New circuits should be an exciting prospect but often fail to deliver, offering soulless, bland race experiences that fail to illuminate an already packed season. However, if there is a year more likely to embrace a new introduction, then it might just be 2016 and Baku may just be thankful for that! If you are contemplating changes to your own fantasy line-up then I suggest a quick browse over my latest analysis ahead of the coming weekend;
Recovering? – Kevin Magnussen (£6m) – It has been a rocky introduction to Formula 1 for the undoubtedly talented Dane. A troubled first year in a tragedy of a McLaren car, many felt that the youngster was treated harshly as he made way for Fernando Alonso to move to the McLaren team. However, there are small signs that Magnussen may be starting to find his feet in an equally challenging Renault outfit. His six race points are not a Fantasy players dream, nor does his 4-3 qualifying record against his team-mate guarantee that he’ll be first-choice for that supposed single seat at Renault next season (which assumes they can attract a big name to THAT car).
Despite these criticisms, his impressive bonus points haul of 90 for the season (12.8 per race) means that his 116-point total is the same as Sebastian Vettel at only a third of the price. Interestingly, at 19.33 points per million, Magnussen is the third-most valuable driver, 7.33 greater than the recently lauded Carlos Sainz with a similar price tag. One to consider if you haven’t already!
Invaluable? – Mercedes (£24m) – It hasn’t been a seamless campaign for the German outfit, with unreliability affecting a number of races and the almost inevitable on-track squabbles between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Also, at £24m, they swallow nearly a third of your budget, nearing two-thirds if you complement this selection with the current world champion. So, despite all the points on offer, are they really worth in the investment or should you spread your money about instead?
Unsurprisingly, you’ll need a two-team combination to beat Mercedes current 223-point total, but both of the pairings are hardly inexpensive options. Ferrari and Red Bull will cost a hefty £34m whilst only earning you 24.2% more points. Ferrari/Williams will add another £4m to the budget but actually gain you a paltry 5 points (or 2.2%). In essence, it’d be a brave fantasy player that considers their money is better spent elsewhere.
Other Tips – Predictions are always going to be difficult for a new circuit but you may wish to think more “Valencia” than “Monaco” when selecting your front three. A high-speed street circuit, in which Alonso has drew similarities to last weekend’s Montreal race, would appear on paper to suit Mercedes for another strong showing.
In fact, the statistics are scary for the competition, with Mercedes taking three wins and two 1-2s in the last three début tracks (if you include the return of Mexico following a 23-year absence). In fact, it was Vettel to last break that run, winning on Indian soil in his Red Bull in 2011 – he’ll be needing his Ferrari strategists to stay awake and on the ball if he wants to finally kick his 2015 season into life!
Rain is not likely to be the biggest consideration for the teams this weekend as Azerbaijan promises to be sunny and hot with temperatures around 32-34 Celsius for the race weekend with even the anticipated high winds dying down come Sunday.
Interestingly, Pirelli were unwilling to make the ultrasoft tyre available despite recent new tracks being fairly low grip and therefore this, combined with the fairly extreme heat, may make tyre wear and strategy an issue on race day. Whilst there is obviously no safety car history and despite Hamilton’s comment on some sections of the track being as “wide as a motorway”, there are some tricky and tight sections and the race director is likely to cautious with any early incidents and therefore my safe bet would be for 1 or 2 safety car appearances during the course of Sunday’s race.