Our man in the know, Nick van der Meulen, brings us his F1 preview Azerbaijan 2019.
Before moving to Europe, the F1 circus visits a country which is difficult to spell and pronounce: Azerbaijan. The circuit at Baku, hosting the F1 event, is an unusual one, mixing modern with ancient (the track circles around the medieval Maiden Tower and the Palace of the Shirvanshahs) along with a loooong straight (okay, it has a kink), an unusual pit exit and very tight corners in places.
The circuit at Baku has led to teammates tripping over each other namely Perez/Ocon (previously of Force India) and Verstappen/Ricciardo (when at Red Bull Racing) and, a certain Ferrari driver lose his cool under Safety Car conditions, and side-swiping his title rival. The race held at Azerbaijan can provide a number of surprises, as previous events have demonstrated.
Click here for video highlights of these incidents.
Mercedes and Ferrari have shown their class here in the past; however, Mercedes must be the favourite to win this weekend. Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton took a fortunate victory last season after teammate Valtteri Bottas was forced out of the lead in the closing stages of the race due to a puncture. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was also fast and vying for victory before a mistake put paid to his chances in the closing stages of the race.
Click here to watch a video celebrating 125 years of Mercedes motorsport history.
With Ferrari’s apparent straight-line speed, this circuit could suit them well, but there are a few things the team will need to iron out should they wish to win. At this early stage of the season, I’m sorry to say that Ferrari is still its own worst enemy despite the managerial changes in the off-season. Add to that management instilling team orders at each of the first three rounds of the season and the Scuderia has done itself no favours.
The fact that Ferrari has employed the services of an up-and-coming young lion in Charles Leclerc to replace the experienced Kimi Raikkonen indicates that they want to be able to give rise to the next generation of racer to counteract Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen. While this is admirable, stifling the young Leclerc in the early stages of his career to kowtow to senior partner Vettel will only drive the talented Monegasque into the arms of an interested rival manufacturer…
Red Bull Racing has punched above its weight in the early stages of its partnership with Honda and one can expect a strong performance from Verstappen here. Pierre Gasly, another young talent trying to find his feet in a “Big 3” team, is hoping to build on his encouraging result last time out and feature more strongly at Baku.
Getting there, slowly
Renault has had a torrid start to the 2019 season, having to address a host of mechanical failures, but the team’s two drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg, have shown promise and both drivers have shown strongly at this circuit (even though the “Hulk” has hit the wall here – twice). The French manufacturer will hope for a turn of fortune this weekend.
Expect a close dice between the McLarens of Sainz and Norris, the Haas duo of Magnussen and Grosjean, the Toro Rossos of Kyvat and Albon, the Racing Points of Perez and Stroll, along with the Alfa Romeo of Raikkonen, to vie for the remaining points-paying positions…