Baku City Circuit
Circuit Length: 6.003 km (3.730 miles)
Race Length: 306.049 km (190.170 miles)
Last Race (2016)
Pole Position: N. Rosberg Mercedes 1:42.758
1. N. Rosberg Mercedes 1:32:52.366
2. S. Vettel Ferrari +16.696secs
3. S. Perez Force India-Mercedes +25.241secs
Fastest Lap: N. Rosberg Mercedes 1:46.485
Last Time Out
So a fortnight ago in Montreal, we saw Lewis Hamilton pick up his 3rd win of the season in a race that was not to the liking of Ferrari. With Lewis well out in front and Bottas completing a Mercedes 1, 2, Vettel and Raikkonen were left to fight their way through the field. Vettel’s first lap collision with Verstappen left him with a damaged front wing and was forced into the pits. The German was involved in a last minute surge to earn him a well-deserved 4th place, all things considered. The results saw Lewis close the gap in the championship to 12 points as we head in to the Azerbaijan GP. Although 5th and 6th would usually be a great result for Force India, they will feel hurt that they didn’t get a place on the podium. Sergio Perez refused to let his quicker teammate past in order to have a shot at overtaking 3rd place man Ricciardo. This forced the pair into the quick approaching Vettel who overtook them both. Nonetheless, great drives from Perez and Ocon. Verstappen’s car unfortunately gave up on him early on in the race after making brilliant moves off the start to move up to 2nd The race would’ve been a little less comfortable for Lewis, had Verstappen still been in the race. We were also lucky enough to hear an irate Fernando Alonso on the radio providing very funny moments, of course, centred around the woeful Honda engine. This weekend in Azerbaijan, we go again with the battle of Mercedes and Ferrari. Last year, the Azerbaijan race was dominated by the retired Nico Rosberg. Lewis Hamilton had a bad weekend after his collision with the barrier in qualifying and then unable to make his way up the pack during the race. He will be hoping for a better weekend this go round. The Azerbaijan track is very tricky and very tight in places and the drivers are still in a bit of unknown territory despite racing there last year. The heat and transition from long straights to tight twisty corners will put strain on the tyres. Turning on the tyres this weekend will be key factor for the result of the race. Mercedes and Ferrari will be hoping to get one up on this each other and I have a feeling we’re in for a very exciting race.
Problem Resolved For Mercedes?
On a couple of occasions already this season, Mercedes have struggled to get their tyres working, more so on car 44 than on 77. Because of this, they haven’t managed to keep up the pace to Ferrari’s in some of the races this season. The issue meant a 4th place finish for Lewis in Russia and also failure to make it out of Q1 of qualifying in Monaco. Those were two instances where The Brit lost points to his closest rival and will hamper his title chances should the issues continue. It is thought that the problem lies with the Ultra Soft tyre but last race weekend, they managed to turn them on and put in some impressive lap times. This isn’t to say that Mercedes have solved that issue as they have had the same yo-yo performance earlier in the season, but hearing from the drivers and team, we could a much better performing Mercedes when using a variety of tyres. They’ll need to hope they don’t have issues with the tyres this weekend as it could punish them due to the nature of the track.
Looking Good For Vettel
With the car that Ferrari have put on the race track this season, they deserve massive credit for somewhat turning it around considering their inability to win a race last season. The person reaping the most benefits at the moment is of course Sebastian Vettel. The season so far has literally been a back and forth of race wins between Ferrari and Mercedes, much to the liking of all F1 fans. Despite Mercedes winning 4 out of the races, there’s no doubt Ferrari still have the best car on race day. So what does that mean for the championship battle between two men that share 7 world championships between them? Well it indicates that we just do not know how each race is going to go and the sense of unpredictability is enthralling for the neutral and nerve racking as a fan of either drivers. Mercedes have been the kings qualifying this season but Ferrari have by no means taken this lightly and have come out the blocks on race day. Additionally, we are not in a situation where either driver is clearly better than the other. The race this weekend in Azerbaijan will again be a race that nobody can call and this is where the excitement for this season stems from. You’d sway to the idea of the Vettel being the slim favourite for the championship as the Ferrari’s seem to be in better shape but as mentioned, F1 is in its most unpredictable season since 2010.
Who Next at Ferrari?
With Kimi Raikkonen’s contract running out at the end of this season, there’s a lot of talk and speculation about who will be driving the second Ferrari car in the 2018 season. Now it could well be that Ferrari are happy with their line up and decide to renew Kimi Raikkonen’s contract. On the flip side, they may want a new, younger face in the team and someone who could provide more of a challenge to Vettel and earn the team more points. So should Ferrari look elsewhere, who should be in the running? Well the first name that should be considered is most definitely Sergio Perez. The Mexican is constantly outperforming his Force India car and has been for a few seasons. His stint at McLaren in 2013 probably came a bit too early for him. Now he has matured as a driver and continues to put in stellar performances. As a realistic target, Ferrari would be mad to not put this driver in their seat. Another driver who needs a step up is the young Carlos Sainz. The driver is at an impasse as usually young Toro Rosso drivers get a chance at the sister Red Bull car. However, the team have two very good drivers in Ricciardo and Verstappen. So to get a chance at a big team, he would have to leave the Red Bull establishment. He proved time and time again in his short career that he is ready for a big team. Ferrari should be monitoring him closely. There has been talk of Alonso making a return in a desperate bid to win his 3rd world championship, although very unlikely to happen. There has also been talk of Ferrari making an audacious attempt to lure of the Red Bull drivers to team but again, both unlikely to happen. Nonetheless, Ferrari may not necessarily want a driver that will ruffle Vettel’s feathers too much. Of course they also have the option to go down the route of promoting Antonio Giovinazzi but this may be a bit premature.
Battle of the Youngsters
On the grid this season, we have a number of young drivers looking to make an impression. There has been a variety of performances from them so far this season, some brilliant and some bad. Of course, Verstappen is at the forefront after a fantastic rookie season, earning him a drive for Red Bull. Carlos Sainz has been driving for Toro Rosso for a number of seasons now and as mentioned earlier he will be looking to move on should he not be able to be promoted to the Red Bull team. Aside from those two, we have three drivers in their first full season in F1 in Sebastian Ocon, Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll. I think it’s fair to say that not only off the back of his 6th place finish last week (which could have easily been 3rd) but from other performances this season also, he has performed the best out of that trio this season. He has proved he has no fear with overtaking and is very capable making his way through the field. If he carries on in this manner, he’ll be monitored very closely by the big boys. Stoffel Vandoorne was drafted in by McLaren this season in place of Jenson Button in order to have a young, fresher face in the team. However, the Belgian will feel aggrieved as McLaren have not provided him with a car good enough to showcase his talent. He has had a number of DNFs through no fault of his own and when he had made it over the line, the car has been pretty diabolical to drive. Hopefully McLaren significantly improve their car next season so he can show that he is worthy of an F1 seat. Probably the most disappointing this season has been Lance Stroll. He has found himself involved with too many collisions and not enough points for a driver that has a decent Williams beneath him. He only earned his first points in the last race and you would expect better. Nonetheless, maybe he will kick on from here and add to his point tally in Azerbaijan this week.
Azerbaijan GP Weekend Schedule (GMT)
23rd June Practice 1 10:00
23rd June Practice 2 14:00
24th June Practice 3 11:00
24th June Qualifying 14:00
25th June Grand Prix 14:00