F1 2019: Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Both Red Bull cars crashed in to each other last year when racing through the historic and contemporary Baku streets

David Hollywood looks forward to Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the streets of Baku, Sun 28 Apr, 1:10pm Sky Sports F1

Last Time Out:

Mercedes were on top while Ferrari floundered in China.

This is now the most successful start to a season in Mercedes’ history. Three consecutive 1-2 finishes suggests this could be a handy season for the Silver Arrows.

Yet, an expectation persists around Ferrari. Their car was shown to lack in cornering speed at Shanghai, so much so, that their straight line speed advantage was nullified.

Interestingly, Sebastian Vettel struck back in his fascinating tussle with Charles Leclerc, the German outpaced his younger and very talented team mate.

Elsewhere Daniel Ricciardo opened his Renault account with a strong drive to seventh and best of the rest.

The Track:

What a mad track this is.

The Baku City Circuit has an enormous straight, surrounded by conrete walls and 90-degree corners. F1’s top speed record comes from Baku.

In 2016 Valtteri Bottas managed to get his Williams up to 378km/h.

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That 2016 race was the inaugural visit to Azerbaijan, the race was curiously quiet. In 2017 and 2018 the races have been manic. Like a souped-up Monaco on steroids.

All three of the F1 races here have seen safety car action and two of the three produced podium finishers from outside the ‘top three’ teams of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

The Race:

With this being written at a time when the first two practice sessions have been run, it should be easier to pick out a sensible bet.

The headlines from P1 were that this street track needs to improve it’s securing of drain-covers

And their recovery truck drivers need to improve their spatial awareness.

Beyond the daftness, the session was cancelled before any meaningful running could be conducted.

In P2 Ferrari showed enough pace to suggest an improvement on their pace or lack thereof in China.

They trailed Mercedes by four tenths of second at this stage of the weekend last time out. On this particular weekend, they lead Merecedes by over half a second.

These gaps are never written in stone but they’re instructive.

The track itself should suit Ferrari more than Mercedes. Ultimately, the race may be decided by external factors. It typically is a wild ride.

Formula One is highly competitive but in a two tiered way.

There’s the top three teams competing for podiums, race wins and championships, then there is the rest.

In the last three years, teams from outside Ferrari, Red Bull, and Mercedes have finished on the podium a total of five times. Three of those podiums have happened at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

On that basis, it would be remiss not to pick a podium finisher considering the once in calendar year opportunity.

Verdict:

The races continue to offer cryptic hints as to who may win. Ferrari have brought new updates to a track that seems to suit their enigmatic car. Mercedes will likely be much closer come qualifying on Saturday. For the race I see Ferrari’s power advantage and ability to ‘switch on’ its tyres as being decisive.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix Qualifying – Winner: Sebastian Vettel at 21/10

Azerbaijan Grand Prix Race – Winner: Charles Leclerc at 9/5

And finally a podium finisher. Before practice I would have jumped at Daniel Ricciardo (a race winner at Baku in 2017), however both Ricciardo (14/1 podium) and his team mate Nico Hulkenburg, at 15s, had braking difficulties in practice and I’m suitably put off.

Kimi Raikkonen, a former Ferrari podium finisher at Baku, can be backed at 25/1 for a podium finish.

An awful lot will have to happen for that to happen. But at Baku, things happen.

 

 



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