2017 Tour de France – Preview

The world’s biggest cycling event is almost here, and it is about to begin!

It is the 2017 Tour de France, and the 104th edition of the world’s premier cycling event starts on the 1st of July in Düsseldorf in Germany, and move through four different countries (Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France) throughout this prestigious three-week Grand Tour, culminating on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on July 23, where the peloton will complete a journey stretching 3,540 kilometres (km) across 21 stages, with two rest days within the 23 days of competition.

RACE/STAGE PROFILE

The race will start in Düsseldorf with a 14km individual time trial on flat terrain around the German city alongside the banks of the river Rhine to suit the time trialling specialists. Stage Two will be a 203.5km stage from the German city of Düsseldorf to the Belgian city of Liège, which will likely suit the sprinters.

Stage Three will be a 212.5km stage from Verviers in Belgium to Longwy in France, and with a number of category four and category three climbs, including one right at the finish should mean that the yellow jersey is up for grabs, with some of the contenders for the overall general classification (yellow jersey) looking to steal a few seconds over each other.

Stage Four will be a 207.5km stage starting in the Luxembourg town of Mondorf-les-Bains, heading back into France (for the rest of the event) to the commune of Vittel in a stage which suits the sprinters on paper. However, with the threat of crosswinds likely throughout this stage, the contenders for the stage, overall green and yellow jersey victories (and their teams) will need to be attentive to avoid being caught out.

Stage Five will be the first real test for the general classification favourites, with a 160.5km stage from Vittel all the way to the top of La Planche des Belles Filles, a category one climb stretching 5.9km, and has an average gradient of 8.5 percent, with a maximum gradient of 20 percent, which starts about 400 metres (m) from the finishing line.

Stage Six will give the climbers a break, and a chance for the sprinters (unless a large breakaway group forms) to shine with a 216km ride from Vesoul to Troyes. Stage Seven should be the same, with a 213.5km ride from Troyes to Nuits-Saint-Georges, riding past the Burgundy vineyard in the process.

Stage Eight, which is 187.5km long from Dole to Station des Rousses, will suit the climbers, with a category three, category two, and a category one climb. However, you would expect a strong breakaway group to challenge for the stage victory as the finishing line is not at the top of a climb.

Stage Nine, a 181.5km journey from Nantua to Chambéry will be the first real mountain stage of the 2017 Tour de France, and you would expect all of the riders who have ambitions of winning the general classification in Paris to come out in force.

A category two climb, followed by two category three climbs sets up the peloton for the first Hors category climb of the 104th edition of the event, the Col de la Biche (1,316m), which is 10.5km long with an average gradient of nine percent.

After the descent from the Col de la Biche, the second Hors category climb arrives, a 8.5km climb up to the top of the Grand Colombier (1,501m), which has an average gradient of 9.9 percent, and a maximum gradient of 22 percent on the early slopes of the climb.

After a category four climb later in the stage, the third Hors category climb occurs, a 8.7km climb with an average gradient of 10.3 percent, and a maximum gradient of 15 percent to the top of Mont du Chat (1,504m), which is followed by a 26km run (first 12.5km of it downhill) to the finish, and while there is a good chance a breakaway group may prevail, I expect big gaps to be formed between the yellow jersey contenders, and could well decide which riders can still contend for the overall victory and podium in Paris.

After a rest day in Dordogne, Stage Ten, a 178km ride from Périgueux to Bergerac will offer the sprinters a chance to shine a couple of horror stages for them, likewise Stage 11, a 203.5km ride from Eymet to Pau.

However, Stage 12, a 214.5km stage from Pau to Peyragudes is certainly one for the climbers as we head into the Pyrenees. A category four, and a category two climb sets the peloton up for a category one climb up the Col de Menté (1,349m), followed by the Hors category climb up the Port de Balès (1,755m), which is 11.7km in length with an average gradient of 7.7 percent.

This is followed by the 9.7km category one climb up the Col de Peyresourde (1,569m), which has an average gradient of 7.8 percent, immediately (after a short downhill run) to the start of the category two climb, a 2.4km climb with an average gradient of 8.4 percent and a maximum gradient of 16 percent, takes the peloton to the finishing line at Peyragudes (1,580m).

