It’s time for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and if it’s anything like last year’s race in Baku then we’re in for a treat!
Will Mercedes bounce back? Are Red Bull really on the pace of the top two teams? Can Max Verstappen up his game? And why is Sebastian Vettel’s steering wheel causing such a fuss? Here are your reasons to watch all the action this weekend!
A win for Mercedes?
Mercedes may be leading the championship, but they haven’t won a race yet this season. Will Baku – a circuit which has traditionally suited their superior-powered car – break their duck for 2018?
Mercedes are the only team to have taken pole at the Baku City Circuit, and won the inaugural race here in 2016 with Nico Rosberg taking his fifth victory of the season. Lewis Hamilton is keen to get his first F1 win since last October, as he admits he can’t allow the points gap to championship leader Sebastian Vettel to rise much further.
Look out for Valtteri Bottas, too. He’s been performing well in the opening stages of the season, and the Azerbaijan track is one which clearly suits him. Last year, contact on the first lap dropped him a lap down on the leaders, but he fought back valiantly to take second place from Lance Stroll on the line. Will Mercedes eke out a larger advantage over Ferrari in the title battle this weekend?
Are Red Bull really in the hunt?
Daniel Ricciardo took an unexpected victory in China, when everything came to Red Bull. A similar thing happened at Baku last season, where Ricciardo won from tenth on the grid, on a day where everything went Red Bull’s way. While questions will surely be posed to the Australian about his contract for 2019 over the weekend, he’ll be hoping that he can do the talking on the track once again and solidify his place as a 2018 title contender.
It seems the only thing holding him back is the car’s true pace, which has shown flashes of being on par with Ferrari and Mercedes in practice sessions so far this year, yet always a little behind when it comes to Qualifying. This weekend could be crucial in showing the speed of the RB14, on a track with long straights which wouldn’t traditionally suit the car.
Max under pressure
Max Verstappen is yet to have a trouble-free weekend this season. His costly spin in Australia was followed by a crash in Qualifying in Bahrain and a tangle with Lewis Hamilton in the Grand Prix. Then, in China, his collision with the championship leader arguably cost him a shot at victory. His team-mate is delivering, now Verstappen needs to up his game.
There’s plenty of ongoing debate on whether the Dutchman needs to change his driving style. Now, Verstappen returns to a hunting ground which hasn’t been particularly good to him in the past two years. He finished eighth in 2016, before retiring from the Grand Prix with engine woes last season. Such is his form, he’s behind both Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso in the Drivers’ Championship. Max is in desperate need of a good weekend. Will he, and his car, deliver?
A load of hot air
One of the main talking points this weekend is bound to be an amendment to the rules on exhaust blowing. The area became an issue in pre-season testing when some were unhappy with Renault’s blown rear wing. Now Ferrari have got in on the act too, and the FIA have announced they are taking steps against teams using engine modes designed to increase exhaust flow during corners. There’s likely to be plenty of fallout and discussion about the clampdown this weekend – but will it have any effect on the racing, or will it all just be a load of hot air?
Seb’s extra paddle
Is it a blue flag activator? Is it controlling Kimi’s race strategies?
Much has been made this week of an extra paddle on Sebastian Vettel’s steering wheel. Some claim that the paddle is linked to the clampdown on exhaust blowing.
— Motorsport_IT (@Motorsport_IT) April 23, 2018
Kimi Raikkonen doesn’t have the paddle in the other Ferrari, so there’s plenty of intrigue over what exactly it is for. Will it still be there, and will we find out what it does this weekend?
Expect the unexpected!
Last season’s race in Baku saw it all; a hectic first lap, a raging Sebastian Vettel clattering into the side of Lewis Hamilton, the two Force India team-mates colliding, a red flag due to debris, Ricciardo overtaking three cars in one corner, Hamilton’s headrest coming loose, a ten second penalty for Vettel, Valtteri Bottas taking second on the line, Lance Stroll taking his maiden podium and Daniel Ricciardo taking an unexpected victory. And all of that is before mentioning Kimi Raikkonen’s infamous steering wheel incident.
We won’t hype it up too much though, let’s not forget the snoozefest which was the 2016 European Grand Prix…
The 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix gets underway at 1:10pm BST on Sunday. In the UK, coverage is live on both Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1.