Formula One switches to the newest venue on the calendar with the circus arriving in Baku, Azerbaijan. What are the big stories leading into the weekend?
The title fight could close right up
Lewis Hamilton vs. Sebastian Vettel, Mercedes vs. Ferrari. It’s the dominating storyline of the 2017 F1 season but has slowly come off the boil to a light simmer thanks to the previous two races. Both challengers took victories, Vettel in Monaco and Hamilton in Montreal, to see the momentum swing from one challenger to the other. It’s a far cry from the duelling of Spain.
The mix of long straights and tight complexes could play to the strengths of both cars. The Mercedes, when set up well, can perform exceptionally well at high speeds, while the Ferrari seems to have a much more rounded performance arc and might have the edge in terms of mechanical grip.
Will we see Lewis vs. Seb on-track again?
Baku’s track could be a heaven and hell
The inaugural race last year saw Baku’s support races lead the way in terms of excitement, in both on track racing and off-track excursions. By the time the F1 field was let loose on the streets they’d seen everything unfold and took a more cautious approach, leading to a conservative start and, quite frankly, a boring first trip to Azerbaijan.
This year could be a bit different, however. Overtaking has become more of an art form in 2017 thanks to the lessening impact of DRS. The narrow streets here will be even narrower thanks to this season’s cars, which are ultimately faster and harder to drive. Baku is now even more of a challenge, which may make it more of a spectacle. Here’s hoping.
Force India could surprise
One team that could do with a repeat of the 2016 Baku result is Force India, who scored a podium here. Sergio Perez was on the rostrum after suffering a gearbox penalty which robbed him of a front row starting spot, a drive that cemented the team’s ultimate fourth-placed finish in the constructors’ championship.
What price a repeat this time around? Well, there’s a pretty strong shout thanks to an incredibly strong showing in Canada, but that was tempered by a failure to maximise team orders to deliver what could have been a third place, outfoxing the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.
Force India has the potential to deliver this weekend, but they’ll have to make the right decisions in the heat of the moment, or they could lose out again.
Palmer out to prove a point
Pressure comes in many forms but they all seem to be weighing down on Jolyon Palmer who, after just seven races, is already looking like a man on borrowed time at Renault.
Not only is he being overshadowed by teammate Nico Hulkenberg, who has scored all of the French marque’s 18 points so far, but the Brit has also struggled to escape Q1 in qualifying, only managing the feat twice, and slowly becoming a comic relief for fans.
Yet Palmer can still deliver, and the shoots of a recovery are starting to bud. Three consecutive finishes just outside the top ten bring hope and a points finish in Baku would be just the tonic for Palmer. His fate may be sealed, however, but a mid-season surge of good performances could keep him in a seat for 2018. Whether or not it’s Renault, however, is another story.
— Baku City Circuit (@BakuCityCircuit) June 21, 2017