This will allow the overall general classification contenders to either extend the lead over their rivals, or claw back some time against their fellow competitors.

Stage 13, on Bastille Day, the shortest stage (outside of the individual time-trials) of the 2017 Tour de France, will also suit the climbers, and while a strong breakaway group, possibly full of French riders, should still be able, despite the length of the stage and the lack of a summit finish, to go ahead and win the 101km stage from Saint-Girons to Foix, there are three category one clubs that will allow riders who are in contention for the yellow jersey the opportunity to gain or regain some time over their rivals, should they wish to do so.

However, if Stage 13 wasn’t one for a breakaway group, the 181.5km journey from Blagnac to Rodez for Stage 14 should offer an opportunity for a breakaway group to get away. It is a hilly stage, particularly towards the end of the stage, a couple of category three climbs, the sprinters tired after climbing mountains for the past two days, the climbs too small for anyone to attack to gain time, the perfect platform for someone in a breakaway group to get a stage victory.

Stage 15, a 189.5km journey from Laissac-Sévérac-l’Église to Le Puy-en-Velay, should also be a stage for a strong breakaway group.

However, this stage is certainly not one for the sprinters, and with two category one climbs, one near the start up the Montée de Naves d’Aubrac (1,058m), and one near the end, a 8.3km climb up the Col de Peyra Taillade (1,190m) with an average gradient of 7.4 percent, and a maximum gradient of 14 percent should allow the contenders in the overall general classification the opportunity to gain some time.

After a rest day in Le Puy-en-Velay, Stage 16, a 165km journey from Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-sur-Isère should allow one final opportunity for the sprinters to shine before the peloton reaches Paris.

Stage 17 is the start of a couple of tough days in the Alpes, with a 183km stage from La Mure to Serre Chevalier, which should allow the remaining yellow jersey contenders to gain or regain some time on each other, and for the contenders for the King of the Mountains jersey to gain points over their nearest rivals.

The stage starts off with a category two climb before we get to really big climbs of the stage, a Hors category climb, 24km in length, with an average gradient of 5.2 percent, up the Col de la Croix de Fer (2,067m), followed by a category one climb up the Col du Télégraphe (1,566m), a 11.9km climb with an average gradient of 7.1 percent, and then a 17.7km climb with an average gradient of 6.9 percent up the Col du Galibier (2,642m), the highest point of the 2017 Tour de France, and where the Souvenir Henri Desgrange will be awarded, named in honour of Henri Desgrange, who was the creator of the event, first race director in the history of the Tour de France, and was a well-regarded sports journalist in France.

This is followed by a downhill run to the finish in Serre Chevalier.

Stage 18 will be the last chance for the contenders in the overall general classification to gain, or regain time on each other before the individual time trial on Stage 20, a 179.5km stage from Briançon up to the top of the Col d’Izoard.

The stage will start out relatively flat, with a lone category three climb, and a sprint point before the course completely changes. A category one climb, 9.3km in length with an average gradient of 7.5 percent, up the Col de Vars (2,109m), followed by the showdown up the Col d’Izoard (2,360m), a 14.1km climb with an average gradient of 7.3 percent.

Unless a breakaway group gets away, the winner of Stage 18 could very well win the 2017 Tour de France.

Stage 19, a 222.5km journey, the longest stage of the 104th edition of the great event, from Embrun to Salon-de-Provence should provide one final opportunity for a large breakaway group to get away and salvage a stage victory from this year’s tour, although the sprinters might have something to say about that, despite the hilly course, the three category three climbs, and the tough couple of days they would have experienced in the Alpes.

Stage 20 is a 22.5km individual time trial around the streets of Marseille, starting and finishing inside the Stade Vélodrome (now known for sponsorship reasons as the Orange Vélodrome) has the ability to decide the final make-up of the podium of the 2017 Tour de France, even if the winner of the final yellow jersey has likely been decided.

And the final stage, Stage 21 of the 104th edition of the Tour de France will be a 103km journey to celebrate from Montgeron to the cobbled pavement of the Champs-Élysées in Paris, where a sprint finish is likely.

YELLOW JERSEY CONTENDERS

There are at least 13 to 22 riders who I think would consider themselves as serious contenders to take out the 2017 Tour de France, including Australian Richie Porte.

However, I believe there are five genuine contenders for the overall general classification in Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Chris Froome (Team Sky), Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team), and Esteban Chaves (ORICA-Scott).

Quintana comes into the 2017 Tour de France in great form, having won the Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, as well as finishing second at the Vuelta a Asturias, and at the first Grand Tour of the year, the Giro d’Italia. The question for the Colombian is whether he can maintain the form that he had at the Giro d’Italia into the Tour de France. Recent history says that you can’t, but he has a strong team around him, so we will wait and see on that one.

Contador is also in great form, finishing second overall at Paris–Nice, Vuelta a Andalucía, Volta a Catalunya, and at the Tour of the Basque Country. The Spaniard is quietly working up to top form, and even if it is not the vintage Alberto Contador of years past, this has been the best preparation he has had for a Tour de France in some time, and he has a strong team with him this time.

Froome has had a quiet and underwhelming year so far, finishing sixth at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia, and most recently finishing fourth at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Considering that every time the British rider has won the Critérium du Dauphiné, he has gone onto win the Tour de France, so Froome is not in top form, and looks the most vulnerable he has been in some time. The strength of his team is questionable this time.

Aru has had a solid 2017 so far, winning the road race at the Italian National Road Championships, as well as finishing third at the Tour of Oman, eighth at the Abu Dhabi Tour, and most recently fifth at the Critérium du Dauphiné. While I think Aru has the potential to win the Tour de France this year, I don’t think he has the team has the ability to get him to where he needs to be without being isolated. However, I think he can finish inside the top five, and be a possible podium contender.

Chaves has had a quiet year in 2017 after finishing second at the Tour Down Under and ninth at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia. The Colombian has been training for the Tour de France all year long, but had to spend seven weeks off the bike due to knee tendonitis, but at his best, he is ORICA-Scott’s best general classification rider, without a shadow of doubt, and has a strong team around him. I think he can win the Tour de France on his first appearance, and become the first rider to win on his first appearance since the late Laurent Fignon in 1983.

MY YELLOW JERSEY PREDICTIONS (TOP 5)

  1. Esteban Chaves (ORICA-Scott)
  2. Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo)
  3. Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team)
  4. Chris Froome (Team Sky)
  5. Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team).

 

 

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2017 MotoGP German GP – Preview

This weekend, the ninth round of the 2017 MotoGP World Championship will take place at the Sachsenring in the town of Hohenstein-Ernstthal near the German city of Chemnitz, and with the mid-season break fast approaching, a number of riders will be looking to achieve good results to consolidate or improve their position in the world championship.

The MotoGP field heads into the ninth round of 2017 with a new championship leader with Andrea Dovizioso leading on 115 points, which is the lowest for a world championship leader in the premier class after eight rounds since the current points-scoring system was introduced back in 1993.

Dovizioso leads by four points over Maverick Viñales (111 points), with Valentino Rossi (108 points), and Marc Márquez (104 points) all within 11 points of the championship leader, and is unsurprisingly the smallest margin covering the top four riders in the premier class after eight rounds since the current points-scoring system was introduced back in 1993.

Dovizioso will be looking to secure his third victory of the season this weekend, but has never won at the Sachsenring across any of the classes. His best performance at the German Grand Prix has been two third-place finishes back in 2012 and 2016 respectively.

Viñales too has never won the Sachsenring in his career to date, with his best performance at the German Grand Prix being two third-place finishes 2011 and 2013 in the beginner’s class (125cc/Moto3). However, Viñales will be desperate to grab his fourth victory of the season after crashing out of the Dutch TT under a week ago.

Rossi, unlike Dovizioso and Viñales, has had plenty of success at the Sachsenring, winning five times across all classes, although his last race victory at the German Grand Prix came back in 2009. However, if Rossi won for the seventh time at the Sachsenring, he would become the second-oldest rider to win back-to-back races in the premier class after winning the Dutch TT last week.

Márquez has also had plenty of success at the German Grand Prix, the most successful rider in fact, taking pole position and winning the race in the last seven years across all classes at the Sachsenring. However, he hasn’t got a pole position in the last five races, which is his longest streak without a pole position since joining the premier class back in 2013.

