F1 teams have been busy preparing for Azerbaijan by using simulators

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While they’ll finally get a chance at the real deal this weekend, numerous F1 drivers have been preparing for the Grand Prix of Europe by running countless laps on computerized simulators.

Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez are among those who have been using simulators to try and get a leg up on the actual Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan before reality sets in and they’re driving on the actual circuit in their cars on Thursday.

“We had a (Baku) session on the simulator, and that’s about everything you can do,” Grosjean said in a media release. “The simulators are getting better year after year, but it’s still not a real race car.”

But using a simulator also provides teams with a few additional options to establish setup baselines and the like.

“There’s a lot you can do with a simulator, which is great, but nothing is as good as being in the car out on track,” Grosjean said. “On the simulator, you can try a few different set-up ideas for direction. You can also try different philosophies and updates you’d like to try on the car later in the year and before you prepare them for actual racing.

“The more experience you have as a team, the better prepared you are for new tracks and different layouts. On the other hand, no one knows what to expect from Baku, so that’s going to be interesting for us.

“It’s certainly a circuit that’s very different from everything we’ve been used to. We’ll have to see how it goes in real life. There are very long, straight lines and a lot of 90 degree corners with low curves. There’s a very high section up to the castle and down again to the last corner, which will be quite interesting.”

Gutierrez agrees with his teammate.

“The simulator has been very important [in preparing],” Gutierrez said. “It’s been quite an experience. Baku is a very challenging track and I really enjoyed it (his time on the simulator). I’m looking forward to getting there in person.

“I feel that it will be a bit more [of a level playing field], but that doesn’t clear the fact that as a team we have a bit less experience overall. That makes it complicated to predict things, because when you have more information and more experience, you can make better predictions.

“It will be interesting to get to know Baku and its characteristics and see where we stand. No matter what, we’ll approach it in a positive way and try to extract the maximum amount from our car at this new circuit.”

Baku is unlike anything Gutierrez has ever seen.

“I cannot compare it to anything,” he said. “From what I saw on the simulator, it’s a completely different racetrack. It’s really going to be quite a challenge, and I think that’s going to make things interesting for everybody. I liked it in the simulator, so I hope it’s going to be like that in reality.

“I didn’t know anything of Azerbaijan before the race was announced, but then I did a little bit of research to try and learn about the country and Baku. I’m looking forward to seeing it and enjoying the area.”

Although this is a new track, and all teams should theoretically be on the same page, Haas F1 Team principal Guenther Steiner says some teams will have an advantage regardless.

“The big teams have more information because they go and get more information,” Steiner said. “Normally, they are better off because they’ve got more people to get prepared. They will always have an advantage, but at a new venue like Baku, sometimes you can get lucky.

“You take the corners and the grip level and you just pick pieces of other circuits, but there isn’t one specific area where you could say, ‘We can do the same thing here that we do there.’ Baku will be a learning experience for everyone.”

And finally, the simulator can be put aside for the real deal.

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Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.