2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Preview

Lewis Hamilton claimed victory in the 1000th championship race in Formula One history, the 75th of Hamilton’s legendary career, and his fourth victory in the last five races. As a result, he takes the lead of the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship heading into the fourth round of the season, the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which takes place this weekend at the Baku City Circuit in the capital of Azerbaijan.

The defending and five-time world champion Hamilton (68 points) leads the championship by six points over his teammate Valtteri Bottas (62 points) after Mercedes took a third-straight one-two finish to start the season, the first time that Mercedes as a team has achieved this since the start of the turbo-hybrid era back in 2014, and the first team to achieve this in Formula One since Williams with Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese back in 1992, but it hasn’t necessarily been anything but dominant.

In Australia, they certainly dominated, with Bottas claiming victory over Hamilton in what was arguably the best performance of his career, but in Bahrain, Ferrari were dominant, with Charles Leclerc taking his first-ever pole position, and should have taken his first-ever race victory in Formula One, before mechanical issues stopped him almost in his tracks, allowing Hamilton to take his first win of 2019, and Bottas to slip past into second spot, but Leclerc managed to hang on for his first Formula One podium in his career.

However, the form guide in China returned back to the one that we saw in Australia, with Mercedes being dominant! So, what form guide will we see in Azerbaijan?

More on that later!

Max Verstappen (39 points) is currently third in the world championship believe it or not for Red Bull Racing-Honda, 29 points behind Hamilton, and ahead of both Ferrari drivers in Sebastian Vettel (37 points) and Leclerc (36 points). Red Bull haven’t really been in the front-runners fight so far in 2019, but Ferrari have failed to capitalise on the potential that they seemingly showed in pre-season testing, and the form they showed in Bahrain, and as a result, the difference between themselves and Mercedes looks like a chasm!

Ferrari really need to hit back in Azerbaijan, otherwise their championship hopes will seemingly start slipping down the drain!

Behind the top five in the world championship, Verstappen’s teammate Pierre Gasly (13 points) is sixth in the standings, ahead of Kimi Räikkönen (12 points) for Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari, Lando Norris (eight points) for McLaren-Renault, Kevin Magnussen (eight points) for Haas-Ferrari, while Nico Hülkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo are locked on six points for Renault after the latter’s first points-scoring finish of 2019, and the former’s retirement from the Chinese Grand Prix due to a power-unit issue (the third mechanical retirement for Renault in 2019), but Hülkenberg remains ahead of his teammate due to being classified higher than Ricciardo in Bahrain after both retiring within metres of each other with separate mechanical issues.

Looking at the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (130 points) leads by 57 points over Ferrari (73 points), with Red Bull Racing-Honda (52 points) a further 21 points behind in third. Then, it is slim pickings, in terms of points, for Renault (12 points), Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari (12 points), Haas-Ferrari (eight points), McLaren-Renault (eight points), Racing Point-BWT Mercedes (seven points), Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (four points), and Williams-Mercedes (zero points).

So, back to the earlier question of what form guide will we see in Azerbaijan? And, who is going to win on the streets of Baku?

The Baku City Circuit is a technical, but fast street circuit, which should suit Ferrari on paper compared to Mercedes, especially considering the smooth surface, but the cooler temperatures this weekend could swing the balance back in Mercedes favour. However, I think it will come down to which driver from the top two teams gets into a good grove.

With plenty on the line, Ferrari need to win in Azerbaijan to keep their championship hopes alive, and I think Sebastian Vettel will respond to give Ferrari their first victory of 2019.

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