Our resident petrol head previews Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which is being held at the Baku City Circuit.
Things are heating up on the Drivers’ Championship standings with Lewis Hamilton’s victory at the Canadian Grand Prix closing the gap between Vettel and himself to a paltry 12 points. The 2017 season has been a thrill a minute and F1 fans will be dreading the upcoming summer break. There’s still a few races to go before the field heads into their mid-year hibernation, however, with our next stop being Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix | Sunday 25 June | Baku City Circuit | 13:30
It finally happened, Lewis Hamilton bounced back from a few poor showings to claim pole and the race victory out in Canada, which was a massive relief for me as my tipping form had gone cold over the fortnight proceeding the Canadian Grand Prix. Canada proved to be as profitable for me as it did for Mercedes with Valterri Bottas’ second-placed finish, along with Hamilton’s victory, seeing the Silver Arrows reclaim top spot on the Constructors’ Championship.
Unlike Mercedes, Ferrari’s venture to the ‘Great White North’ bore little fruit as Kimi Raikkonen (7th) finished outside the top and Sebastian Vettel could only muster up a fourth place finish. And while the result will have damage Ferrari’s psyche slightly, it really isn’t the hammer blow to their campaign that some pundits would have you believe.
Ferrari’s struggles opened the door for Red Bull and Force India to claim decent points hauls. And both teams certainly obliged with Daniel Ricciardo claiming the final podium berth, while Force India’s men Sergio Perez and Estaban Ocon claimed fifth and sixth respectively.
The final three points-scoring positions were claimed by Nico Hulkenberg (8th), hometown hero Lance Stroll (9th) and Romain Grosjean (10th).
The Baku Street Circuit made its debut last year and there was a lot of hope that its inauguration would coincide with a highly entertaining race. Instead, it produced one of the most mundane races of 2016, with the field seemingly put off by the crashes that occurred during the Friday practice session. The race was dominated by the team tacticians rather than the drivers themselves with tyre strategies being the key role player. It will be interesting to see how the new tyre selection rulings influence this race.
Speaking of the tyres, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes have all elected to carry eight sets of Super Softs into the race weekend, while McLaren have taken a rather ballsy approach and will take 10 sets of Super Softs to Baku.
While we had a rather quite race day last year, this track actually presents numerous overtaking opportunities, which will hopefully be capitalised on this weekend. The standout feature of this track and where we could well see some wheel-to-wheel action is the long straight that goes from Turn 1 to Turn 20.
The weather forecast for this weekend looks pretty good with sunny skies and temperatures in excess of 23 degrees Celcius set to greet the drivers on all three days.
Last year’s race was won by Nico Rosberg with Sebastian Vettel (2nd) and Sergio Perez (3rd) rounding out the podium.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 83/100 | Sebastian Vettel 7/4 | Valterrri Bottas 5/1 | Kimi Raikkonen 12/1 | Daniel Ricciardo 50/1 | Max Verstappen 50/1 | Sergio Perez 200/1 | Esteban Ocon 250/1
Podium Finish: Sergio Perez – Yes – 9/1
It’s a longshot, but I will certainly be having a crack on Perez to repeat his 2016 performance and once again land himself on the podium in Azerbaijan. The Force India man has been slightly subdued this year and is yet to claim a podium but this track should suit the setup of his car. I also have a sneaky suspicion that we’re in for a bit of a no show from the Red Bull duo and Kimi Raikkonen, like I predicted, seems a man at sea following Monaco. I won’t be having a huge strike on it but R20 on a Perez podium pays a tidy dividend.
Fastest Qualifier: Lewis Hamilton 13/20
Lewis was at his all-conquering best in Canada and I can see that form carrying into the qualifying session in Baku, but there’s this little voice at the back of my mind telling me this just isn’t his race. Call it intuition. Call it early onset on dementia. Whatever it is, I won’t be having a crack on him winning the race. The course offers way too many overtaking opportunities for the pole qualifier to canter to victory.
Outright Winner: Sebastian Vettel 7/4
He drove brilliantly here last year, and I can see him guiding that new Ferrari over the line in front of the rest of the field. Yes, he had a nightmare in Canada but the Baku Street Circuit should be a much easier beast to tame than the Gilles Villeneuve. At 7/4, Vettel offers fantastic value for a win.