This weekend would seem like the perfect time and place to end that record, but other than Dovizioso, Viñales and Rossi, Márquez will be facing stiff competition from his teammate Dani Pedrosa, who too has a fantastic record at the German Grand Prix, winning it six times across all classes.

However, Pedrosa, who is currently fifth in the championship on 87 points, 28 points behind championship leader Dovizioso will be desperate to achieve his seventh victory at the Sachsenring as he looks to keep in touch with his championship rivals at a track where the Repsol Honda Team have won for the past seven years.

Other riders to look out for this weekend to challenge for the podium and possibly a race win include Johann Zarco (77 points), Danilo Petrucci (62 points), Jorge Lorenzo (60 points), and Cal Crutchlow (58 points).

Zarco won the Moto2 race last year at the Sachsenring, but Petrucci, who has never won a race, Crutchlow, and more surprisingly Lorenzo have never won at the Sachsenring across any class.

The German Grand Prix is a particularly big weekend for Lorenzo if he wants to get back into the world championship battle, trailing his teammate Andrea Dovizioso by 55 points heading into the last 10 races of the season.

He has had a real struggle to adapt to his factory Ducati, and has been rather inconsistent, finishing in the top six on only three occasions in 2017, with his only podium of the season so far coming at the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez.

If Lorenzo can improve his form on the factory Ducati, he can still be a major player in the 2017 MotoGP World Championship, but you feel it has to start this weekend by claiming his first victory at the Sachsenring, a track where he has claimed six podiums across all classes.

However, I am tipping a resurgent run by Marc Márquez at arguably his favourite circuit on the calendar, and I believe he will dominate at the Sachsenring once again to win for the eighth time.

 

MotoGP Practice on Friday at 9:50am, and 2:00pm local time (5:50pm, and 10:00pm AEST). MotoGP FP3 on Saturday at 9:55am local time (5:55pm AEST), FP4 on Saturday at 1:30pm local time (9:30pm AEST), Q1 and Q2 on Saturday at 2:10pm and 2:35pm local time (10:10pm and 10:35pm AEST). MotoGP Warm Up on Sunday at 9:40am local time (5:40pm AEST), and MotoGP race on Sunday at 2:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST).

My take on Vettel/Hamilton incident

The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was one of the more remarkable and strangest races in recent times!

Daniel Ricciardo took a shock victory from tenth on the grid, which was the fifth race win of his career after falling to 17th after six laps after pitting on lap five from ninth to try and find some clear track to set some fast laps.

Valtteri Bottas took his fifth podium of the season, finishing second after falling a lap down after suffering a puncture on the opening lap after a collision with Kimi Räikkönen at Turn Two, while Lance Stroll got the first podium of his Formula One career, finishing third after starting in eighth, and became only the second teenager in history of Formula One to record a podium finish in a grand prix.

However, it is the two drivers who finished fourth and fifth in the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix that received all of the headlines in Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton and Vettel were first and second right from the opening lap respectively until the safety car was called on Lap 12/13 to recover the stranded Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat.

The race was restarted on Lap 17, but the safety car was called again after a piece of debris flew from Räikkönen’s car, and at the end of this safety car period, this was when the incident happened between Hamilton and Vettel.

On Lap 19, the announcement was made that the safety car was coming this lap, and as per normal, the leader of the race, which in this case was Hamilton, is allowed to control the speed of the field in the lead-up to the restart.

However, through Turn 15 on Lap 19, Hamilton was slower than Vettel expected, and on exit of Turn 15, Vettel hit the back of Hamilton’s car. Vettel, in the heat of the moment, thinking that Hamilton brake-tested him, came alongside Hamilton to show his disapproval to his championship rival, and then decided to turn in on him, causing a collision.

Data showed, according to the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), that Lewis Hamilton did not brake-test Sebastian Vettel, but it was clear that Vettel caused a collision with Hamilton, and the stewards had to hand down a justifiable penalty.

After Hamilton had to pit after his head-rest was not attached properly after a red flag period to clean up debris, Vettel received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty breaching Article 27.4 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations, and after the race, Vettel received three penalty points to take his total nine penalty points, leaving him three penalty points away from a one-race ban should he break the rules in a such a way in the next two races.

