The most important thing for us to take away from the Baku weekend is that Brendon Hartley scored the first Formula 1 point of his career in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which saw Lewis Hamilton take his first win of the year (Azerbaijan GP Results). The New Zealander has had a complicated start to his first full season in the category and this was a good morale booster for the Kiwi and for our team as a whole. Before Brendon and Pierre started work at the track, Red Bull Azerbaijan had arranged for them to visit a Baku university to meet students and professors specialising in the oil and petro-chemical industry, which is the backbone of the country’s economy. The audience was clearly thrilled to have a pair of F1 drivers in the auditorium and questions ranged from the highly technical to what the drivers ate before the race. Once the Q and A was over, it was time for the students to challenge the drivers to a computerised racing game, followed by the obligatory selfies and autographs.
There would be more of that over the weekend as our two drivers attended signing sessions for the fans and it was interesting to take a stroll through the Fan Zone, as clearly the number of spectators had risen dramatically this year compared to the first two race weekends in Baku. If the economy is driven by oil, it’s clear from events like the Grand Prix, that promoting tourism is a big thing here and that was reflected in the fan areas, where local food, drink, music and traditional crafts such as making jewellery were all being promoted. It would seem that the stated aim of Formula 1 to make the sport more accessible and interesting for a wider group of fans is paying off, even at relatively new venues like Baku.
Brendon was pleased to get his name on the scoreboard, while Pierre was left to consider what might have been, after any chance he had of getting in the points ended after he was squeezed into the wall in the closing stages by Kevin Magnussen, for which the Haas driver was penalised by the stewards. That particular incident wasn’t the first scary moment of the weekend for Pierre, after he narrowly avoided crashing into his team-mate at high speed during qualifying and all of us in the pit garage forgot to breathe for a few moments. Having picked up a puncture, Brendon was travelling very slowly and had not yet managed to get completely off the racing line, when an unsighted Pierre came screaming into view, flat chat on a lap that should have been good enough to get him into the second phase of qualifying. It was one of a number of close calls and crashes that have come to typify the ultra quick Azerbaijani street track race in the three years we have been coming here. After some negative comments about the Halo and suggestions that the sport has gone soft, the Baku weekend also served as a reminder that, even with all the emphasis quite rightly placed on safety, Formula 1 is still a very fast and dangerous sport.
We never really got the STR13-Honda package to run at its best over the three days, however, our engine partner is pleased that it is making steady progress on the reliability front and our relationship continues to develop, as both parties learn more about how to work together. Now we have what the nostalgia seekers refer to as the start of the European season, but really, these days, it’s more of a two week European interlude, as after the Monaco Grand Prix we head across “The Pond” to Canada, which the last time we looked is definitely not in Europe. But first, it’s time to head to Barcelona. The last time we were there for testing it snowed! Let’s hope for better weather and a strong performance from Toro Rosso.
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