Ferrari will have to hope that the unpredictability of previous races at the Baku City Circuit plays to their favor as they seek to make up ground on Mercedes at this weekend’s Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2019 (Race: 8:10am ET Sunday).
Mercedes have recorded one-two finishes in all three of the races in 2019 to date, becoming the first team in over a quarter-century to start a season that way. They have already established good leads in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
In contrast, the expected pace-setters Ferrari have achieved just a pair of podium finishes alongside fourth and fifths. There already seems to be a bit of tension growing over their use of team orders between Sebastian Vettel and his younger teammate Charles Leclerc.
That was most evident in China two weeks ago, when Leclerc’s race was partly sacrificed in an attempt to give Vettel an opportunity to challenge the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. It didn’t work. Lewis Hamilton took the victory, Bottas finished second, and while Vettel took third, Leclerc came home fifth after being jumped by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Ferrari are struggling to convert the clear potential of their package into concrete performance and strong results. Mercedes seemed to be on the back foot in pre-season testing but subsequent minor upgrades and slick execution, exemplified by their stacked pitstop in China, appear to have returned them to the summit.
Mercedes will feel they have a good chance of extending their advantage at the top of the standings this weekend. They have emerged triumphant from two of the three Grand Prix run at the Baku City Circuit to date. The first, in 2016, was as the European Grand Prix and the following two as the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Hamilton secured the second of those last year. On all three occasions, their lead runner finished ahead of both Ferraris.
The Baku City Circuit has produced some interesting races and results. Last season, eight different teams finished in the points and four different drivers secured their best result of the year, including Sergio Perez, who achieved a podium finish for the then-Force India team. In 2017, there were nine different teams in the points, and Lance Stroll scored a surprise podium for Williams. Perez again found himself on the podium in 2016.
Right at the front of the field, at a circuit that wouldn’t necessarily be expected to suit the supposed strengths of the Ferrari package, Hamilton looks well-placed to take victory for Mercedes.
Pierre Gasly came home sixth for Red Bull in China. It was the first time this season that the top three teams had locked out the top six finishing positions. He also took home a bonus point for the fastest lap. He was followed by Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault, Perez’s Racing Point, Kimi Raikkonen’s Sauber and the Toro Rosso of Alexander Albon, who scored points for a second consecutive race.
The top six positions shouldn’t be quite as obviously distributed in Azerbaijan. They certainly haven’t been in the previous three races at the circuit and few have benefited from that as much as Perez. In addition to his podium finishes last year and in 2016, he was also running strongly in 2017 before a clash with teammate Esteban Ocon, who came home fifth, eventually led to his retirement.
Racing Point expect their pace to improve as the season goes on, with a first major set of upgrades pencilled in for the Spanish Grand Prix in mid-May. They have nevertheless been able to take points finishes in each of the three races to date: two for Perez and one for his teammate Lance Stroll. Perez is an expert at running efficient strategies and with his knack for strong finishes in Azerbaijan might just get himself in the top six on Sunday.
Carlos Sainz has endured a difficult start to his time at McLaren, with a mixture of unfortunate incidents and technical failures seeing him come away pointless from the opening three races. He will, though, view Sunday’s race as a good opportunity to get his first points on the board, having finished fifth and eighth in Baku over the last couple of years.
McLaren, too, have a pretty good record there. They secured a double points finish last year and also finished in the points with Fernando Alonso in 2017. If Sainz can keep his nose clean, he has a solid chance of achieving a top-10 finish.
Our Betting Preview’s F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Predictions & Picks Verdict
For those wanting an F1 wager with the U.S. oddsmakers, these are the Azerbaijan Grand Prix predictions we have up our sleeve: