Toto Wolff Hopeful Mercedes Have Turned The Corner

2021 Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday - Toto Wolff (image courtesy Mercedes-AMG Petronas)

After a disastrous Monaco Grand Prix that saw his team lose the lead in both the Driver’s and Constructor’s Championships, Toto Wolff is hopeful his team have turned the corner as they analysed just what happened.

With a botched strategy putting Lewis Hamilton into seventh, and a machined wheel nut forcing Valtteri Bottas out of the race, the team spent a lot of time over the past two weeks working out what went wrong, and how they can improve going forward.

‘Weekends like Monaco are the ones that keep you coming back for more. Nothing comes easy in this sport, and that’s why we love it. We know that if you are not at, or close to, 100% then it will bite you.
‘On Monday morning I saw the same energy as when we returned from the Bahrain test and that pleases me. We dissected the weekend, asked hard questions of ourselves, and learned some crucial lessons. I wish we could have been back racing last weekend.
‘Baku is next up. While it’s a very different street circuit to Monaco, we expect it to be another tricky one for us, not particularly suiting the characteristics and traits of the W12. Red Bull will be strong again, while both Ferrari and McLaren have made great progress recently. A key focus for us has to be exploiting the opportunities available to us on those outlier tracks which aren’t suited to our car – when the points are there, we need to grab them.
‘There will be swings back and forth in this fight which is exciting for the sport and exciting for us. We’re expecting another challenge on the city streets and after the results of the last race, we’re more determined and fired-up than ever to bounce back in Baku,’ said Wolff.

2021 Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday - Toto Wolff (image courtesy Mercedes-AMG Petronas)
2021 Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday – Toto Wolff (image courtesy Mercedes-AMG Petronas)

One of the best ways to describe the layout of the Baku City Circuit is that it’s two tracks in one: half Monaco, half Monza. The twisty Old City section has a similar vibe to the streets of Monte Carlo, while the long straights and big braking zones are a characteristic it shares with the Italian Grand Prix venue.

The unusual mix of traits in Baku makes setting up an F1 car a tricky balancing act. The ideal scenario would be the unachievable; a high-downforce car for the corners and very low downforce for the straights. So, often, teams have to find the compromise and opt for the medium-downforce configuration.

From a mechanical perspective, one interesting challenge is finding the balance of heating your tyres for Qualifying without cooking them in the race. This is actually a similar challenge to Portimão, so cars that performed well there, should expect to go well in Baku.

Baku falls into the average range for lap time (64%) and lap distance (77%) spent at full throttle, but those figures are considerably more than any of the other traditional street circuits on the F1 schedule.

The long lap and long straights at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix venue make it the busiest lap of the year for the gearbox, with drivers upshifting and downshifting gears 70 times! Singapore has the second most gear changes per lap, with 66.

Baku has one of the highest braking energy levels of any F1 track, with eight braking zones registering over 2g. This is despite the circuit being one of only three tracks with zero heavy braking zones – which we define as generating over 4g, for more than 0.4 seconds.

Most street circuits don’t tend to register the same level of maximum g-forces as traditional tracks and Baku is no different, with a max g-force of 3.8g at Turn 18 – one of the lowest max g-forces of the season, and the track also has the lowest average of the season for lateral g-force across the lap.

Because of these lower forces, it isn’t a demanding race physically for the drivers, as there is less strain on their neck. There are also more straights for them to do switch changes and there is a bit more margin for error with the barriers, so it is less mentally demanding too.

The average steer angle in Baku is very low, compared to other circuits on the calendar like Silverstone and Barcelona, meaning the corners are very short. This doesn’t put much energy into the tyres, which is why warming them up can prove challenging.

Because the corners don’t generate as much energy as other tracks, teams are more dependent on brake heat to keep the tyres warm. However, because of this, the softer tyre compounds are more sensitive to overheating and breaking apart, so it’s a tough balance to find between keeping the tyres warm and not overheating them.

Most street tracks also tend to register fairly low maximum speeds, but that definitely is not the case in Baku… the cars can reach speeds of up to 331 km/h at the end of the start/finish straight, the fifth highest figure of the season.

Overtakes are notoriously difficult to execute on street circuits. Not Baku – the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix contained one of the highest numbers of ‘normal’ overtakes (non-DRS assisted) as any race that year, with 37.

A Safety Car isn’t uncommon in Baku. Two of the last four races have included Safety Cars, with five total deployments. And it’s one of the toughest Safety Car restarts of the year, because of the long main straight and the fact the start/finish line is at the very far end of it. Go too soon and you’ll get slipstreamed, go too late and the field could be much more bunched up behind you, opening up the risks of being overtaken.

The section of track from the exit of Turn 16 to the braking zone for Turn 1 in Baku is the longest flat-out section of track on the F1 calendar. It’s around 200 metres longer than the Turn 1 to Turn 5 stretch at Spa-Francorchamps.

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