One of the craziest race circuits in the Formula 1 calendar, Baku circuit in Azerbaijan will host the fourth round of the 2019 season. It is also the fourth time that the race will be conducted at this circuit. Opened for racing for the first time in 2016, the circuit unpacked several surprises every year so far. We can expect nothing less this year too.
6.003 km long, it is one of the longest circuits that will be raced in a calendar year. 20 corners with almost half of them marked at 90 degree turns, a long stretch of straight line after the last corner till the finish line (almost 2.1 kilometers) and from 2nd corner to the third, will have some interesting tussles unfold. The long straights will put some pressure on the internal combustion and the hybrid elements. The circuit is relatively smooth on tires with low wear expected. The flip side will be getting the tires to right operating temperature windows.
Referred to as the European Grand Prix in it’s opening season, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix had the most unpredictable leaders so far. Nico Rosberg won it the first time for Mercedes, followed by Daniel Ricciardo for Red Bull in 2017 and Lewis Hamilton took the win home in 2018. As many as eight different drivers took the podium in three years, with only Sergio Perez of previously Force India made it twice.
What to expect:
This season of Formula 1 had already shown a lot of promise for excitements and a prospect of upsets. The early indications suggest Mercedes to have more dominance compared to recent years but the Ferraris’ and Red Bulls’ have shown they have it in them to take the fight to the constructors’ leaders.
Mercedes: Having won two of the three previous races here and with a perfect start to the season, Mercedes have lot more to lose than win here at Baku. Anything less than podium finishes will be a disappointment for them. With Red Bull and Ferrari sniffing down the throat, it is not the time for the leaders to drop the ball. They have recorded the best average fastest lap times during the qualifications – in seven of the nine sessions. No major upgrades. They were better off in corners so far than the straights. It will be interesting to see the strategy that they employ.
Ferrari: Ferrari are not yet there in the state of panic but it is just about time for them to get the cars going for them. Upgrades to their SF90’s, mostly aimed at “adapting the car set up” and “power unit management” in conjunction to the race circuit, is the focus for them. They are 57 points Mercedes in the constructors’ championship and no wins so far this season. Charles Leclerc showed a lot of promise and Hamilton sees “lot of himself in him”, but Vettel will and should be the first driver for Ferrari. If there is someone who can revive it for Ferrari, it is the four-time champion you can do that.
Red Bull: The big upgrades for the weekend comes from Honda on all four cars – Red Bull and Toro Rosso. Spec 2 of Internal Combustion Engine, on a circuit that demands a lot from the internal combustion, not a bad strategy to go with. Even though it is bit early in the calendar. Honda mentioned that the focus on the upgrade is more about the reliability and quality improvement than the speed boost. Pierre Gasly didn’t have the start he would have hoped for with Red Bull but Max Verstappen is taking that leap from being a rookie to a true fighter. He is currently third of the Driver’s championship with only 2 points separating him from Sebastian Vettel. The upgrades will be the risk they take and they hope it should deliver something more than what we have seen so far.
Renault: Daniel Ricciardo’s move to the Renault from Red Bull surprised everyone and it is difficult to move on from that given his performance so far this season. They are fourth on the standings, tied in points with Alfa Romeo, they are currently leading the mid table. The 12 points were brought in equally by their drivers. Ricciardo’s past winning experience and his first points on board in China could boost their fight over the mid table rivals. They showed lot of promise in the qualifying in china but retirements in the race would mean the weekend is a disappointing one.
Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen moved from Ferrari to Alfa Romeo, a relaunched Sauber from last year. He showed the dominance despite not having the car that is anywhere close to being fast. But, the biggest news comes from Antonio Giovinazzi. Third upgrade to the car with control electronic replacement, which means a grid penalty of 10 places to start the race with . With the latest Ferrari specs to be run, may be it is the best time to put all that happened behind and move forward.
The Rest: Haas continue to battle their demons with tires. They are starting to fall off the radar with more problems to talk about than the perfomances ; McLaren would love to forget the horrid weekend they had in China after the promise Londa Norris showed in the qualifying; Racing Point would love the performances in the past to comeback at the place that they did so well; Toro Rosso await upgrades and Williams still searching for their first point.