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Renault preview the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Renault preview the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Round 8 of the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship, at the Baku City Circuit.

Foreword from Renault Sport Racing Managing Director, Cyril Abiteboul

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“Baku will mark the inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix after the circuit made its debut in the European Grand Prix last year. It’s an event we’re looking forward to as it’s another opportunity for us to improve and develop, which are the keywords for our season.”

“Montréal was a solid weekend for us and at this point in our roadmap, we can be satisfied with the results. After the frustration of Monaco, it was important for us to brush that aside, focus on getting the job done in Canada and make a swift return to the points. Nico had a strong Grand Prix showing good pace across both Saturday and Sunday. We must pay credit to him as he remained cool throughout an eventful race with the high wind which caused all sorts of issues. We took a risk-free punt at pitting Nico early under the Virtual Safety Car and an eighth-place finish was probably as good as it was going to get.”

“Jolyon was able to secure back-to-back eleventh place finishes which is positive as we are seeing improving race pace. The challenge and priority for Jolyon now is to qualify higher in order to be in a better position on the grid. That will boost his chances of being in contention of winning some points and contribute to the team’s charge of moving up the Constructors’ Championship. We closed the gap to both Williams and Toro Rosso in the standings with our aim, of being sixth before the mid-season break, remaining unchanged.”

“It was good to see Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull on the podium in Canada for the third time in a row this season. This is a good illustration of what is possible and on the Power Unit side we are making constant improvements to the R.E.17, which was a new engine package for 2017 that allows a substantial step forward from its predecessor, the R.E.16. Obviously, this was darkened by Max Verstappen’s retirement, as he was looking very strong in second position. That retirement was the first one for Red Bull Racing caused by the Power Unit since Melbourne 2016, but it is not an excuse as perfect reliability in the race is our priority, for all our customers.”

“Baku is an especially exciting and testing circuit on the Formula 1 calendar and it is important that we add to our success from Canada with another points haul. Baku presents a fairly similar task to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with some long straights finishing in hard-braking zones. Everything we learned in Montréal should be very useful for building towards a clearer picture for Azerbaijan. Last year was a step into the unknown but there is a positive feeling this time around as we have the know-how on what to expect.”

“The work going in at both Enstone and Viry is pushing us further forward towards our target and it is vital now that we keep on working through these busy European rounds which come thick and fast. And hopefully in the next couple of races, by Hungary, at the end of July, these efforts will be rewarded with more substantial upgrades, to support us in fighting for higher positions. We need positive results to drive us to where we want to be, in fifth position in the Constructors’ Championship. We are making small improvements each race which is increasingly encouraging.”

Time to tinker

Technical Director Nick Chester is keen to build on the positivity of Renault’s recent points finish in Montréal as the R.S.17 upgrade packages continue to move the team further forward.

What do we know about Baku?
NC: It was a pretty tricky place last year on the circuit’s Formula 1 debut. It has a bit of a Monaco styled section but with some long straights down the back. It is a bit bumpy and a very difficult place for both set-up and driving. We will need good braking stability as it is hard braking with hard and tight corner entries. It has a tricky mix and we probably need three different cars; one for each section!

Does the R.S.17 have any new upgrades?
NC: We have got a few updates, including bodywork. We have some things to try on suspension to improve the handling and also an update to the cooling system to improve the performance a little bit. What we learned from Canada will be useful for Baku especially in terms of hard-braking.

Is there much happening behind the scenes?
NC: We already have a few designers working on the 2018 car. We are still working hard to develop the 2017 car and we have a few things still planned. As we start developing the 2018 model in the tunnel, we might try and bring some items forward to this year’s car. As you go through the season, you gradually have less designers on it as some of the attention switches to next season. We are also working hard behind the scenes to improve our capabilities at Enstone with upgrade programs in various departments.

