Nico Hulkenberg heads to Azerbaijan in a bullish mood as he seeks to return to the points on the old, cobbled streets in Baku.
What do you like about travelling to Baku?
Nico Hulkenberg: Baku is an interesting place and has a different feeling to the conventional Grand Prix weekend. It's also a bit different to any street track because everything is located quite close together, including the distance between the hotel to the paddock. The old town buildings, vintage houses, castles and cobbled streets are all quite cool to see. The race is also interesting year on year; I've been a little unlucky for the past two seasons there, but you have to be in the right place at the right time to capitalise on any opportunity.
Where are the key sections on the circuit?
NH: The long straight is probably the standout section of the whole track. You can get a big tow from other cars there as we saw last year with our early battle with the Red Bulls and, as everyone knows in Baku, anything can happen. It's high-speed and intense there. The middle sector is quite good with some winding, slow-speed corners and close walls on both sides. We have to go beyond our comfort level in Baku because the cars have low downforce settings, and that's both a challenge and a thrill at the same time. The slightest mistake there can have a big impact.
How do you feel after China?
NH: It's disappointing to retire from two of the three races so far this year, especially as we've shown strong pace at each weekend. The car has been feeling good, I've been feeling comfortable in the car and there's certainly potential to score solid points at each race. We have to ensure we have more consistent weekends. Baku can be a strange place for results, everything and anything seems to happen there, so we have to be in the best possible position to be in and amongst it.
Six points in China for Daniel Ricciardo meant he opened up his points-scoring account for the team. Now his attention switches to Baku on a circuit which can spring up all sorts of surprises, which the Australian knows all so well after his 2017 heroics.
What makes the Azerbaijan Grand Prix so unique?
Daniel Ricciardo: Baku is a unique circuit, different to other street circuits we race on, because there are a lot of places to overtake. Baku has been interesting for me; I've had high points, like the crazy win in 2017, and also some low points like last season. 2017 was a wild race, it was like we were karting and all of us were kids again. There are some things in Baku, which future circuits could replicate. The long, winding straight lends itself to massive slip-streaming and close racing. It's a low downforce setting on the car, making it a low grip circuit.
What are the main challenges of the Baku Street Circuit?
DR: Braking is the biggest challenge there. It's tricky and you have to commit and brake as late as you can, especially at Turns 1 and 3 after the straights. When you aim to brake late, it means you're constantly on the limit and there is no room for error. You have to find that limit under braking and that is probably the hardest part to get right in Baku because the walls are close. We've seen in the past there any small error means you're in the wall and it's game over.
How satisfied were you to score your first points for the team?
DR: It was good to get points on the board with the team in China and get ourselves up and running. We built up nicely over the weekend, starting with a solid day's practice, followed by improvements every time I stepped in the car all the way up to qualifying. The race was a challenge, managing a tough one-stop, but we made that work and there's a lot of positives to draw from that. We know we have a lot to do if we're to keep up the improvements, but we'll keep digging away.