Article 27.4 reads:

27.4 At no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person.

However, did The FIA Stewards of the Meeting in Paul Gutjahr, Enzo Spano, Danny Sullivan, and Anar Shukurov get the decision right in regards to the penalty for Sebastian Vettel?

In my opinion, I don’t think they did. At the time of the incident, and seeing a number of replays of the incident, I felt that Vettel had to be disqualified from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for such a premeditated act.

However, in this case, I think the implementation of the penalty points system in recent years saw the stewards err away from the thought of disqualifying Vettel from the race, and implement a penalty they thought was much more appropriate to the situation, and what had happened.

Under Article 4.2 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations:

4.2 In accordance with Articles 31. 5 and 38.3, the stewards may impose penalty points on a driver’s Super Licence. If a driver accrues 12 penalty points his licence will be suspended for the following Event, following which 12 points will be removed from the licence.

Penalty points will remain on a driver’s Super Licence for a period of 12 months after which they will be respectively removed on the 12 month anniversary of their imposition.

However, the result of the penalty, after Hamilton had to pit to fix his issue, saw Vettel get ahead of Hamilton, and gain crucial world championship points over his championship rival didn’t seem morally right to most people, including Hamilton, who expressed his frustration of Vettel’s penalty during the race.

However, what wasn’t investigated was whether Sebastian Vettel overtook Lewis Hamilton under safety car conditions?

Under Article 39.8 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations:

39.8 With the exception of the cases listed under a) to h) below, no driver may overtake another car on the track, including the safety car, until he passes the first safety car line for the first time when the safety car is returning to the pits. However, if the safety car is still deployed at the beginning of the last lap, or is deployed during the last lap, Article 39.15 will apply.

The exceptions are :
a) If a driver is signalled to do so from the safety car.

b) Under 39.12 or 39.16 below.

c) When entering the pits a driver may pass another car remaining on the track, including
the safety car, after he has reached the first safety car line.

d) When leaving the pits a driver may overtake, or be overtaken by, another car on the
track before he reaches the second safety car line.

e) When the safety car is returning to the pits it may be overtaken by cars on the track
once it has reached the first safety car line.

f) Whilst in the pit entry, pit lane or pit exit a driver may overtake another car which is
also in one of these three areas.

g) Any car stopping in its designated garage area whilst the safety car is using the pit lane
(see 39.11 below) may be overtaken.

h) If any car slows with an obvious problem.

Looking at various replays of the incident again, it appeared that Vettel did pass Hamilton under safety car conditions, but this has appeared to have been missed by the stewards, and if this is the case, Vettel should have received another penalty.

It is something that the FIA and Formula One have got to review the footage as soon as possible to determine whether Vettel did overtake under safety car conditions.

However, the events of Azerbaijan will ensure that the world championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton will be one of titanic proportions!

My sports commentary (TV style): Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks vs. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (NRL Round 16, 2017)

Yesterday, I did some more sports commentary for my experimental blog Ryan Eckford Sports. This time, it was some more action from the National Rugby League (NRL) with the Round 16 match from the 2017 Telstra Premiership between the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.

Both teams came into this match in great form, winning five of their last six matches, with the Sea Eagles winning their last three matches. The winner of this match would be in the top four at the end of Round 16.

I hope you enjoying listening to my commentary!

My sports commentary (TV style): New Zealand vs. British and Irish Lions – My call (First Test – 2017)

Yesterday, in addition to calling (from my home) the mid-year test match between Australia and Italy, I decided to call the first test match between New Zealand and the British and Irish Lions, which was held at Eden Park in Auckland.

The All Blacks came into this series as the undisputed best team in the world, and came into the match looking to protect and extend a 37-match winning streak at Eden Park up against a British and Irish Lions looking to put up the biggest test the All Blacks have faced in some time.

I hope you enjoy listening to my commentary!

My sports commentary (TV style): Australia vs. Italy – My call (Mid-Year Test – 2017)

Yesterday, I decided to call (from my home) the mid-year test match between Australia and Italy, which was held at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

In a week where the Wallabies and Australian rugby in general was criticised for their poor performance and loss against Scotland, and the issues in regards to grassroots rugby within the country, the Australian team were desperate to put things right against Italy, a team who have the ability to push the Wallabies, although that they had never beaten the Wallabies in the previous 16 meetings before this encounter.

