PREVIEW: Azerbaijan Grand Prix
After a short Easter break, the stars of Formula 1 are ready to get back at it this weekend, with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on the Baku City Circuit.
Mercedes and Ferrari have dominated the headlines thus far, and that is not about to change this weekend. Each team has a driver with an average finish lower than fourth in the three races ran in Bakı, Azerbaijan. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel gets the edge, with a 3.3, compared to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton’s 3.7.
Vettel ultimately has something to prove this weekend, as fans and media critiqued the manufacture’s decision in China to give the veteran track position ahead of his rookie teammate. Once Vettel got ahead of Charles Leclerc, he was unable to drive away from him.
Despite boasting the best average finish of active drivers, Vettel has been unable to score a victory in Baku, with a second and pair of fourths over the past three years. A win could prove critical right now, as the German enters this weekend ranked fourth in the standings, 31 markers behind Hamilton with his third in China his best result of 2019.
Meanwhile, Hamilton enters this weekend with all the momentum on his side. He currently leads the standings by six points over his teammate Valterri Bottas after winning the past two events, and won in Baku last year. Prior to the trip to victory lane, he has posted a pair of fifth-place finishes.
Ultimately, Mercedes is where you want to be in Formula 1, something that fans have grown used over recent seasons. Despite the changes and new cars, nothing has changed with them leading the constructors standings by 57 points over Ferrari.
Since winning the season opener, Bottas has posted a pair of runner-ups to give Mercedes three straight top-two sweeps. A finish of that nature would be great in comparison to finishing 14th the year before. He has been successful in Baku before, posting finishes of sixth and second prior to 2018.
Charles Leclerc has yet to see the streets of Baku, but that does not mean you should count out the Ferrari driver. He showed his talent by dominating Bahrain until mechanical issues relegated him to a third-place finish. He also has a chip on his shoulder with something to prove, as referenced earlier with the Vettel incident and a questionable strategy decision by Ferarri seeing him place fifth in China.
As Mercedes and Ferrari sweep the spotlight, don’t be surprised if Red Bull Racing sneaks in for a piece of their own.
Max Verstappen was able to do exactly that in China, breaking up the Ferrari teammates for a fourth-place finish. It just continued his solid start to the 2019 campaign, as he has yet to place outside of the top-four in the first three races. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Baku with a best finish of eighth in his past three starts.
His teammate Pierre Gasly has also shown pace, finishing sixth in China for a season-best result and second top-10 of 2019. The Frenchman placed 12th last year on the 6.003 km circuit driving for Torro Rosso.
Red Bull knows what it’s like to taste champagne in Baku, courtesy of Daniel Riccardo’s trip to victory lane in 2017. The Australian began a new chapter of his racing career this year, though, making the switch over to Renault. After failing to post a top-10 in the first two races, he put together a solid day in China for a seventh-place finish.
Currently ranked fourth in the constructor’s championship behind the big three, Renault would certainly benefit if Riccardo or Nico Hulkenberg could score a top-five result in Baku.
Their closest challenger right now is Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari, who actually is tied with them for the fourth position. Kimi Raikkonen has led the team thus far, with a top-10 in each of the three races thus far, highlighted by a seventh in Bahrain. The veteran has done well in Baku previously, scoring a runner-up last year for Ferrari.
A dark horse to keep an eye on would be Racing Point BWT’s Lance Stroll, following finishes of third and eighth in his first two trips to Baku for the third best average finish of active drivers.
A strong result would be a huge confidence boost, as they haven’t started off the year as planned. While initially expressing desire to battle for the best of the middle field, they are currently ranked eighth in the constructor’s championship with Stroll 14th in the driver’s standings.
Perez, meanwhile, currently sits 12th in the standings, and enters Baku following a season-best eighth in China. He has proven capable with this team in Baku as well, scoring a pair of thirds and a 15th (due to a broken seat) in his three starts.
The Americans haven’t done much this year, either, with Rich Energy Haas F1 team ranked sixth in the constructor standings entering Baku. Kevin Magnussen is currently leading the team as he sits eighth in points, after scoring a sixth and a pair of 13th-place finishes in the three races to date this season. It matches his past three starts in Baku, with a seventh and pair of finishes outside of the top-10.
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