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).