Whatever may be wrong with the current breed of Formula One cars there is no denying they are seriously fast and anyone with an interest in Grand Prix racing should experience them live at least once to truly appreciate just how fast. And for this there is no better circuit on the calendar than Baku.
Television coverage with its compressed head-on and wide-angle shots may keep the cars in frame for longer to follow the action but also dilutes and distorts the reality. The impression of speed is diminished and the gaps between cars and their proximity to barriers appears greater. It shallows the gradient of Raidillon at Spa and widens the streets of Monaco.
There are enough circuits where it is possible to see the cars travelling flat-out but the height of the vantage point and distance from the track as well as surrounding run-off area and length of time in view can all affect the perception. Street circuits generally provide the best arena.
Baku City Circuit is 6.00 km (3.73 miles) long, of which a whopping 2.2 km (1.4 miles) final section is a flat out straight with a couple of kinks in it. The top speed recorded at this year’s race was 337 kph (209 mph). With the exception of one grandstand all accessible public viewing is along this straight with the general admission area being the adjacent footpath with just the concrete barrier and the odd flower bed or tree in between. It is possible to walk its entire length starting with a head-on view of the exit of Turn 16 to a rear view into Turn 1. There is only the occasional detour behind some grandstands, subway entrances or other buildings.
Standing at the exit of Turn 16 can be slightly unnerving as the cars momentarily point straight towards you as they power onto this final straight missing the barrier by millimetres. It is similar to Montreal’s ‘Wall of Champions’ except there the viewing area is from the rear, not head-on.
The cars blasting through the channel of buildings and trees as they pass at over 300 kph reverberates through your body whilst the displaced air rustles the leaves on the trees and causes the fence to shake. It is mighty impressive to experience. With the current breed of hybrids the noise is bearable, for previous generations ear defenders would have been essential.
Walking alongside the track during Formula One practice and the GP2 sprint race in 2018 the thought crossed my mind more than once that if something broke and a car were to lose control and snap sideways the incident would be over and done with before it had even registered. In this year’s Grand Prix that is exactly what happened, twice in fact. But again, the long lens head-on shots of the cars of Lance Stroll and Max Verstappen slithering along the barrier amongst a shower of debris in the immediate aftermath could never realistically convey the ferocity of these colossal impacts. Fortunately, the safety features of the current cars and circuits ensured both drivers got out unscathed.
Impressive indeed, in every aspect.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.