times improve more on a slower circuit with the new car than on the fast circuits because the top speeds are not much higher than last year. So, I don't know how the surface looks this year in Baku. Last year it was pretty slippery, and I don't know if the asphalt is still slippery. We'll really only know until after FP1."

Was there anything from last year's race at Baku that's applicable to this year's race, or is it all out the window because the cars are so different?
GS: "You can use all the data again because now, having done seven races, we can translate the data from last year's car to this year's car pretty easily. It all helps, and we're able to come in to this race as well prepared as we can."

Most first-year events have some growing pains. But last year's race seemed to come off incredibly well. What did you think of Baku's first race?
GS: "It's a fantastic place. Everybody did a good job there last year. The organizers were good and the racetrack was good. They knew what to do and they were well prepared."

There's a lot of talk regarding future Formula One schedules. What would you like to see, both in terms of the amount of races and how the races are laid out?
GS: "I'm not opposed to a few more races. What I wish is that the races are more bundled - that we stay in one region and are not going back and forth to Asia, where you go back for one week and then back the next. How big the area you group together, I don't really know. It needs to be studied of how many F1 races an area can take. For instance, I think it would be difficult to have a race in Abu Dhabi and then another one the next week in Bahrain because we are very close together there. But a few more races, if it is well organized, will not be that much more time away for the teams. In general, I have nothing against getting up to 25 races."

If the schedule does expand beyond 21 races, what would you need to do to ensure personnel can handle the added workload?
GS: "We just need to plan and maybe relieve some people. Maybe not all the people will want to do 25 events, but I think it can all be managed, and if we do it cleverly, it is not so much more. For sure, there is more cost involved because you travel more. You need more car parts because you run more. But, in general, if we've got enough time to get prepared properly, we always find a way to make things work."

Is there a part of the world where you'd like to see Formula One race?
GS: "A race in South Africa would be nice."

We're now a third of the way through Haas F1 Team's second year. How would you assess the season and the team's development to date?
Romain Grosjean: "It's been a pretty good start. I think from last year we've made some big steps forward in all places. We're more consistent. We've been able to score points more times than last year, which is good. There are still a lot of areas where we want to improve and we can improve. Generally, I'm very pleased with the way the team has been moving forward."

The Canadian Grand Prix was another example of how tight the midfield is this year, where teams are separated by just tenths of a second. RG: Everyone is talking about the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes, but how would you characterize the midfield battle between Force India, Toro Rosso, Williams, Renault and Haas?
"It's actually very exciting. If you were removing the three big teams at the front and only leaving the midfield, there would be a different race winner almost every grand prix. The difference between pole position and P2 in Canada was much bigger than from P10 to around P17 or P18. That shows how tight it is in the midfield and how much we have to be getting 100 percent from the car every time."

With last year being the first race at Baku City Circuit, time in the simulator was the only way to prepare for the race. How did your time in the simulator compare with the reality of your first lap around the track? And if there was no simulator time, how did you prepare yourself to compete at an unknown venue?
RG: "Simulators are a great help, but it's never going to be as good as driving the track for the first time. Especially when it's a new grand prix, the track's layout is never 100 percent correct in a simulator. I guess the best way is just to walk the track, see how it goes, then take it steady on the first few laps and build your pace from there."

Baku became the fastest street circuit in Formula One when it debuted last year and speeds have only increased this year. What do you expect with this newer, faster and wider car on a circuit that's only a year old?
RG: "It's going to be pretty exciting. I think some parts of the circuit are going to be very tight for the wider cars, but some other corners are going to be really nice to drive. Straight-line speed is going to be a bit down. I think it's going to be a really cool track to drive with these cars - braking late and carrying a lot of speed in the corners, and playing around with some pretty fast corners through the walls."

Was there anything from last year's race at Baku that's applicable to this year's race, or is it all out the window because the cars are so different?
RG: "I believe there's always a lot of things you can bring from the past, even when the cars are different. We'll look at what we did last year, what our setup was like, and what we could've done better in the race. I think we've got some ideas and we'll apply that with the deltas of this year. There are always things we can learn and improve."

