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.

Advertisements

2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Preview

After an exhilarating and breathtaking Chinese Grand Prix, where Australian Daniel Ricciardo claimed the sixth race victory of his career, none of which have come from the top three spots on the grid, Formula One heads to the streets of Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Round Four of the 2018 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship, with the championship interestingly poised!

Sebastian Vettel (54 points), who had a difficult race in Shanghai after leading the early stages of the race, being overtaken by Valtteri Bottas during the pit-stops, and then a collision with Max Verstappen saw him finish seventh in China, still leads the championship for Ferrari by nine points over Mercedes driver and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton (45 points).

Hamilton, with his fourth-place finish in Shanghai, became the record-holder for most-consecutive race finishes inside the points in Formula One history. This weekend, he will look to turn around his underwhelming record in Baku, where he has finished fifth in each of the last two years.

Bottas (40 points) is third in the world championship in his Mercedes after consecutive podium finishes in Bahrain and China after his disappointing performance in Australia, and will be looking to continue the form of the last two races into this weekend in Azerbaijan. He is ahead of Ricciardo (37 points) in the championship, with Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer showing in China that they are very capable of challenging for the world championship.

Vettel’s teammate at Ferrari, Kimi Räikkönen (30 points), is fifth in the championship, 24 points behind his teammate after rebounding from the awful pit-lane incident where one of the mechanics broke his leg with a well-deserved third-place finish in China.

Fernando Alonso (22 points) and Nico Hülkenberg (22 points) are sixth and seventh in the world championship for McLaren-Renault and Renault respectively after scoring three points-scoring finishes each. Alonso is ahead of Hülkenberg in championship by virtue of his fifth-place finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo’s teammate at Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer, Verstappen (18 points), is eighth in the championship after mixed performances in each of the first three rounds with a sixth-place finish in Australia after a spin, a transmission failure with his car in Bahrain after three laps, which happened after a very early racing incident with Hamilton, causing Verstappen to puncture his tyre, and then the collision with Vettel in China adding to his woe, where he finished fifth, but could have won the race!

Verstappen has got to find the happy medium between being aggressive and being conservative going forward without losing the ability to be bold on the circuit, which will take time that is for sure!

Pierre Gasly (12 points) for Toro Rosso-Honda, and Kevin Magnussen (11 points) for Haas-Ferrari complete the top 10 in the drivers’ championship.

Looking at the standings in the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (85 points) lead by a single point over Ferrari (84 points) with Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (55 points) having plenty of work to do to catch up with their main rivals in third, ahead of McLaren-Renault (28 points), Renault (25 points), Toro Rosso-Honda (12 points), Haas-Ferrari (11 points), Sauber-Ferrari (two points), Force India-Mercedes (one point), and Williams-Mercedes (zero points).

So, who will win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

On paper, this has been a circuit which has suited Mercedes, pace-wise at least, as it has been a power circuit, rewarding straight-line speed and engine/power-unit performance. In saying that, Ferrari believe their engine/power-unit performance is close to being on-par with Mercedes, so this could be an interesting battle!

If Mercedes wins, you sense that they are still the car and team to beat in terms of the championship, but if they don’t win or aren’t ahead of the field on merit, you sense Ferrari, and perhaps Red Bull are a strong chance of taking the championships away from Mercedes.

My gut feel is that Mercedes still has an advantage, and I believe it will be third-time lucky for Lewis Hamilton in Azerbaijan to take his first race victory of the season!

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!

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).