The new Operations Room is hitting full swing, how is it functioning?
NC: The Operations Room has been really useful since it went live for Spain. It has helped a lot to understand car performance and set-up after practice sessions. Monaco was a good example of that after our problematic Thursday. We made a big improvement courtesy of the room where we held meetings and managed to make some changes, find the problems and we subsequently found some improvement.

Castles and cobbles

A composed drive from Nico Hülkenberg in Montréal saw him make a return to the points. And the German wants to add to that on the fastest street circuit on the F1 calendar.

Was it pleasing to be back in the points in Canada?
NH: I think Montréal was a good weekend overall. Qualifying was solid and in the race, we got the best out of the car so four points was good for us. I had a lonely race as a whole with some good battles with Lance [Stroll] and Kevin [Magnussen] which was fun. The team did a decent job and that has been rewarded. We are making good progress. We have a lot of potential with the car which we need to discover. It is very encouraging and I am looking forward to getting out to Baku.

What makes Baku so cool?
NH: It is still a new venue to Formula 1 which is exciting, we are still getting used to it. Going through the old town is cool with the narrow walls, but it takes time to learn the track. I am usually good at adapting quickly and learning new tracks and new lines. It is exotic and a bit different here. There are some cool looking, vintage houses around. The old castle brick wall has a blind entry which is unique, Monaco is spacious in comparison!

Is it a tricky circuit to navigate?
NH: There are some walls waiting for you so it is important to be quite brave. The viewing is good for fans and the speed is cool to watch. It is the fastest street circuit on the calendar. Overtaking will be possible with the long, DRS straights. There are a lot of tight, 90-degree turns matched with flat-out kinks, so I am looking forward to racing it. The castle complex of turns 8 to 10 will be especially close with the wider cars.

It was the first Grand Prix in Baku last year, what do you remember from it?
NH: It was obviously unfamiliar surroundings last year as we were all new to the track. But I had a positive weekend, qualifying in twelfth place before making up a couple of places in the race to come home in ninth with two points. I remember the first practice session last year and really enjoying the track as it was different and had a bit of everything. The weekend was pleasing so hopefully we can build on that this year, especially with our recent form.

Within reach

Back-to-back eleventh place finishes for Jolyon Palmer means he is getting ever closer to his first points score of the season as he targets a stronger Saturday to propel him into the top ten on race day.

What do you make of the Baku street circuit?
JP: I think it is a cool track, there are some high-speed sections – especially for a street circuit – and overtaking is a possibility. The middle sector is busy and difficult with its undulation and the sector is extremely tight. Any mistakes on a street circuit tend to mean you are into the wall, so you have to be alert. It is wider than Monaco, apart from through the castle section. You’ve got to get as close to the walls as you can to open up the line and carry the speed through.

Are you excited to get out there?
JP: I’ve loved street circuits ever since I drove Marrakesh in F2 and then Monaco in GP2. I’ve always got on well with them. I’m looking forward to getting back out on another city circuit and approaching it very differently to Monaco and building up a little bit more. It’s great when you’re so dialled in and you get close to the walls; that’s the best buzz for us. That is two eleventh place finishes in a row. I think in Baku we can at least be in the top ten, maybe top eight. We are doing well at the moment, we will keep going and I am feeling strong, I need to work on qualifying pace and being higher on the grid.

Does the weather in Baku make things tricky?
JP: It is going to be very hot and it is very windy in the city, so that could affect us as well. The wind affects the airflow over the car. We’ve had cars crash in the past because of a sudden, big gust of wind and these F1 cars are very sensitive. Race day in Canada was like that, it was very windy especially across the back straight! Baku is by the coast as well so you could get a bit of coastal wind coming in, according to my GCSE geography…

What do you remember from Baku’s debut outing last season?
JP: It is always tricky getting to grips with a new circuit, it is very high speed and it brought a lot of challenges. We now know where the bumps are and which gears to use. I qualified on the final row last year and managed to work my way up to fifteenth in the race. I think I put in the eighth fastest lap of the race which is very positive, I am looking forward to getting out there and building on that knowledge.