For me, the European GP starts where the Canadian GP ends. a uto motor und sport unfortunately does not (yet) have a private jet, with my colleague Andreas Haupt and me like Niki Lauda, Toto Wolff and Nico Rosberg Jet off from Montreal immediately after work and hit Vienna on Monday morning. In our case, of course, Stuttgart. For us, Swiss only takes off on Monday at 5.15 p.m. in Montreal. We already have a lot of background stories in our luggage that our website has to fill in the days before Baku.
A tightly packed program that keeps us from watching the European Football Championship. With one eye we can see Sweden versus Ireland in a pub over a quick lunch and Italy versus Belgium at the airport. In Zurich we reach our plane to Stuttgart despite a 45 minute connection time. It will be a long, tough day in the editorial office, which ends again at the airport in the evening. This time Stuttgart.
With Turkish Airlines to Baku
Andreas can rest a day for his first Le Mans adventure. Tobias Grüner takes over. Because Turkish Airlines is delayed, we quickly see the second half between Austria and Hungary at an airport bar. The Ösis fail miserably. We are in Istanbul three hours later. After 4 waiting loops in the air and what feels like another hour on the taxiway to our parking position. Istanbul should urgently expand its airport. The approach chaos is already bigger than in London Heathrow.
We are also making our next connection to Baku and jet in the middle of the night to a place that we only struggled with on the globe a few years ago would have found. We knew, of course, that it used to be part of the Soviet Union. But when Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and whatever they are called split off, we lost track of things a bit.
We are finally there at five in the morning. Rather worn out, 8 time zones and 8,956 kilometers from Montreal. We are welcomed by a modern airport and surprisingly little bureaucracy. We'll be through customs in 3 minutes. The luggage arrives faster than in Stuttgart. When I think of how complicated it was to book the media hotel, everything here goes amazingly smoothly.
The hotel wanted me to sign a 13-page contract. With company stamp on each side. Everything in the local language. I'mnot sure if I bought part of the hotel with it. There are plenty of London taxis standing around outside the terminal. And people who offer their own driving service. Certainly illegal. But you can find it all over the world.
Azerbaijan shows what it has to offer
A shuttle service brings us to the hotel. We can't stop being amazed. The four-lane motorway is like a shop window. The Azerbaijani shows left and right of what he has. Everything clean, everything a little pretentious. Then the Olympic Stadium, which never hosted the Olympic Games. Only the European Games, for which the country is said to have got into debt.
In the city center it looks like Budapest. The glass palaces glitter in the distance. It's more like Singapore. Our hotel is a bit yellowed on the outside, but otherwise okay. From here the shuttle goes to the track. So logistically perfect. It wasn't until Sunday that we found out that we could have run too. The press center is about 1.5 kilometers away. At the time we do not yet know how the route is cordoned off and which bridges there are in the inner part. Not many, as it turns out later.
First lap in 100 minutes
After 5 hours of sleep, work starts at 12 noon. The auto motor und sport trackwalk is on the program. At 30 degrees in the shade. As with any new route. The first one we meet is Charlie Whiting. The FIA race director is currently checking the drain grids and curbs at the pit exit. We do not yet suspect that we will still deal with this from Friday. 100 minutes later we pant across the finish line. For us, the home stretch feels like it's 4 kilometers long. Valtteri Bottas will overheat here on Saturday at 378 km /h. We're a little slower.
It's Wednesday. So after work there is still a little time for evening entertainment. Tobi did some research. There is supposed to be a cult pub called Pauls near the old town. With German owner. Not that we are keen to find German cuisine. But on the first evening we want to keep the stress factor as low as possible. We never get there. On the way there we see an Italian in the pedestrian zone who is playing soccer. So there.
After that we are interested in what we missed. We move on to the German restaurant. Just to look. It makes a good impression. A great beer garden is hidden behind a lot of ivy. There are Brazilian steaks on the menu. So nothing with pork knuckles. We decide to test the pub in the next few days. It does what it promises. The tenant, a German watchmaker, has lived in Baku since 1992. His partner is a Swiss machine fitter who also ended up here. Somehow a good mix, we think.
But first of all, the basics. Would we have ever gone to Azerbaijan in our life? Probably not. TheLand lies on the Caspian Sea, but we don't want to imagine a beach holiday at the largest lake in the world. It's a good thing too. A brown coating floats on the surface of the water on Baku Beach. We assume it is oil, the lifeline of the Azerbaijanis.
We do not want to go into long here whether it makes sense to drive in a country that is on the black list of human rights organizations. That is a matter for our colleagues in politics.
The microcosm of the F1 paddock
In the daytime and nightlife of Baku, we did not have the impression that people were being more controlled or harassed than in Baku any western city. Sochi or Shanghai seem more threatening than Baku. The truth is also not conclusively verifiable if you spend 5 days most of the time at work on the racetrack. The Formula 1 paddock is a cosmos of its own, no matter where in the world it drives.
If everything in Azerbaijan is as bad as the critics describe it, then I wonder why the sport is should achieve what is actually a matter for politics. The politicians in the so-called free countries keep their feet still. In the end, they all just want to do business and are keen on oil and gas and trade. Consistency looks different.
And doesn't the Grand Prix first give the warners the platform to express their criticism publicly? Human rights organizations should be grateful to Bernie Ecclestone. Without the attention of a major event nobody would have heard it.
Baku offers a real race track
But now to the sport: Baku has set up a race track that stands out from all the new racetracks of the last 20 years. Finally no retort. Guard rails and walls delimit the racetrack and not large run-off areas. The route meanders past colonial buildings, trees and castle walls. That is recognizable.
The Baku City Circuit doesn't need a night race like Singapore or Bahrain. The racetrack is a hit even by day. Because it conveys speed. Anyone who says Formula 1 is too slow should stand at the edge of the track in Baku. For example in turn 13, where the drivers canonize themselves at 260 km /h through a blind left curve over a knoll.
Or a few 100 meters later, when they go downhill at 300 km /h for a 90 Brake fast left bend in km /h You only have a fraction of a second to decide: emergency exit or turn in. At 360 km /h on the home straight your hat is thrown away. In the concrete sewer, the speed is twice as fast as in Shanghai or Abu Dhabi.
Every mistake is punished. Like in Monte Carlo. That’s a good thing. Because it generates surprises and excitement. I haven't seen such a good qualifying for a long time. It was so turbulent that none of the vastly superior Mercedes were almost on the front rowwould have landed. The red flag after the Hamilton crash should have fallen just 10 seconds earlier.
On the modern race tracks, Hamilton would have made the same error rate on the front row on a bad day. One can only call out to the route designers: We need more Baku.
Little interest from the local population
Also because of the city. Not because of communism. The streets are full until 2am. And not because of the Grand Prix. Most locals don't even know it's happening. Or what that is. The sparse grandstands are only half occupied on Sunday. Although Azerbaijanis get 40 percent discount on tickets. We are told that people here are not used to paying for sporting events. This is usually free.
On Sunday, work ends late as usual. Unfortunately, the race cannot redeem the advance praise. The drivers are strangely disciplined. You watched GP2 too much. We decide with a beer at 2.30 a.m. in the pubs that are still open: Baku 2017? We are on. If Baku is still there.
In the gallery you will find some personal impressions of the auto motor und sport reporters of the events behind the scenes.