The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is set to be a crucial day in the F1 season. This weekend is huge for the sides trying to challenge Mercedes. We’ve seen the reigning champions win the opening three races of the season, pulling off 1-2 finishes in each of them. That’s put them 57 points clear of Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship standings already.
With two wins and a second placed finish, Lewis Hamilton is sitting clear at the top of the table. He’s six points ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas, while third placed Max Verstappen in 29 points off the pace. Could Hamilton move further clear of the rest this weekend? A victory here could put him almost out of reach from the rest of the pack after just four races.
This is just the fourth Grand Prix in Baku, and only the third Azerbaijan Grand Prix. After hosting the European GP back in 2016, Baku became a stop in its own right in 2017. The street circuit makes things interesting, while we don’t have a lot of circuit form to take into account ahead of this one.
|4/21||Azerbaijan||Baku City Circuit||306km / 51 Laps|
|Date||Start Time||Finish Time||Forecast Conditions||TV Coverage|
|Practice 1||Fri 26th April||10:00||11:30||Dry / 18°||–|
|Practice 2||Fri 26th April||14:00||15:30||Dry / 18°||–|
|Practice 3||Sat 27th April||11:00||12:30||Dry / 18°||–|
|Qualifying||Sat 27th April||14:00||15:00||Dry / 18°||Sky F1|
|Race||Sun 28th April||13:10||15:10||Dry / 18°||Sky F1|
Previous Race Results (2018)
If you’re hoping for a resurgence in the challengers to Mercedes, that’s unlikely here if last season’s race is anything to go by. The 2018 edition saw Bottas as the main challenger to Hamilton, before the Finn’s puncture allowed the champion to leap to the top of the standings. He was able to get out in front because Sebastian Vettel couldn’t mount a challenge.
The German finished fourth, behind Sergio Perez in Baku. The likes of Bottas, Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo all missed out on a top 10 finish. That left room for a few different names landing points in Azerbaijan, while Hamilton was the only one of the real title contenders to excel here. Is that something which is going to be repeated in 2019?
|3||Sergio Perez||Force India||8||15|
|5||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault||9||10|
|10||Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso||19||1|
Race News: Hamilton Targeting Improvement
Despite leading the way, the champion is aiming to improve further in this weekend’s race. Hamilton is focusing on upping his game as he aims to extend his lead at the top of the standings. That’s got to be a concern for the rest of the pack, especially given how impressive Mercedes have looked so far this term.
While Mercedes were denied a 1-2 finish here last year, Hamilton is aiming to kick on in order to secure the points to extend his lead at the top. While he has had his struggles in Baku over the years, he’s aiming to extend his winning run here. He says that his mindset in this one is to improve on last year’s performance, so the favourite could step up his game.
Analysis: Will Ferrari Speed Materialise?
We’re hearing a lot in the build up to this one about Ferrari’s upgrades, but the pace that we were promised this season hasn’t appeared as of yet. They need to get competitive in the coming weeks if they’re to be a genuine threat to Mercedes, but we have doubts about their chances here.
With Mercedes looking good for another strong display, we expect Ferrari to come up short. They’ve been struggling to match Red Bull this term, so leaping into the mix for first place is a bit of a huge step. While it’s not great for the long term competitiveness this season, we are doubting that Ferrari can improve in time for this one.
Final Verdict: Hamilton To Win
With his rivals struggling, we think that Hamilton can step up for a victory in this one. His main threat is teammate Bottas, so we expect their main driver to edge maximum points in Baku. He’s searching for his third straight victory, which would be his fifth in six races. Can he get over the line ahead of Bottas and secure yet another win this weekend?
We see Hamilton impressing in this one, especially if he’s aiming to kick on from recent good displays. Despite his winning run, the champion can be found at big odds of 7/4 to win in Azerbaijan on Sunday. The Brit is also priced at 6/4 to top qualifying, which is another decent price. We’re going all in with Mercedes this weekend, as you can back their two drivers to finish up on the podium in this race. It’s 8/11 for Hamilton and Bottas to each make the top three, which seems like fantastic value given their brilliant start to the 2019 campaign.
About the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
The Baku City Circuit may be one of the newest events on the calendar, but it’s quickly turned into one of the most popular with the drivers. The high-speed street circuits one of few that are in this style and rival the likes of Monaco, but drivers would argue that this is the better driving track, just because of the increased number of overtaking opportunities that are on offer.
The circuit is also one of the longest that the drivers get to race one, with only Spa in Belgium being longer than the 6.003km track that’s on offer today. It also has one of the longest straights, with cars being able to hit top speeds of around 360kmph, again one of the highest that they encounter.
The first thing to note on the track is that it’s extremely narrow in places and one that is very unforgiving should drivers get things wrong within or coming out corners. This is essentially the nuances of a street circuit however and generally drivers do relish the challenge.
The circuit was originally played out as the 2016 European Grand Prix, but was able to be hosed as the Azerbaijan Grand Prix the following year in 21017 and has remained as such.
The race starts across the long pit straight in the chase down to their first corner. The corner sees a big breaking zone which is very hard on the drivers as they drop from around 360 kmph down to just 150 kmph. They will need to get as close to the wall as possible on exit to allow them the best possible run into turn 2, which is another of the 90-degree corners.
The track then has a long straight down to turn 3, which is one of the DRS zones on track and often a popular place for drivers to try and overtake, given the right conditions. Turn 4 is another of the 90-degree corners that the cars are able to navigate through, before 5 and 6 sees the first of the chicanes on the track.
The run down to turn 7 is all on how the drivers have been able to get through the chicane previously. A smooth run allows them to get on the power quickly, whereas a mistake, which is pretty common in that tight section, can lead to time and places lost coming into turn 7.
The next section of the circuit runs around the castle in the city and is the most intricate part. The ‘s’ bends that run through the old town and up into the city means drivers have to be very committed in this section as they are often just centimetres from the wall on each side. Just the smallest error here and it’s end of the race. In fact, more often than not an accident of some sort will occur here throughout the weekend.
Turns 12, 13 and 14 are both very fast corners and can be taken at full speed in the right conditions. Drivers often set up their cars to be most effective here as it’s where a lot of time can be both made and lost.
Drivers then head back down the hill, hugging the wall and into turn 15, before a tight turn 16 sees them take on the last corner. A good exit here is absolutely vital and whilst the kinks are classed as turns 17 and 18 respectively, drivers are able to take them flat out. It requires huge guts to do so though, and is often where races can be won and lost, such are the speeds that the cars are travelling at this point.
Heading up to the finish line, drivers are often bouncing off the rev limiter with DRS enabled, hitting speeds of 360kmph and even more.
It was Bernie Ecclestone, the then head of Formula 1 that was keen to get a race in Baku and whilst plans were initially put forward to try and create a stadium course just outside the city, the street race was deemed to be a great idea and required a lot less in terms of initial upfront costs for the host course.
They were able to bring on board legendry F1 track designer, Hermann Tilke to aid with the layout, with a brief of “like Monaco, but better” something that was part of that brief.
2016 – CARNAGE
Before the first running of the European Grand Prix that Baku hosted in 2016, the GP2 saw a plethora of crashes and over half of the field retiring. Organiser and drivers alike were highly concerned, but in fact, the F1 race saw just 4 retirements, all of which were due to mechanical failures.
It was Nico Rosberg who came out on top in a race that saw plenty of overtaking moves, beating German Sebastian Vittel, who finished the race in second place.