2017 AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX, PREVIEW
Sahara Force India gets ready for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on the streets of Baku.

Vijay Mallya: “At the start of the year, when we launched the VJM10, I said we wanted to carry on where we ended 2016 as the fourth-placed team. I even dared to dream that we could look ahead of us towards the top three. I think our performance in Montreal showed that such ambitions were not too outlandish. To be fighting with Red Bulls and Ferraris feels pretty good. We are not consistently at their level, but on our day we can fight with the top teams. It’s a credit to everybody at Force India that we have come away from the first seven races with 71 points – a fantastic achievement.

“Montreal also showed the strengths of our driver line-up. Sergio and Esteban are very closely-matched and they are pushing each other hard on the track. They both want to beat each other and this healthy competition will help drive us forward. They will get the best out of each other. We will continue to allow them to race freely, but we will always balance this with the best interests of the team. You can’t pre-plan these things and every situation will be different.

“There is a lot of optimism ahead of this weekend. Last year Baku turned out to be a good race for the team and we believe we can deliver another strong performance this year. The progress we’ve made with the VJM10 since the start of the season has been considerable and we have brought developments to the car at every race so far. All the hard work is paying off and I’m proud of our results.”

Sergio: “There were a lot of things said after Montreal and lots of different opinions, but I’m pleased the team decided to let us race without team orders. I will always fight for the best result for the team and I’m proud of our race. There were discussions on the radio about switching positions with Esteban, but my pace was good and I was running close to Daniel [Ricciardo] for almost 50 laps. I knew my best chance to overtake was during the lapped traffic and I got very close, but we didn’t have the pace advantage to make the move.

“I feel positive after Montreal. The car was quick and we were competitive. It was always going to be one of our best circuits of the year, but we still had to deliver. It’s a good sign for Baku – another track with long straights and big braking zones. I always enjoy street tracks and the team has done a fantastic job to develop the car during the last few races. I think we will be in good shape this weekend too.

“The memories from last year’s race in Baku are still very strong. We had great pace and I loved the track layout. To recover from a gearbox penalty and still finish on the podium was a very special feeling. It was definitely one of my best weekends in Formula One. If we can find the sweet spot again this year I think we can fight for some big points.”

Esteban: “I really enjoyed my first experience of driving in Montreal. When I got out of the car it felt as though I had only been racing for 15 minutes because everything went by so quickly – that’s when you know you’re having fun! It was another weekend where the team did a fantastic job improving the cars. Every time we went out in practice and qualifying, we took a step forward and that’s been one of our strengths this year.

“It felt great to be in the battle for a podium and to see how competitive we are as a team. It makes me feel excited about going to Baku and what we can achieve there. It feels like we’ve got a really good understanding of how to get the most from this car. It’s another new track for me, but I’ll keep trying to learn as fast as possible and I’m sure I can get on the pace quickly. I’ve been playing some computer games to learn the track so I’ve done my homework.

“Baku is a great destination for Formula One. Street races always generate a special atmosphere and the city is really cool. I was able to explore a bit last year so I know my way around the place and I’ve walked the track, but I’ve yet to drive there.”

Sahara Force India’s Chief Race Engineer, Tom McCullough, analyses the challenge of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

At 6.003km, Baku is the second longest circuit of the year, making the race just 51 laps long. It’s also the first anti-clockwise track on which we run this season and another big test for the brakes, with plenty of big stops. We know much more about this street circuit than we did one year ago, when we came here for the very first time, so the learning curve won’t be as steep once we start practice on Friday. However, it is a new track for Esteban, so giving him track time will be a priority. Set-up wise, there are significant long straights which will require lower drag level wings. The majority of grip-limited corners are low speed so the car needs to be strong there. It can be very hot in Azerbaijan at this time of the year and we will need to prepare to handle those conditions, if required. Most importantly, we will need to set up a car in which our drivers can be confident: like in Monaco and Montreal, many of the corners are lined with walls so precision is an absolutely key element.