Most first-year events have some growing pains. But last year's race seemed to come off incredibly well. What did you think of Baku's first race?
RG: "It was a really good race. It's a beautiful city and a beautiful track. The only downside we noticed was the plastic bags flying around - they actually cost us points in the race as one got caught in the radiator intake. Hopefully, that's improved. For me, that was the only downside of what was a really good weekend."

What was the most challenging part of the Baku City Circuit and why?
RG: "I would say it was the back end - going around the castle, up the hills, then going back down and the two last corners, which were actually pretty tricky."

What is your favorite part of the Baku City Circuit and why?
RG: "Actually the same part. It's the most challenging one. It's pretty high speed and you've got to get the right balance in those corners as well as the braking. It's pretty exciting when you get it right."

Describe a lap around Baku City Circuit.
RG: "You've got the first part of the circuit - big straight lines and then big braking into 90-degree corners. It's not the most exciting, but it's good for overtaking. Then later the track changes a lot. There are very tight corners, but flowing ones. Around the castle it's uphill and very fast. The two last corners are downhill with a lot of camber before the long backstraight. It's really two different circuits in one."

We're now a third of the way through Haas F1 Team's second year. How would you assess the season and the team's development to date?
Kevin Magnussen: "I think it's been very good. The first season for the team was very impressive. They delivered some good results. The second season was always going to be difficult to improve on, but actually I think we're on our way to doing that. We've been in the points in the same number of races this year than all of last year, so it's already going well in terms of taking a step forward. That was our main target - to at least improve on last year and make a step forward."

The Canadian Grand Prix was another example of how tight the midfield is this year, where teams are separated by just tenths of a second. Everyone is talking about the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes, but how would you characterize the midfield battle between Force India, Toro Rosso, Williams, Renault and Haas?
KM: "It's just that it's so close, even the smallest mistake can cost you a lot. That's how racing should be. It's how it's always been before Formula One in all the other categories I've done. It's kind of really cool that it's back to real racing again."

With last year being the first race at Baku City Circuit, time in the simulator was the only way to prepare for the race. How did your time in the simulator compare with the reality of your first lap around the track? And if there was no simulator time, how did you prepare yourself to compete at an unknown venue?
KM: "I never tried the Baku City Circuit in a simulator before actually racing there. It was a cool experience to just go on a track you don't even have 100 percent idea which way the corners are going. I really had to learn the circuit from scratch. It was a cool experience and the track was really cool. I'm looking forward to going back again."

Baku became the fastest street circuit in Formula One when it debuted last year and speeds have only increased this year. What do you expect with this newer, faster and wider car on a circuit that's only a year old?
KM: "It's going to be fun. The corners are going to be faster this year because of the increased downforce. We're going to be a bit slower on the straights, so I suspect Baku might be one of the tracks where we're not going to be that much faster than the old cars, but it's still going to be massively fun and challenging in the corners."

Was there anything from last year's race at Baku that's applicable to this year's race, or is it all out the window because the cars are so different?
KM: "Now I know the track, and I learned which way the corners are going, coming back this year will be easier to adjust to the track. A couple of corners might be easy flat now, maybe even turn 13 will be flat now, which it wasn't last year. That will be a cool experience."

Most first-year events have some growing pains. But last year's race seemed to come off incredibly well. What did you think of Baku's first race?
KM: "It was a pretty cool race. Baku offers good opportunities to overtake. There's a lot of action in the race - that's always good."

What was the most challenging part of the Baku City Circuit and why?
KM: "The most challenging part was sector two. It's very low speed, very narrow. It's easy to make a mistake."

What is your favorite part of the Baku City Circuit and why?
KM: "I would say sector two, in all the narrow bits. It's good fun and you have to be very precise."

Describe a lap around Baku City Circuit.
KM: "I guess it's a mixture of Monza and Monaco - which is pretty unusual. I'm looking forward to it."

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