I hope you enjoy listening to my commentary!

2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Preview

The eighth round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at the Baku City Circuit, on the streets of Baku, which is the capital city of Azerbaijan.

Coming into the eighth race of this intriguing and exciting 2017 season, Lewis Hamilton (129 points) has closed the gap to championship leader Sebastian Vettel (141 points) to 12 points after winning the Canadian Grand Prix last time out, claiming the fourth grand slam of his career (pole position, race victory, fastest lap, and leading every lap of the race), with Vettel salvaging fourth-place after suffering a damaged front wing on the opening lap in Montreal.

Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas is third in the world drivers championship on 93 points, 48 points behind championship leader Vettel, and 36 points behind Hamilton after being comprehensively outperformed by his teammate in Canada, to the tune of 19.783 seconds, despite finishing second in the race, and it is looking ever more likely that Bottas will be playing second-fiddle to Hamilton throughout the rest of 2017.

Likewise Kimi Räikkönen at Ferrari, whose disappointing seventh-place at the Canadian Grand Prix leaves him on 73 points, 68 points behind his teammate and world championship leader Vettel.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo leads the charge for Red Bull Racing on 67 points, 74 points behind the championship leader after securing a distant third-place finish in Montreal, while his teammate Max Verstappen had to retire from the Canadian Grand Prix due to electrical issues with his car, making it his third retirement of the season.

In terms of the Constructors Championship, Mercedes (222 points) retakes the lead of the championship from Ferrari (214 points) by eight points, with Red Bull being a distant third on 112 points, with only Force India (71 points) putting up a somewhat consistent challenge for third-place in the Constructors Championship, 41 points behind Red Bull.

After this, there is a good scrap for fifth-place in the Constructors Championship, with Toro Rosso (29 points), Williams (22 points), Renault (18 points), and Haas (15 points) all looking like that they can challenge for the final points-scoring positions on any given weekend.

However, they are all lacking a consistent two driver points-scoring effort, with only Toro Rosso (twice) with their drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat, and Haas (once) with their drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, achieving at least double points-scoring finish in 2017 so far.

Then it is the sorry sight of Sauber (four points), who are in turmoil after team principal Monisha Kaltenborn left the team in the lead-up to this grand prix, and will be moving from Ferrari to Honda power-plants from 2018.

Talking about Honda, McLaren continue to be the most awful and disappointing story of 2017, having scored no points in the first seven rounds, and wanting to end their relationship with Honda, who simply haven’t performed close to anyone’s very realistic expectations, in terms of delivering a strong, quality power-plant.

The actual chassis, according to most industry insiders, is just about on par with the Red Bull, and would be capable, with the right power-plant in it, of challenging for podiums, and maybe even the odd race victory.

However, the two people I feel most sorry are the two drivers in Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne, who was considered by McLaren as a better overall driver than Kevin Magnussen, is struggling to develop in an environment, and with equipment, that is simply not up to Formula One standard as a first-year driver in the premier category in world motorsport, which is a terrible shame.

As for Alonso, many people who will read this article will consider him still to be the best driver in the sport, or at least right up there with the best, and the way he has performed so far in 2017 shows that he hasn’t lost it, out-qualifying and in races, out-performing his teammate numerous times as long as reliability has held up, with probably his best performance coming in qualifying at the Spanish Grand Prix, where he qualified seventh in front of his home crowd in what was undoubtedly one of the laps of the season so far, and definitely of that qualifying session.

At this stage, McLaren are on-track, other than being disqualified from the Constructors Championship in 2007 after the espionage controversy, also known as “Spygate”, for their first season without scoring a single point, which would be a terrible shame for their supporters, and for Formula One.

Going back to the front-runners, the Baku City Circuit is expected again to be low grip, and should suit Ferrari, but the high-speed nature of the street circuit should also suit Mercedes, so it should be another great battle between the two best teams.

My tip is for a Lewis Hamilton victory in a close battle with Sebastian Vettel, with Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen fighting for the final spot on the podium.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 1pm and 5pm local time (7pm and 11pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 2pm and 5pm local time (8pm and 11pm AEST).

The 51 lap race is on Sunday from 5pm local time (11pm AEST).